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понедельник, 2 января 2017 г.

Women of the year - the real life heroines

From risking their lives for others to battling back from injury, this fearless fivesome are Britain's most inspiring women

"I'm not going to hide my face"


Katie Piper, 26, from Hampshire

Former model and TV presenter Katie suffered unimaginable injuries in March 2008 when her ex-boyfriend, Daniel Lynch, 33, got an accomplice to throw sulphuric acid in her face. Both were jailed for life earlier this year. Despite being left blind in one eye and suffering third-degree burns to her face, upper body, wrists and hands, Katie astonished medics with her bravery and determination. She's undergone 36 operations and recently appeared in a Channel 4 documentary.
She says: "I'm sure people think I can't bear to look in the mirror. But the opposite is true. When I look at my scars, they remind me of how many people care about me and how much effort they've put into helping me get better.
To me, my scars are a constant reminder of what I've come through.
Katie before the attack

I'm still here. I'm alive and now I'm starting to live again. My life isn't about the attack any more - it no longer defines me. Now it's all about the future. I want to help other young women like me, so I'm launching a charity, the Katie Piper Foundation, for people with facial disfigurements. I'm going to show them they can still look beautiful. Plus I want it to offer support for victims of domestic violence, or anyone who suffers from confidence issues.
Before the attack, my biggest worry was whether I had a spot on my face. But everything changed on that day last year. When I first came home from hospital - three weeks later - I shut my front door and never wanted to open it again.
Katie suffered horrific injuries
I had to be fed through a tube, and wear a special mask - which creates moisture to help my skin and scars heal - 23 hours a day. I was allowed one break from it to wash my face.
But I couldn't hide away forever - I didn't want to be a prisoner in my own home. Friends of friends, people who didn't know me very well, would say they couldn't believe I painted my nails or thought it weird I still wanted to wear high heels. But why? I'm still a person who wants to feel attractive. Which is why I agreed to the documentary Katie: My Beautiful Face. I wanted to help break down those barriers, and show that disfigured people are still human, still have feelings.
Making the documentary helped my confidence grow so much that I finally felt ready to move on with my life.
Within a month of it airing, I received over 1,000 letters and emails. Now when I go to the shops or take my dog for a walk and strangers approach me, I'm not automatically panicking they want to hurt me. It's because they recognise me.
I've had 36 operations, have more lined up, and have to carry on wearing my plastic mask for two more years, but that's fine. If I don't wear it, my face feels uncomfortable. Now it's like a fashion accessory and is as much a part of my routine as putting on my underwear!
It does sound cheesy, but what happened has made me a better person. I've grown up and realised what's important. You have to make the most of life.
I feel really privileged to be chosen to do Channel 4's Alternative Christmas Message, and I hope to do more TV work. I'm not going to hide away because of my face and I hope it won't be such a shock for viewers to see facial disfigurements on TV. My life's changed massively. Now it's up to me to make sure that it's changed for the better."
"I'll never get over my loss"
Maryon Stewart, 56, a nutritionist from Brighton
Maryon was devastated when her daughter Hester, 21, died after taking the party drug GBL in April. But her grief turned to fury when she discovered that the drug was legal. Since then, she has campaigned tirelessly to have it banned. Her hard work paid off. This week, it will be reclassified as a class C drug.
She says: "When I lost Hester, I felt like someone had reached inside my body and squeezed my heart to pieces.
My daughter died after taking a small dose of the legal high, GBL, along with a few drinks on a night out. Despite being an A-grade student who was studying molecular medicine at college, like so many youngsters, she didn't realise mixing alcohol and GBL could be fatal. She went to sleep, slipped into a coma, and never woke up.
I'll never, ever get over her death, but I'm determined that some good will come from it. That's why I began campaigning for GBL - which is used in paint stripper - to be made illegal for personal use.
What made Hester's death all the more futile is that the Government was given the opportunity to ban this drug nine months earlier, but didn't. When I found this out it made my blood boil and I knew I had to do something about it. I didn't want another parent to go through the hell I was in.
I spoke to the police and looked on the internet and the deeper I dug, the more I realised that there was a real need to raise levels of awareness so that people could make informed choices about these so-called 'safe' legal highs.
I wrote to the then-Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, asking for a meeting, which I was granted. But then I broke my ankle and she resigned, so it was a few weeks before I finally got to see the new Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, in June this year.
After a few intense meetings, he and the Home Office agreed that they would not only make GBL illegal, but also work harder to make youngsters more aware of the dangers.
Hester died after taking the drug GBL
My ex-husband, Hester's dad Alan, and my eldest daughter, Phoebe, 27, also got involved with the campaign while my two sons, Chesney, 26, and Sim, 17, have helped behind the scenes by being a huge support to me.
In truth, all the meetings, research, press and TV interviews were a good distraction for me when underneath it all I was still grieving so desperately. I was trying to make sense of losing my daughter and this could only happen if I could bring about significant change in her memory.
Finally, in September, I was told that GBL would be reclassified as a class C drug, making it illegal to sell or take it. Hearing the news, I felt happy that I'd achieved something, but it wasn't enough - I want to see it become class B or A, so people realise it's just as dangerous as heroin.
And I'm not giving up yet. What I've done is just the tip of the iceberg. Now I realise that the whole drugs system needs to be overhauled - from its classification system to the support offered to addicts.
Every time I read about another death from a legal high, it makes me feel incredibly sad. If I can stop more from happening then I'll have begun to make a real difference."
"I had to stand up for myself"
Riam Dean, 22, a student, from Greenford, west London
Riam had us all cheering her on when she took on the might of American fashion giant Abercrombie & Fitch. Riam, who was born without a left forearm, was banished to the stockroom of the company's Savile Row store in London because it was deemed the cardigan she wore to disguise her disability violated the store's strict 'look' policy. She sued them and, while the tribunal didn't uphold her disability discrimination claim, she was awarded £9,000 in damages for unlawful harassment.
She says: "Some people may say that my decision to sue was a momentary lapse of sanity! It certainly wasn't an easy decision. I knew it'd be stressful, and it was a lot to take on during my final year at university studying law. But I work with a children's charity, Reach, which helps kids with hand and arm deficiencies, and I wouldn't have been able to look the children in the eye if I hadn't stood up for myself.
My tribunal wasn't just about me; I was also fighting for every disabled person who has been made to feel inadequate because of their appearance. Growing up, I was never teased. Other children would just ask: 'What happened to your arm?' Family and friends treated me equally - why shouldn't I expect to be treated equally at work?
On the day of my tribunal, one of the girls I help, 10-year-old Amy Marren, was competing as a swimmer in the Youth London Games. She said she wanted to win a gold medal for me. When I got home she called to say she'd thought of me the whole time and ended up getting two golds!
I was never confident I'd win my tribunal, but that didn't matter to me because, in my eyes, I'd already won simply by standing up for myself.
Riam was awarded £9,000 for unlawful harassment
The 10-week wait to hear the verdict was agonising. My mum eventually took the phone call with the good news. I thought I'd jump up and down, but I just stood with tears streaming down my face. I was speechless.
The money I was awarded just about covered my legal fees, but I don't mind, money was never my incentive - the smile on my face is much more important.
I was invited to do TV, newspaper and magazine interviews and thousands of people got in touch. It was amazing that people from all around the world had heard about me. Now, when I mention I'm the girl who sued Abercrombie & Fitch, people remember my story and know who I am.
Since the case, I've decided to apply for a master's degree in human resource management. I have a law degree, so I could become an employment lawyer - but they don't prevent discrimination, they just deal with it as it happens. I want to stop it from happening in the first place."
Gemma Davies, 30, a human rights law student, from Kings Langley, Herts
Gemma regularly risks her life in war-torn countries such as Sudan and Bangladesh to save lives. She runs the gauntlet of guns and bombs in her role setting up health programmes for medical humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
She says: "I'd worked in countries such as Uganda and Sri Lanka after the tsunami. But it wasn't until this April, when I began a four-month stint as MSF project coordinator in Rohingya, a village in Bangladesh, that I was truly shocked by what I saw.
"I know the work we do really helps"
With my team - a doctor, a nurse and a logistician (who sorts the practical side) - I was setting up medical aid for under-fives and a sanitisation programme for 20,000 unregistered refugees who had fled Burma for Bangladesh. They had settled themselves outside a legal refugee camp in makeshift homes made from sackcloth and twigs.
Food was sparse, the water they had to drink and wash in was filthy and there were no toilet facilities so urine and faeces were everywhere. These poor people wore the same clothes day in, day out, while the children were naked.
It was a pitiful sight, but I was to see worse when in June, angry locals and authorities went on the rampage, ripping down the refugees' shelters and beating and attacking them with sticks and machetes in protest at them being there.
Despite the violence, the refugees didn't leave the area. They had nowhere else to go. As I walked among them checking for casualties, I was haunted by their blank eyes.
Their spirit had been battered so much that each day they were coming to me saying that they'd poison themselves if they had to go back. They wanted to sleep in the clinic, but we couldn't let them, as sick children desperately needed those beds - we were already treating one little girl who'd been left with a terrible machete injury to her head after the attack.
It was heartbreaking, but I couldn't let myself feel guilty. Doing my job, I always have to remember that although we can't help everyone, what we can do makes a huge difference.
Gemma on one of her trips
I remember one young girl who was just four and at death's door when she was carried into our makeshift hospital, which was powered only by a dodgy generator. She had sores everywhere, was severely malnourished and drifting in and out of consciousness. We were sure she would die. The medicine we had was basic, but we started to rehydrate her with a drip and fed her nutritious meals to build up her strength. Amazingly, within a couple of months she was up and about, chatting away to staff. Somehow she'd found the strength inside to carry on and we'd helped her do that.

It can be hard at times - the extreme poverty, the horrific violence, the helplessness you feel in the face of it all - but I've never thought of jacking it all in. In the darkest times, when I feel down and frustrated, I remember that this is what I've wanted to do all my life. To help people. That's what keeps me going through the bad times. I'm currently taking a year's break from Médecins Sans Frontières to study for a masters in human rights law, which will allow me to do even more for people who can't help themselves.
Although I stay focused in my job, I do sometimes have a good cry. The awful things I've seen just get too much. But I try not to dwell on it. I know what I do with Médecins Sans Frontières really does help - I've seen it first hand."
"Young people need role models"
Leila Thomas, 36, project manager, from Lewisham, south-east London
Appalled by the spiralling youth crime in her neighbourhood, Leila Thomas decided to do something about it. The project manager for a business information company set up Urban Synergy, an organisation that aims to inspire and motivate young people through a mentoring programme.
She says: "A year ago, if you'd met Jacob* 14, in an alley, you'd have been in trouble. Angry and volatile, he was the 'general' of a south London gang and spent his time hanging round his estate terrorising residents, mugging people and fighting with rival gang members. He often 'tooled up' with knives. Today, Jacob is back in school and the only things he shoots are basketball hoops.
A dramatic turn around by any standard, and it happened simply because Jacob was shown he had other options open to him.
He was befriended by a mentor, a positive male role model who helped him believe in himself, and showed him how to make different choices, which in turn led him down different paths in life.
Of course, the majority of young people aren't into gangs and weapons, but they can still benefit from a mentor. There's nothing more inspiring than seeing a kid once labelled a failure turn things around. That's what motivates me to run Urban Synergy.
I had the idea nearly three years ago over Sunday dinner with my family. My friend's son had just been attacked on a bus by a group of young lads. He wasn't badly hurt, but he was really shaken up by it. I said I thought it was terrible that nowadays people are so scared of young people that no one stepped in to help him. My partner replied: 'Well you're a part of this community, what are you doing about it?'
I realised he was right. Instead of worrying about the problem, I could be part of the solution. I picked up the phone and asked my cousin, a secondary school teacher, if I could bring 10 of my successful professional friends to speak with her students. She agreed, and we spent an afternoon with a group of her pupils.
Leila with the teens she mentors

It was immediately apparent that the kids who flourished had strong role models in their lives. Those who didn't had no stability.
I have carried on running these workshops every couple of months for kids aged 11 to 18. I recently helped 12 young teenage boys, who were seen as totally disaffected. I got them involved in setting up a role model project at their school. They were so motivated that instead of leaving school at 16 and going on the dole - which was the way they were headed - every single one went into further education. I was so proud!
I've also set up a website - - and now have a core group of 50 volunteers, including barristers, pilots and scientists, who happily mentor teenagers for a couple of hours a week. Young people can apply online for mentoring, but many are referred by their school. They're not always delighted by the prospect initially, but we meet them, explain what we do and give them the choice, and we've never had anyone turn down the opportunity.
A mentor might get a young person to make a career map, help them arrange work experience or manage the transition from school to college. But they also have fun together, going for lunch or ice skating. Often young people just want to be listened to.
As well as one-on-one mentoring, we run seminars in the summer holidays. Last week, I learnt that one of our students, Keisha*, 17, who had been excluded from school a dozen times, has become the first and only girl in her class to successfully apply for college. And another, Sengova*, who had achieved all As at A-level, couldn't find work experience in the legal field. We helped him and now he's applying for a place at Cambridge University to study law. Successes like these make the work worthwhile."

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