On the eve of the Bournemouth Conference, I want to make a little statement about how I hope the coming three years of collaboration between ChoraChori and SIGBI will unfold.
Way back in November 2017 I gave a presentation to the Bridgend Soroptimist club entitled “Remarkable Women”. In it I shared some examples of women who fitted that description who had been linked to my charity work in Nepal.
The presentation started with my first wife, Esther Benjamins, whose tragic suicide in January 1999, inter alia, made me reassess my life and where I was going (or not as the case may be). I realised that my hitherto comfortable existence as a British Army dental officer had overnight become profoundly uncomfortable and irrelevant. For I had to respond to Esther’s suicide note in which she had stated that her childlessness had become “unbearable”, so I set up a children’s charity in her memory. I decided that, in the light of the British Army’s 200-year-long association with Nepal through the Brigade of Gurkhas, my charity should help Nepalese children.
So began a philanthropic and very spiritual journey, that included living and working in Nepal for eight years, through which I met with more remarkable women. These included the fearless and passionate Shailaja, the former Roman Catholic sister turned charity activist, who worked closely with me in closing down not one, but two child trafficking routes from Nepal into India. There was journalist Fionnuala McHugh who wrote me up for the Daily Telegraph back in July 2000, a moving article that launched the charity and ensured its survival beyond that initial burst of emotion. Fionnuala remains a close friend to this day. I think of girls whom we rescued from slavery and misery, who would not settle for being trafficking “victims” or indeed “survivors” but overcame their dreadful experiences to become well rounded young women, empowered by us to make a difference in society. One of these is now a key staff member of ChoraChori in Nepal. And of course I think of my long-suffering wife Beverley, without whose love and support this journey would have been foreshortened.
I already have had the pleasure of meeting some remarkable Soroptimists who have included Rayner Rees and Helen Murdoch from Bridgend and who have risen to the challenge of becoming Project Liaison Officers for the next three years. The chemistry between us is already fantastic and our meetings in person and by Skype have been energetic and fun. I pay tribute to all the hard work that they have applied to the task in hand to ensure that we are fully ready for a project launch in five days time.
I look forward immensely to meeting many more Federation Soroptimists at conferences and regional or club gatherings. I will aim to ensure that this Project is not just an exercise in fundraising – although of course that will be a major element of the equation! Instead, through excellent communications, I will ensure that this becomes enlightening and rewarding as I invite Soroptimists to join me in the onward journey.
The old adage refers to old soldiers “fading away”; twenty years down the line I am having none of that. This exciting collaboration will take my work through ChoraChori to a whole new level as we begin to turn the tide on the burgeoning scourge of child rape in Nepal.