Haircuts for the Homeless

haircuts for homeless charity

“Whatever the causes of an individual’s homelessness, the consequences can be brutal. Homelessness damages people’s capability: they lose skills; they can’t think about employment while worrying about housing; their health becomes impaired due to being homeless. It knocks their resilience, self-esteem and self-confidence.” 

Stewart Roberts, Founder H4H.

I think about homelessness all year round but it’s always this time of year when the weather starts getting colder, right up until the cold temperatures break in early spring, I find myself thinking about people on the streets more.

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Yoga for refugees – volunteering in Lebanon

lebanon refugee camps volunteering bekaa valley
Last year I spent a week in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camps on a yoga for refugees project with Tools for Inner Peace, a new charity which I’m now a trustee on, in collaboration with a local charity, Salam LADC 

Tools for Inner Peace is a long term project set up by Minna Järvenpää to enhance mental health and well-being among refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley through simple, gentle yoga and relaxation techniques. I became involved as one of the charity’s trustees in 2016 and visited Lebanon in April 2017 to see some of the projects in action.

There are over 800,000 refugees in this part of Lebanon and a quarter of the country’s entire population are refugees. Salam charity was founded in Lebanon in 2006 and aims to improve the lives of refugee communities and helping them connect with their host country. Read more about the ethos and founding story of Salam here.

We believe in the necessity of inner peace in every human being (salamladc.org)

Tools for Inner Peace partnered with Salam to provide yoga and relaxation classes to women and children in the camps – although they are officially referred to as settlements.

Life in the settlements (refugee camps)

lebanon refugee camps volunteering salam ladc charity

I spent ten days working with Salam charity on activities ranging from food and materials distribution to setting up a mini cinema for refugee children. See gallery below for pics.

 

In the Bekaa Valley, private farm land has been used to house informal settlements for Syrian families, many of whom have been here between five and seven years now with little sign of any end in sight.

The settlements I visited or drove by were of varying sizes, some housing just a few families others are up to three or four hundred people, mainly Syrian refugees, with new families still arriving (our location in Bekaa Valley was less than 20km from the Syrian border).

Life for families is hard with no formal refugee status to obtain and no certainty over their future. Refugees are easily exploited by farm landlords who can charge high rents for living on their land. It’s also not uncommon for families to work 14-hour days on the farms for $4 a day or sometimes nothing.

Schools might be far to travel to so many children may receive little or no education with few job prospects for adults. This is coupled with an anti-refugee atmosphere as locals often feel Syrians are ‘taking their jobs’, a rhetoric echoed across the world, which hampers chances for integration.

The settlements I visited had lots little children running around, all under the ages of five or six looking slightly dishevelled. Many would have been born in their new host country and know no other way of life. While the slightly older ones would have left their country during school years so are likely to have memories of their past life and possibly even missed out on some years of education.

A few will be taken under the wings of UNCHR to another host country but according to one woman I spoke to this only happens to about five out of a hundred families. She said she hoped one day they can leave the camp by boat or plane and set up life somewhere else.

Yoga for refugees

taking a yoga for refugees in lebanon tools for inner peace

Minna and I joined Salam’s roster of weekly activities such as educational play sessions and food and supplies distribution, as well as organising our own yoga sessions in and around the camps. By the end of last year Minna was running weekly yoga classes in three refugee settlements and two centres that provide services to refugees.

The yoga is so simple but so effective. Simple techniques work on the nervous system to bring about deep relaxation. Through gentle poses and breath work the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated which calms the body and strengthens the relaxation response, while the sympathetic nervous system with its stress response calms down.

One study found that 45% of surveyed Syrian refugee children suffered significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

The need here is profound. As many as half of refugees are experiencing psychological distress or mental illness. One study found that 45% of surveyed Syrian refugee children suffered significant symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and up to 60% in adults. The result of this is tension and anxiety, played out by nightmares, sleep disturbances, withdrawal, loss of concentration, anger and aggression. A key to the treatment of psychological trauma is soothing the nervous system and inducing the relaxation response which is what the yoga does.

Minna set up Tools for Inner Peace has she experienced firsthand the stress and anxiety caused by war while she worked as an international diplomat in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. She discovered yoga and meditation as a means of maintaining balance under stressful and occasionally dangerous circumstances and is now committed to sharing those healing practices with others in need.

 

Tools for Inner Peace also runs yoga classes for refugee groups in London and around the UK thanks to funding from Sport England so if you know of a refugee centre who might benefit from classes please get in touch.
Find out more about our work with Tools for Inner Peace here and the latest crowd-funding campaign, Yoga for Peace here

3 Great Gifts for International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! Last year I celebrated with a post about why we still need International Women’s Day. This year I’ll mark the day with a choice of awesome gifts you can give to celebrate female power.

Selfish Mother t-shirts

Selfish Mother is a brand making fabulous sweatshirts, tees and accessories stamped with power messages designed and created by Molly Gunn and various collaborations. Not only a cool addition to your wardrobe but products support a long list of amazing charities too.

Strong_Design_supports_Yazda_1_grande

we are wonderwomen bag

My lovely friend Laura, founder of Cocoon Child bought me a Selfish Mother Y sweatshirt and popped me on her Instagram page with her gorgeous daughter Zelia.

sisterhood sweatshirt yazadi women

£10 from every sale goes to Yazda, a charity that supports women from the Yazidi community in Iraq who have been through horrific abuse. I was going to add a link to Yazda charity but it seems Yazda has been shut down according to this Guardian news report, which is terrible news. As my family heritage is Iraqi I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting, thoughtful or powerful present. Whatever the charity’s situation really hope they can continue some of the work they do in Iraq in some way.

Buy Selfish Mother at thefmlystore.com

International Women’s Day t-shirts at Teespring

There are a heap of tees and bags celebrating women at Teespring, most carrying bold and beautiful messages. Some are available for a limited time only but this yellow Girl Power tshirt seems to be from a permanent range and 25% from every sale goes to Catalyst.org, a charity supporting diversity in the workplace. Healthista.com where I work is giving away a few awesome Teespring tees so enter here if you fancy your chance at winning one!

girl power t-shirt teespringBuy Teespring t-shirts here

Fifty Shades of Feminism book

Another great present from a friend (thank you Charlotte), Fifty Shades of Feminism by Lisa Appignanesi, Susie Orbach and Rachel Holmes is a book full of anecdotes, opinions, musings and stories from female writers and opinion formers about feminism and women. It’s a book I always pick up when I have spare reading time and always feel inspired or moved by an extract I read. Highly recommended to give or keep!

Fifty Shades of Feminism book

Buy Fifty Shades of Feminism at Amazon here

Finally if you’re still uncertain about what feminism means or if you are a feminist check out musician and activist Annie Lennox summing it up in this quick clip with Channel 4.

“To boil it down it is about human rights, it’s about protection of women, it’s about justice, and it’s about equality.” – Annie Lennox

Let me know if you have other great gift ideas for women or International Women’s Day xx

Vintage lovers, go to Whitstable

Vintage Curiosities antique shop in Sandwich, Kent

Vintage Curiosities antique shop in Sandwich, Kent

We didn’t mean to go to Whitstable but decided on the day, after purchasing a Stagecoach Explorer Kent Dayrider ticket, because we didn’t have a car. Sounds terribly geeky I know, but for a tenner, two of us could hop on and off all day, with lovely little old ladies. Plus everyone knows there are great vintage and charity shops to be discovered out of London, so I was more than happy to hit the road with a pair of magpie eyes and a pocket full of money.

Starting in St. Margaret’s Bay, with a bus full of OAPs, or ‘senior citizens’ as they like to call them around there, we popped to Deal for a coffee and some second-hand book shopping; I struck it lucky with Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species.

Onwards to Sandwich where we got off the bus and saw the little antiques shop, Vintage Curiosities (pictured above) sitting invitingly opposite the bus stop, and a big Age Concern charity shop on the other side – how convenient.

I took home a couple of pieces of old, engraved cutlery but had to tear myself away from an amazing, old turquoise typewriter which had an unbelievable price tag of £18. Frustratingly it was just too heavy to carry. Can you courier to London? No. Meep!

Back on the bus after a portion of chips in the sun, and onwards to Whitstable. Only 20 mins from Canterbury this little seaside town has an endless string of charity, second hand, vintage and antique shops. I couldn’t actually believe how many there were – in all my years of hunting down charity shops in the nooks and crannies of towns and villages, I’ve never seen such an overwhelming concentration of them all in one place. I quite simply was in second-hand heaven!

Surprisingly I was very constrained, and kept purchasing power to a minimum. We found a lovely little vintage store called Anchors Aweigh Vintage which had a well-sourced, almost curated collection of every vintage item you might want in your life – from clothes and purses to fabrics, tins and glass ware.

I found a cream, 1960s house coat in a feather-light quilted material, a bit like a dressing gown, in immaculate condition.

1960s cream coat from Anchors Aweigh Vintage

With the perfect A-line fit, so reminiscent of that era, it has little three quarter sleeves and beautiful embroidery on the collars and across the pockets – it really was too cute to leave behind.

1960s cream jacket from Anchors Aweigh Vintage with beautiful embroidered collar 1960s cream coat from Anchors Aweigh Vintage pocket detail

The only downside is its dangerously cream colour: I’m a messy pup at the best of times and I’d probably only have to look at it to get it dirty but I would love to wear it when it’s warmer – I just need somewhere where I only need to stand still, not eat, drink or travel on public transport. How likely an event is that? Exactly! For now, it can join the rest of my collection.

As well as a bulging charity, vintage and second hand scene, Whitstable also boasts lots of art galleries and artists. We stopped by a friend of my friend’s pop up gallery and bought a little piece of bee art on a mount, which will look lovely in a little glass clip frame or even against a window to let the light shine through it.

There are also gazillions of seafood restaurants and fish and chip shops – a bit useless for two veggie/vegans unfortunately.

I could have gone second hand shopping crazy in Kent especially for old ladies’ clothes and vintage crockery but it was a day of selective choices – quality not quantity.

I’m also currently in the process of setting up my own online vintage store on Etsy.com so I’m conscious of having limited space for more stuff – but once I launch and start selling, I’ll definitely be pencilling in another visit to Whitstable. Next time I’ll add Canterbury to the trip too as I spotted a row of second-hand and antique furniture shops which were desperately calling my name. Suddenly that family explorer bus ticket doesn’t sound so silly. xx

Time for a clear out?

Every year, around December time, I think the same old things: I think about all the crap that I haven’t sorted out, all the the things I’ve failed to sell on eBay and the bag of ‘clothes-to-fix’ that I haven’t touched. Is anyone else the same?!

So what could be more apt than a round-up of things to do with your old stuff that doesn’t involve the dump, the nearest charity shop, or as some people like to do, chuck it in the bin – quelle horreur!

1. Dress for Success. Believe it or not, there are people who need your old suit that you wore once to an interview more than you, as well as those black bootleg trousers you can’t bear the sight of. They are women on low incomes who need presentable clothes for interviews and the Dress for Success charity (which started in New York and is now international) sorts this out. They take donations of clothing, handbags, shoes and accessories from individuals and retailers and help to dress women who are lined up for an interview. Next time you’re having a clear-out do consider them for any work-y type clothes – the offices are located near Angel/Islington in London as well as around the world. Check them out here http://dressforsuccess.org/whatwedo.aspx

2. Chic & Seek. Sometimes you have a really special item that you don’t have the heart to throw away – maybe a designer item you once bought on a whim or a pair of twinkly heels that just don’t fit properly – but let’s face it, you’re never going to wear them and they’re wasting space in your wardrobe. That’s where Chic & Seek come in! The lovely ladies there will buy your designer item from you and sell it on. Founder Tara says, ‘one lady’s loss is another’s gain’. If you live in London, they can even arrange pick-up. Plus, if you love shopping for high-end second hand, you’ll definitely want to take a look at what they have on offer for yourself – A LOT of high end bargains! http://www.chicandseek.com

3. Give to the homeless. Last year I found a shelter (The Passage, near Victoria Station in London) that would take a few old blankets and pillows I was chucking out. I believe the homeless charity St Mungo’s may take donations of bedding and warm clothes – something desperately in need at this time of year. So it’s definitely worth researching to find a local hostel or centre. There are also lots of smaller shelters that always need resources such as Shelter from the Storm. Another charity I found recently that takes donations is The Trussell Trust which distributes food donations to families in need.

4. Freecycle! Yes, freecycle really does work and it operates all over the world. It’s the best way of recycling without the hassle of postage because whoever wants your item has to come and pick it up for free. You just post the item online, people reply with their interest, you choose someone and they come and pick it up. No money exchanged no bother on your part. Easy peasy!! And the people taking the item off you are usually SO grateful. I gave away an old sofa a few months ago and the girls who took it were so happy they sent me a photo of the sofa in their lounge – was so funny! One of my fav ways to recycle! Check out your local freecycle here http://www.uk.freecycle.org/

would love to know what you do with old items – and happy giving!