I ended last year vowing to spend more time with my family. And promptly shot off to work in Hong Kong and Shanghai for two weeks. So I failed on that score. But being freelance, bonkers as it is, does mean that there are sometimes days where I get to walk my child to school and pick him up. Or, can you believe it, have a weekend!
In March, I had the blessed good fortune to travel to Kakuma refugee camp with the World Wide Education Project and the wonderful Jane Hewitt, to work with South Sudanese children and their teachers in Hope School – a school with 7006 children crammed into just 26 classrooms. It was the most eye opening experience of my life – you can read one of the posts I wrote there, here – it’s almost impossible to imagine the conditions those people were living in. Jane and I set out to raise funds for more classrooms as soon as we returned. Within a month, we had one – amazing contributions from across the twitter sphere. I swam 100 miles in 50 days and we appealed to Northern Rockers to take us towards a second – and with the help of the Pye Bank, Darton and Diggle primary schools, we got there. And then The Dearne School – a school with a population with very little money themselves showed that it is often those with the least who give the most. A monumental effort meant that this one school alone raised the £5600 required for the third classroom. An incredible achievement.
Northern Rocks also raised enough money to sponsor the young teacher I wrote about while I was there, to leave the camp and train formally at a university in Kampala. Nancy has just successfully completed her first semester and is working hard to make sure she qualifies and is able to help other refugees in the future. I’m so proud of her, my throat hurts.
Being there takes its toll. When you return, nothing you do feels like it’s enough. But you do what you can. Working with the International School of London this year, we’ll be running an Arts project raising awareness of the difficulties refugees face, and at the same time, raising more funds for Kakuma. And we have to accept that while we can’t change the world, we can do our bit to make it a little more bearable.
I think the experience made me a little less tolerant of some of the carping on twitter – I’ve been more liberal with the mute button and life has felt more peaceful as a result. When people tell me I’m a coward for refusing to engage with debate, I think of little Obama in Kenya and think that perhaps there are more important things to worry about. Not that I’ll stop arguing altogether. It’s in my blood.
I also spent much of the year guiltily avoiding tweets and direct messages about #teacher5aday. I wasn’t doing too well on the wellbeing front and felt really guilty about it. But I did get a lot fitter. The swimming set me off on a bit of a fitness challenge and I started running. At first I couldn’t do more than 60 seconds at a time, but with encouragement from people like Tom Starkey and Sarah Ledger, I completed a small triathlon in September and a 10k race in December. Proud as punch.
A second book came out, a third is being written, I wrote a regular column for Teach Primary, Northern Rocks was another great success and I worked with and met some amazing teachers and kids in schools across the country as well as in China, Russia and Greece. It was a pretty incredible year.
But I’ve also learned I need to slow down. I need to make sure I don’t say yes to everything. I need to learn I can’t be in Edinburgh one day, Sussex the next and Athens the next and not get ill. I’m learning that without my family I’m untethered and a little bit wild and so I need to make sure I’m with them more. And so, for the second time, my resolution this year is to be a little more of a homebird – even if I am off to Hong Kong again in a couple of weeks!
Thank you to anyone who supported our work in Kakuma this year. And to all those of you who every day support me on twitter and in real life. A very happy new year to you all xx