Is our community development effective?

I watched a programme about effective altruism last night.  The main points discussed were what approaches, and by whom, were most effective.  It got me thinking about the what and who by and for of community development approaches – empowerment, participation and so on.

At the core of the altruism debate was funders, who they fund and processes utilised to  facilitate/mobilise for change.  The speaker argued that public sector to public sector funding [government to government or government to academic establishment arm’s length ‘third sector’ agencies or quasi NGOs or charitable organisations] were the least likely to bring about real or lasting change for those experiencing poverty or oppression.

This could be due to a number of reasons including distance from the target issue or community, campaigning groups’ concerns and demands not compatible with government agendas, ‘scatter gun’ rather than targeted approaches, cronyism [favouritism] and corruption, or no real desire to bring about lasting change but rather a desire to close down debate, or limit action, on an issue that is not appealing to the [moral] majority – which from a Scotland/UK perspective would likely include Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, people addicted to substances or harmful practices, people living long term on benefits and in poverty.

Whilst all of the above are relevant, the ‘scatter gun’ versus targeted approach and the funding of arm’s length and quasi third sector agencies are of particular pertinence to the what and who by discourse on community development approaches and outcomes.                 

Taking [government – local and central] attempts to facilitate young people’s participation in democratic processes as an example: Representative structures such as school councils, youth fora and parliaments, whilst no doubt benefitting those directly engaged, are often so distant from the young people who would benefit most from having their voice amplified that outputs, for them, from these structures are weak [in terms of reaching those who would most benefit] and positive outcomes for those marginalised and/or minoritised are few.

And whilst government to government or government to other public sector agencies or quasi third sector organisations may be less resource intensive [ in other words better value for money for funders] and enable greater oversight [or control] of the direction of travel of the work, such approaches are clearly not delivering for those living on the peripheries of society.  If they were, young Gypsies and Travellers would not have some of the worst educational attainment outcomes in the country or be living in sub standard accommodation, we would not be witnessing such high levels of addiction to substances and resultant deaths and more than one in four children would not be living in poverty.

If we are truly committed to equality of opportunity, whether that be social, economic or cultural, then it is time to create [and fully resource] opportunities and approaches that have direct democracy at their heart and are facilitated by those at the least distance from the issue – those individuals and communities with lived experience and those who advocate with and for them.

Ice Cream for Crow

 

  Watching a documentary on Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) reminded me that my critical thinking developed against a backdrop of psychedelia, a sub-culture associated not only with psychedelic drugs, imagery and music but also with critical consciousness – a state of mind where ‘the ability to recognise and analyse systems of inequality and the commitment to take [collective] action against these systems’ rises as a magnificent technicolour vision for a better world.   A vision underpinned by open and transparent dialogue, participatory action and empowerment. Dialogue which challenges the assumptions, stereotypes and beliefs that limit the self and others leading to action which seeks to confront oppression and structural inequalities. Action which, through the deconstruction of dominant forms of power (force, coercion, control), seeks to identify and indeed challenge the trace – the markers of past experience and practice; of prejudice and preconception.  Or, as Derrida has it, to be on the side of truth and justice and to challenge that and those who are not.

I came as no stranger to the table of need for a collective critical consciousness.  I entered this world with a malformed spine, I could walk, albeit with my left leg and foot at an angle, so we all pretended that I didn’t have that particular disability.  Perhaps, in their wisdom, my parents didn’t wish me to be labelled or perhaps my mother’s strong religious beliefs stopped her from articulating that particular (uncomfortable) truth, living, if you like, a magical consciousness wherein they believed that attitudes can’t and won’t change and I would have a more equitable future without additional labels  – who knows, I guess that’s part of my trace.

Physical disability aside, my mother was sent home from the maternity hospital without me.  There was something else ‘not quite right’ with me, but back in the day there was little understanding of DNA and cell mutations so after a couple of weeks of deliberation I was returned to my parents as a bit of an enigma.   It took forty years for physicians to give me a diagnosis and more importantly an explanation as to why I could get by with little sleep for days then sleep for days on end and why I could sense changes in people’s demeanour or attitude and see a person’s shadow long before their light emerged.  Due to cell mutations my ‘fight or flight’ system is permanently switched on – meaning I am on high alert all day, every day, both physically and emotionally.

Everything I read remains at the forefront of my mind resulting in multiple shifts in focus during dialogue or written communication with others.  When I meet with friends or colleagues my mind plays out our history in an infinite loop of highs and lows, sadness and hope, truths and lies.  I digress, frequently.  Those who know me well just go with my flow, the responses of those who don’t range from confusion to concern to disbelief, so it goes.  It’s exhausting but also exhilarating  –  I guess that’s also part of my trace.

Back to the point: In  Ice Cream for Crow Van Vliet (to my mind at least) draws attention to the limitations of binary thinking – that magical consciousness that presents and embeds desert mirages as unquestionable and distorted truths.  But, and only, when we come to know the sun as not the only source of light and collectively embrace that notion then a critical consciousness emerges in all its technicoloured magnificence.

Ice Cream for Crow was Van Vliet’s final album following which he turned his focus back to painting.  His music and poetry were revolutionary and live on in the work of others, the great Tom Waits to name but one.  Some say he gave up music so that he would be taken seriously as an artist, others believe he felt he had given all he had wanted to give.  Who knows, I guess that’s part of his trace and maybe a part of mine too.

 

 

10th Meeting of the Council of Europe – Dialogue with Roma and Traveller Civil Society

I was invited by the Scottish Traveller Action and Resilience Collective [STARC] to present on their behalf at this meeting.  As a founding member of the collective I was happy to do so.

My presentation, which focused on the role of the media in driving hate speech directed towards the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, can be found below.  The presentation is followed by further questions and comments which I tabled. I would like to thank STARC for giving me the opportunity to represent them at this meeting.

Hate Speech: The Role of the Media                                                                    

I have chosen to focus on what I, and I am sure many others, see as one of the key drivers of negative social representations of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers the media.

Misleading and unbalanced articles are a key driving force of negative social representations that foster fear, embed ‘otherness’ and enable the powerful to maintain boundaries – driving nomadic communities to degraded spaces on the peripheries of society.  This is unacceptable.

Not only is this type of journalism immoral and unethical, it also directly violates journalistic codes of conduct – inter alia the universal principles of truth and accuracy and fair reporting. 

The image above was used on five separate occasions to report on the proposals to build a transit site in a remote rural area in the North East of Scotland.  The publication in question has a long history of negative reportage vis a vis Scotland’s nomadic communities, including the use of stock and ‘staged’ images, so the staging of a group of ‘enraged residents’ where no residential properties exist in the vicinity comes as no surprise to myself and others aware of this practice.  But, if the online stereotypical and prejudicial commentary on the articles are any measure of its impact then the publication would surely feel it was a good job done.

Sadly, this is not an isolated article or incident of immoral and/or unethical reporting in the mainstream media:

One year’s statistics of a recent four year long piece of research of the media’s reporting on the Gypsy/Traveller community undertaken by Article 12 in Scotland found:

195 articles over 12 months in 21 publications – an average of around 4 articles per week. This number of publications is disproportionate to the population size of the Gypsy/Traveller community living in Scotland – believed to be circa 20,000.

62% of articles were focused on sites [unauthorised encampments, official sites, plans for new official sites and so on], 38% discussed the Gypsy/Traveller community in general, 24% of articles contained negative stereotyping and 12% focused on crime.

Only 0.5% – yes only 0.5% – reported on life from the perspective of a member of the Gypsy/Traveller community, indicating that the media is still focused on reporting from the view-point of the settled community.

Just 7% of articles were classed as positive, however, negative reporting still accounted for over half of audited articles, with a further 15% falling within the categories of discriminatory and racist – meaning that an overwhelming majority of articles portrayed the Gypsy/Traveller community in a negative and misleading light.  So, what are the key actions for change?

Firstly – the media:

The media have a duty to report ethically and in an unbiased fashion, on all articles published.  I do not feel that this is the case where reporting on our nomadic communities is concerned.  The media have a powerful voice; I believe that, with willing, they could be instrumental in changing, rather than fuelling, negative social representations of our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities – that’s the ideal.  However, in the absence of willing, we should look to including a Prejudice Principle in national and international Press Codes of Conduct similar to that of the Press Council of Ireland’s which, inter alia, states that:

The press shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against an individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age.

Turning to local, central  and international government and agencies:

The lack of adequate sites, both transit and permanent, and the resultant tensions between our nomadic and sedentary communities, have reached crisis point in some nation states; local, piecemeal, interventions have not and will not address this.  Arguably, only national and international directives will.  Consequently, I believe that national and international legislation on site provision is required, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that all states deliver on the accommodation needs of their nomadic communities.

These key actions are linked: a reduction in the number of ‘unauthorised’ encampments and settlements, a key driver of tensions, would arguably lead to less negative media coverage.   Ergo, without willing from all players there will be no change.

Additional questions and comments tabled

In terms of the protocols on cybercrime and so on – whilst states may have become signatories, the issue lies in implementation at ‘street level’.  Discretionary decision making by front line workers – Police and so on – is not always reflective of central government directives.  How can we address this?

There exists an issue with in-country reporting processes. The voice of the communities is often missing from these narratives therefore there is no real scope for measuring if the reports are accurate or reflective of the views and experiences of the communities.

They [the media] should know that they cannot hide behind the principles of  ‘freedom speech’.   Human rights are universal but they are not absolute.  One individual or group cannot enjoy their human rights at the expense of another.

As human rights duty bearers, national governments and supranationals must take the lead.  Deficit framing communities is not acceptable.  We do not need to be ‘given’ a place at the table; we need the resources to *take* our place.

 

It’s time

In the quiet of the night she rises slowly, careful in her movements lest she wake the man.  She moves to the curtainless window looking out to an ink blue sky.  Fiery Mars low in the East.  High above, Ursa Major’s seven stars shine bright in anticipation of the coming blue moon; a portent of change, revolution and rebellion.  ‘Tomorrow he will come’, she whispers to the night.

The man rises.  Guided by the dawning light he moves quietly across the room, careful lest he wake the woman.  He has heard her at the window these past  nights.  ‘Her heart is heavy with this great burden she carries.  But she believes in the old ways and will not act until he brings his message, may the gods let this be that day’.

She takes comfort from the familiar sounds of the man readying himself for a long day on the land. The clatter of the kettle on the stove, the sound of hot water poured into a flask, the unlocking of the door, the sigh of a pause as he pulls on his work boots and his final check that the door is firmly shut before he leaves her to her day.

She rises.  The window is feathered with early morning frost.  She sees shadow, light and movement beyond.   A perfect circle of light melts through the frosted façade revealing a figure at the old garden table, built by the man many years ago.  The figure looks up to the window and holds her gaze.  Closing her eyes, she feels strength and light passing to her.  She looks to the table to offer her thanks, but the figure has gone.

‘He came today’, she told the man, when he returned home at dusk.  ‘It is time, then’, the man said. ‘Yes, it is time’, she replied.

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A bit of context: More than a decade ago the man and the woman spent time on Vancouver Island with a West Coast Salish First Nations family.  Whilst the First Nations man, Jorge, made a drum for the forthcoming birth of their first grandchild,  the First Nations woman, Tina, took them to an ancient forest and told them of the importance that they put on the elders of the forest – they are as important as and as deserving of the same respect afforded to human elders.  The two women spoke of spirit animals.  Tina told her that she could see that she had the Raven [the bringer of light] protecting and guiding her and if she ever had difficult decisions to make, she should wait for her spirit animal to give guidance.  

Language matters: Social representations of Gypsy/Traveller women

First published as part of Engender’s F-Words series (July, 2020).

In considering the language used to categorise and indeed denigrate Gypsy/Traveller women, an examination of the role of the media in the ‘othering’ or cultural denigration and exclusion of the Gypsy/Traveller community en masse is crucial.

Creators of ‘folk devils’ and drivers of moral panics who with “a lexicon of verbal abuse [keep up] a constant level of bigotry” (Cohen, 2002), these virtuosos of meaning-making construct ‘conceptual maps’ – a system, if you like, to code (or de-code) the signs and symbols of who or what are to be assigned the status of ‘outsider’ – and present them to us as both truth and threat. Consider the following Mail Online (2011) reportage on what was to become the forced eviction of the largest Gypsy/Traveller site in Europe, at the time:

“Meanwhile, the Dale Farm divas were enjoying their 15 minutes of fame as they strode into the High Court for the latest episode in the legal fight to stop travellers being evicted from the site. The power-dressing girls were in London, showing their support in the fight to allow travellers to stay at the camp in Basildon, Essex. […] After Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart praised their ‘lovely turnout’ and said they ‘brightened up the court’ last week, they were back today to show off a wider variety of styles. Indeed, they were so dressed to impress that there was speculation they could be hoping to star in an offshoot of the reality show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding […]” (Martin, 2011).

Here we witness the women ridiculed and denigrated by references to gender and ability with cultural labels erroneously assigned to them via reference to My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and similar media articles and productionsTheir ability to ‘behave appropriately’ is challenged through a negative narrative portraying them as “divas seeking 15 minutes of fame” and with a member of the judiciary commenting on their “lovely turnout” and stating that they “brightened up the court”, their presence is reduced to mere entertainment: as if they were the court minstrels of the day rather than women fighting for their homes and their families’ right to live according to their culture and traditions – intersectional denigration, par excellence.

Almost a decade on, little has changed in the way the Gypsy/Traveller community, the women in particular, is portrayed by sections of the mainstream media, with the poverty porn [1] machine, churning out programmes such as The Gypsies Next Door and The Truth about Traveller Crimecontinuing to construct and embed negative social representations of the community thereby building a majority consensus, or worldview, that Gypsy/Travellers are somehow less deserving, or indeed unworthy, of a share of ever-decreasing resources experienced in times of real or constructed crises. A consensus that has been acutely evident during the COVID-19 pandemic by way of media responses to families with pregnant women and young children living roadside being provided with emergency fundamental services such as water, sanitation and waste bins:

“One astonished resident said: “We have asked the council on Tuesday and Wednesday to get them moved, to be told they are staying put because of the coronavirus […] It is not fair to the people who live around here and pay their Council Tax” (Houston, 2020).

Here we see the community’s practices categorised and criminalised – a-social or anti-social – a lawless group inconsiderate of and hostile to the values and norms of the majority (they don’t pay council tax, get them moved), a social representation of the Gypsy/Traveller as non-citizen, as outlaw, as undeserving of the ‘access all services’ rights that the ‘moral majority’ may take as given – thus effectively legitimising the enforced distancing, displacement and segregation of the community as an outsider group.

Unfamiliarity breeds fear and contempt, and perpetuates myths and stereotypes. The paucity of understanding around the culture and traditions of Gypsy/Travellers has resulted in grotesque misrepresentations of their culture and practice which has served only to further marginalise them. Without doubt, the UK media’s ‘doxosophy’ has played a key role in constructing these misrepresentations and, to some extent, has contributed to the situating of Gypsy/Travellers on the peripheries of society.

Whilst a better understanding of the culture and traditions of Gypsy/Travellers will not present us with that eureka moment wherein prejudice and discrimination towards its members will disappear, Houdini-like, into the ether, it would be a worthy starting point in the deconstruction [2] of the pernicious social representations currently assigned to the community and serve as a shot across the bows to those doxosophers amongst us who would seek to divide society.

To conclude; I wrote this blog against the backdrop of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. Each June I imagine that the awareness raising and celebrations of the centuries old contribution that Gypsy/Travellers have made to Scottish society [3] will change mindsets and challenge the pervasive negative social representations of Scotland’s Travelling people; the Irish and Scottish Summer Walkers who gathered the tatties and the fruit and made a major contribution to the building of the roads, tunnels and hydro dams of Scotland. It’s 2020, we are in the midst of a pandemic where governments would have us believe that differences and prejudice have been set aside and replaced with a sense of unity, a sense of us ‘all being in this together’ – it doesn’t feel that way to me and I doubt it feels that way to those Gypsy/Traveller families living roadside, either.

Notes:

[1] Poverty porn is a relatively new term used to describe, or indeed critique, ‘reality’ television which exposes already marginalised individuals and groups to scrutiny via heavily edited and ratings driven narratives.

[2] In considering deconstruction I am minded of Derrida’s (1976) concept of trace. According to Derrida: “[…] experience as the experience of the present is never a simple experience of something present over and against me, right before my eyes as in an intuition; there is always another agency there. Repeatability contains what has passed away and is no longer present and what is about to come and is not yet present. The present therefore is always complicated by non-presence” – this is the trace: markers of past experience and practice; of prejudice and preconception. Essentially deconstruction can be defined as an exploration of the (past, present and indeed future) prejudices and preconceptions that lie below the surface of what we generally accept without question and as Derrida would have it “Deconstruction is […] on the side of truth. Deconstruction is justice”.

[3] The late Hamish Henderson described the community as the keepers of the songs and stories of Scotland and spent decades gathering their stories and songs for his archives which were to become the School of Scottish Studies.

A new normal

The first long, warm evening of the year, we sleep with windows ajar. Drifting into sleep, we are minded that the summer Solstice will soon be upon us and so we will begin the slow descent into the darkness once more.                          

Midnight, the port springs back to life.  The new normal easing in with the hollow clunk, thud, clunk, thud of cargo dropping into holds.              

The voices of crane drivers carried on the wind drift into our bedroom through the open window.  It’s a small settlement, we know the voices and the men, we know their children and their grandchildren.  Past days they would have stopped to pass the time of day or waved as they walked or cycled to the port.                                                                                              

These days we keep our distance: a brief wave, a nod, a smile perhaps, but fearful and fleeting lest the invisible invader is passed between us – and we are friends and neighbours no more.

The sounds of work and new beginnings bring the fat rabbits from their burrows.  Fearful, they gather amidst the shrubbery of the perimeter fence in anticipation of what the new normal will bring.  The neighbourhood cats watch and wait.

#AfterDispatches: The truth about Traveller crime?

Reality TV – a genre which started out in the 1960s as a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ look into the daily life of others, a ‘stripped down’ observational or documentary account of the subject or subjects being filmed wherein the viewer is invited to reach their own conclusions on the content and context of the production –  has become little more than a grotesque ‘paradise found’ of symbolic violence, an irritainment, if you will, for connoisseurs of denigration.   

Rather than the fair and balanced investigations we should expect from our media, producers of programmes such as The truth about Traveller crime have become more like Thersites, the ugly, cowardly, “thrower of words” in the Iliad, who abuses everybody and argues nothing but scandal.

Via such broadcasts, Channel 4, and indeed other sections of the media, assist in the laying of the foundations of attitudes, policy and practice that effectively divide society – those who ‘contribute’ and those who do not: those “who flout the rule of law daily, who don’t pay taxes and give nothing to society – and pushes those who do not live by majority norms further to the margins.

Images and narrative distorted and exaggerated to attract notice but also to direct attention to something considered (by the producer) to be outside the boundaries of acceptable societal norms.  Dramatisations bolstered by ‘trigger words’ – crime, guns, drugs, over-run, violence – words that create phantasms, fears and phobias or simply false representations.  A symbolic violence that even the ‘serious’ media, whose legitimacy in the past was measured by autonomy, balance, originality and sound investigative journalism, has felt compelled to engage with in the pursuit of a share of the market that both denigrates and sensationalises.  For it is this which sates appetites,  increases viewing figures and, perhaps more importantly, generates lucrative advertising income.  Thus, the market has become the substitute for the internal standards by which specialised fields once judged cultural and even political products and their producers.[1]

We are living in unprecedented times.  Times where our accepted ‘order of things’ is in a state of flux.  Times where traditional boundaries and representations break down and the cultural objects of others provide new levels of interest and fascination.[2]  This presents us with necessary choices.  We can choose to accept the distorted narratives and dramatisations  provided by programmes such as The truth about Traveller crime or we can choose to challenge them – only thus can we ensure that programmes which sensationalise and seduce do not replace fair and balanced reporting or encourage further marginalisation of those already living on the peripheries.

 

[1] Bourdieu, P. (1998 [1996]) On Television. The New Press, New York.  

[2] Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.

To cull or not to cull. That is the question?

That’s me there.  Not a statistic, a risk category,  a graph or a peak on a curve.  A living older person with a compromised immune system and a long-term condition. A mother, a grandmother, a wife, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, a contributor to society and sometimes a massive thorn in the side of decision makers and influencers – that’s me, that’s what drives me.  I’ve  always felt safe and respected within society but in recent times, not so much.  Glued to the 24 hour news I see a growth in  ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘take it on the chin’ reportage. 

This drip feed reportage feels less like older people, and those with compromised immune systems and long-term conditions, having to ‘take it on the chin’ and more like we’re in line for a punch square in the gut with a wrecking ball.

Such reporting anchors us amongst the seas of unfamiliarity, fear and disgust – as monster – a monster whose very presence threatens the future of society and the accepted order of things, thus normalising the notion that disposal is a necessary part of the solution.

How long before we, the older, the immune compromised, the long term ill, find ourselves living a dystopian nightmare where we are hunted down by agents of the state and vigilantes alike who, having been stripped of all moral codes, are no longer driven by their conscience but by how adequately they have fulfilled the authorities’ wishes?

You’ll excuse me then if suddenly I don’t feel so confident of my worth or indeed my future.

Every wind that blows

The wild Atlantics, scouring the shifting sands of the machair.

Redshank and goose, rising in displays of protest and distraction;

The eyebrights and forget-me-nots rooting down, steadfast; weathering the storm.


Boreas, advancing from the north

Wrapped in furs, cold breath shrouding the mountains and carpeting the land;

The ptarmigan and mountain hare in winter cloak, awaiting the rising of the weak sun.

And from the East, the mighty stag crashing through the forest,

Veiling the pale moon with misty breath;

Showering the earth with cold, piercing rains; dagger like upon the skin.


Soon the Solstice; birch logs burn,  days grow longer; rebirth.

Wood Anemones, caressed by lighter rains, roused by the strengthening sun;

Stronger with every wind that blows.

The Terror Times

I successfully defended my Doctoral Thesis on Friday.  It signifies a personal and professional ‘crossroads moment’ in my life.  It concludes my more than thirty year long journey across the fields of activism with and advocacy for marginalised children and young people and commences a new chapter in my life.  As with all my crossroads moments I find myself reflecting on my family’s terror times.  An injustice which has driven me throughout my working life and will remain with me until my last days – child trafficking which the state, the church and a number of charities were complicit in.

There was a price on the head of children back in those days.  Charities were paid around $3 per trafficked child with bonuses available to homes that could provide large volumes of children.  So for the sum of nine dollars, still a measly amount in today’s terms, Mary, Margaret and Gracie, three of my father’s aunts, were packed up and trafficked to Canada.  There were forty nine children in that party so perhaps that shipment also attracted a healthy bonus for the traffickers.

This is Gracie’s story: Born 1903, in a tent on the outskirts of Ayr, mother a Pedlar, father a Basket Maker. At the age of 6, taken, by the authorities, with her mother and two sisters, Margaret and Mary, from their camp near Perth to Perth Poor House where her mother had to sign the girls over into the care of Quarriers children’s home.

The girls spent almost four years in the children’s home.  They had no contact with their parents or siblings during this time.  Their father, being illiterate, had several letters written on his behalf requesting that the girls be returned to the family, even the local priest sent a letter, but to no avail.

The girls were sent to Canada aboard the SS Grampian, arriving in Quebec on 2nd June 1913 and onward to Fairknowe Home, Brockville, Eastern Ontario where they would wait to be chosen to live with or work for Canadian families.

Gracie’s oldest sister Margaret, being of working age (14) when she arrived in Canada, was immediately put ‘into service’.  Mary (aged 12) went to live with a Walter and Ad Smith from Athens, a small village near Brockville, and Gracie (aged 10) was homed with a family in Ottawa.  Mary was so disturbed by the separation from her younger sister that Walter Smith went to Ottawa to look for Gracie.  There he found her being used as a housekeeper.  It’s not clear what Walter said or did to the family in Ottawa, but it was enough to have Gracie given into his care and she was reunited with her sister Mary.

There is no doubt that Walter and Ad Smith provided a loving and caring home for Gracie and her sister.  Walter was unique in his time as he believed in post-secondary school education for women.  Both of the girls went on to further education and both became teachers.

Gracie’s sister Margaret’s life was a bittersweet one.  Her time in service was harsh, treated no better than a slave.  This was the case for many of the children of working age sent to Canada at that time.  She escaped this life by marrying a fellow Scot, but her happiness was short lived.  Margaret fell ill in her mid 20s and as her condition worsened she lost her sight.  Her husband called Gracie to her bedside hoping that the sound of Gracie’s voice would heal her, sadly this was not the case and Margaret died shortly after the visit.

Gracie married and had two daughters, Margaret Leslea and Sylvia Marie.  Other than stories of camp fires and her father and brothers leaving the camp for work, Gracie shared little of her life in Scotland with her daughters, although, when older, she did share with her daughter Margaret Leslea that she carried a ‘sense of loss’ for her family, particularly her parents and her older brother throughout her life.  That said, Gracie lived a full and happy life in Canada and was greatly respected in her community. Gracie died in 2002 at the age of 99.

What heartens me about Gracie’s story is her resilience.  It would have been easy for Gracie to allow the burden of her loss to become a barrier to a positive and happy future, to blame others for her terror times, but she didn’t.  Gracie found happiness in that new land, embraced it, and lived a full and contented life: a lesson for us all.

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NB: If you haven’t already clicked on the link please do now and have a listen to Katie Theasby and Finbar Furey’s beautiful rendition of the Terror Times.