children

Symbols of Hope

Have you had your vaccination yet?

If you're a person of my age, that's a question you might be hearing or reading quite a lot recently.

And right now, in my case, the answer is - NO!

My age group hasn't yet been invited to have the Covid19 jab and I'm not vulnerable and I don't have underlying health conditions, so I've not been called early to our local vaccination centre at Fort Regent overlooking St Helier in Jersey.

Here we're getting on famously with the rollout of the vaccination against this awful virus, and I expect to have my jab probably sometime in the next six weeks. Although we all know that it won't cure COVID, it will protect us against becoming ill and hopefully, prevent more deaths.

The world is pinning its hopes on the various forms of the coronavirus vaccines which have been developed over the past year, to ensure we can go back to a sense of 'normal' sometime in the future. It won't kill off the virus because most experts predict it is here to stay, and it won't mean those of us who are vaccinated can just pick up our old lives without thought of risk in the future.

We will still need to wear masks, sanitise our hands, and I reckon social distancing is probably here to stay for a long time. And it's not just about us, it's about the rest of the world. Until the vaccine is shared with poorer nations and we all have an equal chance to benefit from it, the world will still be constantly on the brink of outbreaks, lockdown, restrictions.

These are extraordinary times but are they 'unprecedented'? I haven't the time to go into it in detail here, but in the course of human history there have been many 'unprecedented' times. Many epidemics and pandemics, many diseases which were the scourge of humanity not just for one year, or even decades, but for centuries.

On February 23rd 1954 a group of schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, USA, were the first group of people to receive injections of a new vaccine against a disease which has been around since pre-history.  However, it was in the 20th century that major outbreaks and epidemics began to emerge.

That disease is poliomyelitis - polio. Click on the word if you want to find out more about what it is ... but in short, it's an infectious disease which can in very rare situations cause death, in many has no effect and in others results in long term ill-health, paralysis and disability. It spreads from person to person through infected human faeces or saliva and it's been around for thousands of years. We know this because there are historic depictions of the disease and it's debilitating effects in ancient art.

However, it wasn't until the late 18th century that polio was recognised as a distinct condition. And the virus that causes it ...  the poliovirus ... wasn't identified until 1900.  Since the late 19th century there had been major outbreaks in Europe and the United States  and the race was on to try to identify this disease which in the 20th century became of the most worrying childhood diseases. You only have to look at old films and read history to see the way polio devastated lives. One of the images ingrained in my mind is that of the 'iron lung' - one of the symptoms and effects of polio is paralysis of the lungs, so these massive contraptions helped people to breathe.

Polio outbreaks blighted the first part of the 20th century. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who at the time was a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

The rapidity with which the coronavirus vaccines have been developed has been astonishing. In the past, this took many years of research and tests and trials and in the case of polio it wasn't until the 1950s that the first vaccines were developed by various virologists and medical researchers.

In the late 1940s, President Roosevelt helped to create an organisation by the name of the March of Dimes, to find a way to defend against polio. They enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk's research resulted in the discovery that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that any effective vaccine needed to combat all three. Little by little, by growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating  or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk gradually developed a vaccine which was able to immunize patients against polio without danger of infecting them.

And it was that vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that was used during that first mass anti-polio vaccination of the children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on this day back in 1954.

As with the current situation, there wasn't just one vaccine being developed. Soon after that first trial, another medical researcher, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio ... and this is the treatment which is credited with having made the difference to the spread of polio in the second half of the 21st century.

This vaccine, which is a drop on a tongue, is the one most commonly used. I remember as a little girl queuing up in front of a school nurse and having a little drop of something bitter on my tongue. I didn't know then that this was protecting me from paralysis and disability. 

Not everyone was so fortunate. I have a couple of friends who were infected as children and have ended up with physical disability - it usually affects the legs. I feel fortunate that I was born post 1954 when vaccines were available.

Yet the availability of a polio vaccine did not eradicate the disease immediately, or even within a half a century. Polio is still around today and it's mostly in parts of the world that are poor and disadvantaged, and where there is still conflict.

In recent decades there's been a real effort to try to eradicate the disease, led by the World Health Organisation. If polio is completely eliminated, it would be the second disease after smallpox to disappear from the face of the earth.

In 1988 when the WHO initiated the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, around 350,000 children a year across the world were being paralyzed by the polio virus. Back at the beginning of the 21st century the WHO was reporting that the number of cases diagnosed each year had been reduced by 99.9%.  In 2016 polio numbers had been driven down to 42 cases across the globe.  

The multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate polio is concentrated on children and among those who embraced this campaign more than 35 years ago are the members of Rotary International. 

Their 'Purple for Polio' campaign involves giving the polio vaccine to children across the world.

Why 'purple'? It's because every time a child receives their life-saving polio drops on mass polio immunisation days, their little finger is painted with a purple dye ... this shows they've received their polio vaccine.

Crocus polio 1I've sort of got involved in the campaign over the past years. I've interviewed local Jersey Rotary members about it on the radio and I've been to celebrations, and I've bought and planted purple crocus corms which about this time of year are beginning to pop up across the island, and in my garden!

As the campaign has developed, it has come down to just a few countries where polio is still 'wild' ... including Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, poverty and conflict mean that clinicians often can't get into isolated rural communities, and sometimes prevailing cultural and even religious beliefs prevent the population embracing the treatments or even allowing the medical professions in to host those mass immunization days. It's slow progress in places like this.

Unfortunately during the coronavirus pandemic, where travel has been so restricted, cases of polio have started to rise again. Last year more than 200 cases of wild polio and around 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease were registered. According to news reports, most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rogue strains of polio also emerged across sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

So there is still much to do! It might still take a while, but across the world there are those absolutely committed to seeing an end to this terrible disease which affects not just individuals and their futures, but families and whole communities.

We're not quite there yet, but the signs of the purple crocuses springing up in my garden, and across Jersey, are symbols of hope.

 


Keep Looking Up

Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, but not always from holy scriptures or experts who have studied to PHD level or who have all the experience in the world.

So how about this for a thought for today?

 

Snoopy keep looking upProfound eh?

And that's from a dog!

The dog is Snoopy, and if you're not already aware of it, he's the companion of a certain Charlie Brown,  a little boy who is 'loveable loser'  - he's meek, not that self-confident and is of a nervous disposition. He's pessimistic quite a lot, but also sometimes optimistic. He worries about the day and all the things around him, and other times hopes for the best and tries desperately to make good things happen.

Charlie Brown is puzzled by Snoopy and some of the slightly weird things he gets up to, but he looks after him, and does his best to provide his dog with a happy life. And in response, Snoopy is always there for Charlie when he gets let down or needs support.

I've always felt a bit of an affinity with Charlie Brown, even though he isn't a real person, but a cartoon.

He's the central character of the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M Schulz, who died on this day - February 12th - in the year 2000.

'Peanuts' had first appeared in print in USA newspapers on October 2, 1950. It shows the world of a group of young children. Adults are barely heard, but woven into the comic strips are some very adult themes like philosophy, psychology and sociology. There's some deep stuff in Peanuts and it's characters, even things that could be interpreted as 'spiritual' if not 'religious'.

Take this Snoopy quote for example - 'Keep Looking Up... that's the Secret of Life'.

Now, as a person of faith, what I get from those words is that I need to keep looking up to the Creator, for inspiration and motivation.

In the Old Testament in the Bible, in Psalm 121, we are encouraged to look up to God for all our needs. I particularly love the translation of this psalm from The Message translation:

I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep

God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke

God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always

Don't you love that? We're not on our own. We just need to look up, not to physical mountains, but even higher, to put our trust in God.

But the Snoopy quote an also be interpreted in a different way. If we are constantly looking DOWN, physically, we will never see the potential of what isn't yet here, what might be open to us. We will always be just concentrating on where we are, now, and not looking forward.

See what I mean? There are so many different ways of looking at life through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Maybe you may interpret this Snoopy Saying in a way that rings true with you and your life?

The final Peanuts comic strip was published on the day after Charles M Schulz died. On February 13th 2000 the 17,897th-and-last instalment appeared in newspapers around the world.

But that wasn't the end of Charlie Brown and his world. The comic strips live on, there are TV cartoons and movies, and images of him and his quotes and those of Snoopy and the other Peanuts kids all over the internet. They are icons of our time!

Hope charlie brown

We all need friends and we all need hope if we are to live life well. 

Charlie Brown had Snoopy ... who do you have?

And are you, like Charlie, always seeking the hopeful path? 

Are you looking UP or always looking down?

Maybe worth thinking about?


 


Don't Like Mondays?

If you're as old as I am,  you might remember the 1979 Boomtown Rats hit 'I Don't Like Mondays'.

If not - maybe look it up?

It was the band's second hit and it was Number One in the UK charts for four weeks during that summer.

For me it was an iconic sound of my youth. But it was a song born of tragedy, because it was written by  Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers following a dreadful event on January 29th of  that year - the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in San Diego, USA. 

Geldof is quoted as saying he wrote the ballad after he heard that the shooter who fired at children in a playground, killing two adults and injuring eight children and a police officer, explained herself by saying "I don't like Mondays...."

Appalling!

Now, I have to say, many of us might admit that Monday is not our favourite day of the week ... back to work/school after the weekend and all that. 

But I read something recently that helped me put a new spin on Mondays. It's a quote attributed to David Dweck, entrepreneur, investor and speaker ... and I love it.

Just by thinking of Mondays in a different way, putting a more positive spin on the day ... well this says it all really.

SO - Happy Monday!

2016-02-15 16.07.20 - Copy

Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering ... the photograph is one of mine.  It's St Ouen's Bay in Jersey in the Channel Islands.


Beauty out of Chaos

When you were a kid did you ever get into Lego? Perhaps you still are?

I have adults friends and relatives who love a bit of Lego, and these days the constructions come in all themes and all shapes and sizes. From farmyards to Star Wars and Harry Potter's Hogwarts, these kits come with strict instructions, specialist bricks and other objects, which when carefully and meticulously put together, turn into something quite magical. If you want you can recreate the White House, or the Roman Coliseum, the London Sky Line ... all in Lego!

But today I'm not talking about these modern marvels. No, I'm thinking about those basic, simple plastic blocks in bright primary colours which I loved as a child.

Lego (2)There was no order to it  ... usually the Lego bricks were kept in a box and then scattered on the floor. Like the kids of today, we then rifled through them to find what we wanted, making a lot of noise and grabbing what we needed to build that simple house, or car, or even people (before the days when Lego made plastic people) And of course, the best thing was, at the end of it all, we could smash it to pieces and the following day we could use the bricks again to make something new, confident in the knowledge that whatever Lego piece we chose, it would always connect with another.

It all seemed so simple, but of course, it wasn't. The development of the child's toy had not happened overnight.

It has all begun around 1932 when a Danish carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys. Two years later, his company became known as 'Lego' - in Danish, the phrase leg godt  means "play well" ! 

By 1947 the company was developing plastic toys and in 1949 they began producing a new product, 'Automatic Binding Bricks'.  Other companies were also producing similar self-locking blocks, and Lego continued to refine and develop the ultimate 'locking' design, and to search for an outstandingly durable material from which to make their building blocks.

And so it was that 63 years ago today - on January 28 1958 - that the modern Lego brick design was patented.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Back at the start of it all Christiansen had a motto -  "only the best is good enough". He encouraged his workers to never skimp on quality, always producing the best. That is still the Lego Group's motto today and it's stood the Danish company in good stead because Lego is now one of the most recognisable and valuable brands in the world. Not just all those building bricks and incredible kits for adult Lego connoisseurs, but even amusement parks. I've had a few fun days myself at Legoland in the town of Windsor in the UK!

Films, competitions, those theme parks dotted around the world - the Lego Group continues to develop it's brand and products, but I guess it's that iconic brick which we all remember. We certainly remember it when we unexpectedly step on one of them in bare feet ! 

But what I love about Lego is that the original concept and even the fancy kits today are all about IMAGINATION and creativity. And it's about perseverance ... if at first you don't succeed, try try again.

The individual blocks in themselves are nothing. But locked into another, and another, and another, and another ... we can build something out of nothing. We can imagine something and build it. And if we're not happy, we can admit it hasn't worked, and try again, re-building  it using the same blocks which we discarded on the first design.

Out of the chaos of the multi-coloured masses of Lego pieces scattered on the floor in front of us can come order, so long as we have the determination to keep trying, re-thinking our design, and maybe use the bricks and blocks in a slightly different configuration.

There's something spiritual about that.

Out of the chaos of our lives can come order. With a motivation to do our best, some imagination, a good deal of determination and maybe a guide to help us from time to time, we can create something beautiful.

And if it doesn't happen the first, or even the umpteenth time, if we develop our skills, and talents and creativity and motivations, and use them again, and again perhaps in a slightly different way, we can begin to create that beauty in our lives which we have craved.

And - if we think beyond ourselves, the same can be true for our communities, our world. We just need to be committed to creating that beauty, determined not to give up, even if at the moment everything looks and feels so messy!

So - maybe it's time to start building!