Encouraging acceptance in a world afraid of difference.
I was recently asked the question, “what first led you on this journey of helping others?”
How we view the world as adults is often influenced by our childhood. In my case that is certainly true. The way I view people today goes right back to when I was a little lad. My parents split up when I was about two and I went to live with my grandparents in the east end of London. The street that they lived in was mostly occupied by old people. There were not many young families living there, so there weren’t many other kids to play with. My grandparents loved me, for sure. However, for the first four or five years, I was left to make my own amusement for a lot of the time. However, when I got to about seven or eight something quite magical happened. The house next to my grandparents became vacant. I think the old lady that lived there must have died. I can’t remember, but the house became vacant and a lady moved in by the name of Mrs. Davis. Mrs. Davis literally changed my life. She was a foster mother. she was one of these ladies who took in children to look after. This might be temporary while the parents were out at work, or on a longer-term basis. In the late 1960s early 70s the area where we lived in the East End of London was quite multicultural. A steady stream of people of all colours, religions and cultures would drop their kids off for Mrs. Davis to care for. I found myself living and playing alongside children from all over the world. Kids from Africa, kids from Asia, kids from the Indian subcontinent. Little boys and girls from China and Vietnam.
Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance – Verna Myers.
Amongst the many children that Mrs. Davis cared for were several with various disabilities. I must’ve been, I suppose, about eight or nine at the time and this was the first time I’d ever met anyone with any kind of disability. I remember, on occasion, being taken to the local market and seeing people that my grandparents described as cripples. We lived quite near to the docks. The market was across the road from a seaman’s mission. On the steps usually sat several amputees who, one imagined, were sailors who had lost limbs due to accidents at sea. This was my only experience of any kind of disability.Read More
London’s East End, at that time, had a sense of community.
In the East End at that time, you’ve probably heard the stories, you know the ones about everybody being able to leave their front doors open. Whether there was less crime back then, or whether there was just a stronger sense of community, I don’t know. In any event, My Nan was always going in and out of Mrs. Davis’s house and visa versa. The houses were typical, two up, two down terrace houses with a long garden outback. At the end of our garden, there was a gate that connected the two houses. My grandad put the gate in when the old lady who lived there before. So, Nan and the old lady could go into each other’s gardens and into the houses via the back.
The children that Mrs. Davis took in were usually a bit younger than me, but we were all young enough to play together.
Mixing with children who looked, spoke, and behaved differently from me formed my early impressions of people with disabilities, people with differences. People whose skin colour was not the same as mine, whose culture wasn’t the same as mine, and people whose physicality wasn’t the same as mine. Our two Gardens became one big garden. One giant adventure playground. Children played as only children can. All differences were forgotten.
Early experiences that shaped the way I see the World.
Those early impressions set the stage really. From then on, that dictated how I viewed the world. I guess the understanding and empathy I learned as a child have stood me in good stead. The desire to learn, understand, and connect with people came from that very early age. It’s been with me ever since and I’m still learning.