By Farzana Hakim
Hi, all. It’s Farzana, your host for this month’s Thursday Connectors here, with some fantastic writers who have inspiring stories to share with us; our very own tribute to Women’s Empowerment Month.
I’m particularly looking forward to these stories, because I’ve connected to the three women who’ve written in, both personally and professionally. It’s an honour to know I’ve played a tiny part in motivating them to write their experiences for my page, in turn inspiring others with their stories. This is what women’s empowerment is all about!
I hate it so much when I hear terms and phrases such as, ‘A woman is a woman’s worst enemy’. This is a big No! We women help celebrate each other’s stories and are forever finding ways to enrich our own lives and those to whom we’re connected.
So, today our first Connector is our very own Lena Smith, from Pen to Print. I’ve known Lena since the launch of the program in 2015. It’s her vision to give people from Barking and Dagenham a voice and therefore a stepping stone into the world of book writing and publishing. This is worth celebrating. Lena’s vision gave me a voice and she gave me the encouragement to write more. She empowered me and continues to do so in so many ways.
Our second Connector is Vikkie Taylor, a teacher at the primary school where I’m working on a project to decolonise the curriculum. All my talk about creative writing and how it has healing powers inspired her to start penning her thoughts on a theme all too common for many of us. I can’t praise her courage enough for sending in her piece of writing. Publishing her story will give Vikkie much to celebrate, and I hope sharing her story here will also motivate her to keep on writing.
Thirdly, a great woman, who became a friend after she came to my book launch many years back, also connects with us today. Dr Arinola Araba is an author, an educator and a public speaker. When I asked her to write something for me to share on the Women’s Empowerment Month special, she didn’t refuse. Arinola has been through much in her life and it humbles me to see how far she has come. She’ll be sharing some of her work with us and deserves a celebration for all her hard work and perseverance.
Finally we connect with Ray Miles from Edinburgh. I wanted to include his poem to leave you with a picture of what love for a woman should, or shouldn’t, be. Remember our overall theme is contradictions, after all…
Lots to look forward to.
Hi, Lena. Let’s connect.
Inspiration And Empowerment
So, what does this mean to me? I started by looking at the definitions:
The process of being mentally stimulated to do something or feel something, especially to do something creative.
1. Authority or power given to someone to do something.
2. The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.
Every time I meet a new person I’m inspired by a unique story. There are many people who don’t realise how talented they are and I have the privilege of bringing that talent to the fore.
The aim of Pen to Print is to promote the local writing talent of Barking and Dagenham, encouraging our residents to publish their writing.
As an area of high deprivation, low literacy and diverse communities, people locally don’t see themselves represented in the wider publishing industry. It quickly became our mission to empower them to join the ‘elite’ – writers. To feel they belong in that world. I think we’ve come a long way in achieving this.
One of our early themes was ‘Women And Activism,’ focusing on hearing the stories of inspirational women, celebrating their past achievements and empowering those who identify as women today, allowing them to claim their right to become published authors. Women came forward in their droves; so many, in fact, we’re now actively encouraging more local men to become involved!
Empowerment for me has meant being given the freedom to chart my own course and develop Pen to Print in my own way. This freedom has given me the confidence to use my own judgment and work with people I might not have normally had the opportunity to work with. It’s opened doors for me and Pen to Print; doors that, in 2014 I could only have dreamed of.
I’m inspired by the growth I’ve seen in people we’ve supported, as well as those I’ve worked with, including participants and professionals. All have been empowered and are now trusted partners, authors, poets – professional writers! My colleagues are also fully fledged ‘writer enablers’ too. We’ve witnessed the development of flourishing careers. Our writers are now sharing their insights and skills with future generations. How good is that?
As I’m writing this, I’m enjoying our LGBTQ+ Queer Power – Voice It Louder, poetry Open Mic; one of many inspirational events we host.
One of the performers said how they felt ‘privileged’ to be so comfortable and able to express themselves, in what they saw as a ‘conservative’ library space.
Inspiring for me, empowering for them. For me, that sums up what I do.
So how do I now see Inspiration and Empowerment? They go hand in hand in my daily life.
It’s empowering to know that anything can happen and the only thing holding me back is myself. Keep saying that to yourself, too! I’ve found like-minded people who’ve inspired and empowered me in myriad ways. Open yourself up to opportunities and good things will happen.
© Lena Smith, 2023
Hi, Vikkie. Let’s connect.
Her Ending Was Just The Beginning
Loss, anger and failure washed over me throughout the day while I waited for the van to arrive. How could I love someone, yet not like them any more? Marriage is meant to be hard, marriage is meant to be forever, should I still be fighting for this? He could change! Right? As I drove away from my home, I drove away from my life, my marriage, and my friends. Failure hit me. Why did I fail? This isn’t how I’d imagined it. Why me? I’d grown up with the ideal of marriage: I’ll get married and live happily ever after.
Everyone said that leaving was the hardest step and they weren’t wrong. Not long after I left, the messages of threats and calls of abuse begun. Confusion and uncertainty crept in. Why is he so angry? Why is he treating his wife this way? The name-calling echoed in my thoughts: “You’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re useless!” How could he say he loved me, yet act in that way?
I clung to the bright yellow post-it note I’d been given with the message: Call this number – it will help. As I sat alone, silent tears fell down my face. I was half the woman I was when I met him. I rang the number and as the voice said, “Hello,” panic ran through me. I apologised for calling, explaining what I’d experienced wasn’t necessarily a big deal, or maybe it was all my fault that I left my marriage broken and bruised. The voice said, so matter of factly, “I just want you to know that this is not OK and no one has a right to treat you this way.” The call ended. Why had no one told me this before?
It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t MY fault. It’s not OK.
Work represented sanity, my safe place. I liked my job and was good at it. Every day was different and busy, which stopped me from overthinking. But those moments of ‘I’ve got this,’ were short-lived. The mind games and manipulation would pop up and set me back; right back to that sickening feeling as I drove away from my old life. A nasty text message in the middle of my working day: You’ll end up alone, poor and miserable and I’ll be in a penthouse with a Ferrari.
It was exhausting. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted peace. I’d put on a smile and make jokes; I’d got very good at hiding the bad days. Holding it together until I arrived home, then hiding under the duvet, crying, until I was ready to face the world again. That’s the strange thing about abuse: you want it to be over, but the words and fears from the past creep up and knock you off your feet when you least expect it.
It’s hard to pinpoint when it happened exactly, but the bad days became less and less. I walked down the road heading to meet a friend for a coffee, I noticed myself in the reflection of the car window, ease washed over me, and I took a deep breath as tears filled my eyes. I realised I was happy. It didn’t consume me any more. Failure, anger and grief were replaced by acceptance and confidence.
It’s been nine years and I still have the odd moment, but I know it’ll pass and that everything will be OK. I went on to get my teaching qualification and I’m now a primary school teacher. I have a career. I have a family and I have great life-long friends.
This is a thank you, to all of the people who turned my ending into my beginning. I thank you, for giving me the courage and support to create my own happily-ever-after.
© Vikkie Taylor, 2023
Hi, Arinola. Let’s connect.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my life’s work or projects. I laugh at the fact I’m trying to find the right words for the last sentence.
Farzana, who I fondly call a celebrity, has asked me to share a few thoughts about my books.
I run a not-for-profit company called bMoneywize. Its mission is to improve and equip school-age children with money management skills, in a fun way!
We started by running workshops for parents after their usual school run. The library would host coffee mornings, where we played games and discussed money. It soon became apparent that we had to translate the same information for younger children.
I launched a money game that gained popularity and recognition with award nominations and media interviews. It still felt like there was more I could do for children. I took a different direction and started writing books. The most popular one, Beautifully Flawed, went into much detail about how I fled my marriage. I shared how a destructive mindset got me trapped in an abusive relationship.
Soon after, I published a few other books to highlight the problems associated with sexual abuse and dysfunctional relationships in general. We continued selling and playing the bMoneywize board game while my mission to teach younger children went unaccomplished.
The Covid Lockdown served as a wake-up call. I realised how much time I was spending on being busy, going here and there without hitting the goals I set for myself. This unique season gave me time to think. I learned to prioritise my life and work towards my mission.
I launched some game apps that teach maths targeted at primary school children. Soon after the apps, I launched an online money course for teenagers. The completion of teaching money skills increased. You will appreciate that, to stay ahead of the game, the solution was to innovate. So, innovate I did. I launched a series of storybooks about a boy called Albert. Albert was in a single-parent household, a very common trend these days. He was learning about apples and their seeds. So, I used the growth of apples to demonstrate the importance of savings and investing for a return. The book series shows how Albert learns about budgeting, emergency funds and paying bills on time. There are four books in the series, all available on Amazon.
My next challenge was turning the online course into an accredited training resource. That was quite a difficult task. We needed to get editors, researchers and designers to make this happen. At the end of the year, December 20th, our ‘Teenager Money’ course gained a Quality Mark for Citizenship teaching. Every school in the UK can access and use it to teach lessons.
© Dr Arinola Araba, 2023
Connect with Arinola on Twitter: @bmoneywize
Hi, Ray. Let’s connect.
Her beauty, radiant like the sun.
She smiles, the day has just begun.
She speaks, her voice is soft like honey.
It melts my heart. There is no money
That buys the feelings she inspires.
She looks, her eyes can light the fires
Deep in my soul. My legs go weak.
There is but one, she is unique.
My brow is hot, my pulse is racing.
My mouth is dry, and then I’m facing
Her. My mind malfunctions,
I start to speak, but there’s no unctions
That ease the pain of love that never
Was. But I’ll endeavour
To survive, until once more
I am pierced through to my core,
And yet again I’m torn asunder,
As soon as I behold this wonder.
© Ray Miles, 2022
What a super collection of inspirational stories today.
Don’t forget to register for my ‘Hear My Voice’ creative writing workshop for women. I’ll be discussing the lives and achievements of some of the world’s most influential female writers. Not to be missed!
See you again next month.
You can hear extracts from Showcase in our podcast. Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
If you or someone you know has been affected by issues covered in our pages, please see the relevant link below for information, advice and support: pentoprint.org/about/advice-support
We women help celebrate each other’s stories and are forever finding ways to enrich our lives and those to who we are connected too.