Ten years ago today I was woken by a text message from a friend who wanted to check that I was okay.
I was fine I replied, but why did they ask?
London had been brutally bombed and you know the rest of the story, it’s been played out in the media over and over again today.
I went to work that day at a milkshake shop in Kingston, and I was shaken. It was all anyone could talk about, it was all the customers could talk about. As the rolling news kept rolling those of us at work started to get frustrated, like we wanted to help but we couldn’t. Everyone wanted to help, but they couldn’t.
The next day I went on the tube. I got on at Waterloo at rush hour and I was alone on the escalators, the platform and the carriage. I was so freaked out that I got off at Embankment and walked to my central London destination. It’s the only time I’ve let it get to me, the only time I’ve been scared enough to get off and walk. I wanted to get the tube to show solidarity and I ended up being defeated, overawed by the terror that four people showered onto the city. It was numbing and I regretted it feeling like I’d let someone down.
A few months later, in my second year of university, I applied for the Philip Russell travel scholarship. Philip Russell was a man who I didn’t know, and someone I’d be unlikely to come across in my life then, and my life now, yet we’re forever entwined.
Philip had his life taken from him in Tavistock Square. He worked for JP Morgan and had got on a bus because he couldn’t get on the tube because of the first bombings. He wanted to get to work, and I value that in a person. I’m a trudger, and I’ll walk miles to meet a commitment that I’ve made, and so on a day when he could have turned back, Philip went on. Sadly, he went on.
He had previously studied at Kingston University, where I studied, and then went travelling before starting a career in banking. Because of this his family, and employer, felt that a scholarship to support young people to travel and do some good in the world would be a suitable memorial to him.
I completed by application, submitted it and then received a call to meet the board of people who would decide on who got the scholarship. It included Philip’s parents.
My application revolved around a group of students going to Nepal to work with children who had been trafficked and rescued. I was the only interviewee who turned up without a powerpoint, I just had a folder. It is a big black folder, and it still sits in my room now. My Dad gave it to me.
It contained photographs from a previous trip to Nepal, a letter from my local MP supporting the project and a range of materials about why we needed to go. It was basic but I gave it my all. I cried as I presented, and I gesticulated like no one ever should when trying to act professional. Below are pictures of my presentation.
The scholarship was won, and well deservedly so, by a trainee human rights lawyer called Tanya Cunningham. It meant that she could spend six months in Cambodia working with the charity Legal Services for Children and Women.
I was gutted, but then I received a call. My band of volunteers who wanted to go to Nepal were going to be awarded £3,000 to help fund the trip because the board were so impressed with what we were looking to achieve. Along with fashion shows, dinners, and a range of other fundraising activity, we were on our way.
That trip, which is too much for me to put down now, changed my life. I found a focus, and that focus was working to make the community a better place. After graduating I worked at an international NGO based in Uganda, I worked for the NHS, and now I work for a charity that supports foster carers and children living in foster care.
The opportunity to go to Nepal opened my eyes to the sheer brutality of the world, but it also opened them to the majesty of it all.
If you ever have the opportunity to sit down and talk with a group of children who have been through hell, come back, and are now flourishing then you’ll know what I mean.
I do not believe that I’d be where I am, doing what I am, and living a life that I enjoy, without the opportunity to go to Nepal in 2006 with the support of the scholarship. I can only thank his parents for maybe seeing a little bit of him in me and deciding to give us the nod.
In a turn of events, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that odd, the charity that I work for hold our annual conference at BMA House in Tavistock Square, London. Each time I go there I make sure I have a moment of quiet reflection before going back to work, motivated to keep on making a difference.
I also have to say a huge thanks to my parents who took me to Nepal in 2001 and showed me that amazing country. And a huge amount of respect must also be shown to a gentleman called Philip Holmes who set up the charity we went to Nepal to work with, the Esther Benjamin’s Trust. He now runs a superb charity called Freedom Matters who fight trafficking and frees Nepali children and young people who have been trafficked.
Philip Russell – you’re remembered around the world and your positivity inspired those that loved you to ensure that you kept on travelling.