Thursday, 26 June 2014

Facing the fear



What’s one of the most horrifying scenarios you can imagine happening in your family circle? If you are a parent I guarantee most will say ‘losing my child.’ Probably many of us have experienced temporary loss, in our own childhood or with our families – that heart-stopping moment when you turn around and he/she has vanished into the crowd, around the corner, through a door, over the hill. Then just as suddenly they reappear and everyone gives a collective sigh of relief; life returns to normal and the day goes on.

But for some of us that nightmare becomes our everyday reality, there is no sigh of relief. A moment in time years ago becomes the defining experience of our lives; it changes everything – who we are, how we function, what we do and even where we live. The collective ‘we’ are the families and loved ones of long-term missing people, those who have been gone for years but left behind siblings who have grown up and parents who have grown old just not knowing whether they are alive or dead. This is a shattering experience for however many days, weeks, months or years it may last – a huge emotional black hole that has colossal impact on all those left behind.

20TH May 1992 my son Quentin went missing from our family home in Auckland, New Zealand – that’s twenty two years ago today as I write these words. Even for me it’s hard to believe we have lived all these years not knowing his whereabouts but perpetually hoping one day for news or information that will unravel the mystery of his disappearance. I can remember clearly in the first week or so after he went, someone said (kindly) ‘It may take 3 or 4 weeks before we find him.’ I went to pieces when I heard this- how could I possibly survive this emotional tsunami for such a long time? If only their prediction had been right.

For me, the journey from 1992 was for many years a long, hard and often desperately lonely road in every way. Nothing prepares you for an experience like this, nobody expects it to happen in their family but it does and the after-shocks go on for evermore. Twenty years ago there was nothing and no-one to give help, advise or support. Once the police had done what they could and finished searching, we were left on our own to absorb the loss and find our own ways to carry on with life.

Nowadays, in the UK and elsewhere, there’s a much greater understanding of the complexities around ‘missing’, both for those that go and those left behind. Academic research has contributed much to this, not least with a new vocabulary that helps to give meaning and context to the emotional impact – words like ‘ambiguous loss’ and ‘living in limbo’ are so apt. The need for specialist counselling has also been recognised since ‘we’ don’t fit into any boxes of the more normal models of grief; we’re not bereaved by accidents, illness or violence. We are bereaved by unexplained and endless loss, living in two dimensions with a part of us frozen in the past and part living in perpetual hope that sometime in the future this loss might change.

When I meet others from the world of ‘missing’ it’s often me who has been on this journey the longest time. More than once it’s been said to me ‘I never wanted to meet someone like you because it makes me realise I too might have many years ahead of me waiting’ – or words to that effect. This I fully understand because I would never have wanted to meet me either!

Even after so long it’s still an evolving story and whilst nothing has actually changed and no light has been shed on Quentin’s disappearance, we feel the ripples going on in ever-widening circles. This in turn means there’s never a place of emotional peace in my mind when thinking of Quentin – which is every day. It’s a process of living with changing feelings, keeping the balance, finding ways to express feelings at different times as best I can.

Hanging onto hope is also a crucial factor. My first hope is of course that one day we will somehow be reconnected with Quentin but I know this would be nothing short of miraculous. My next hope is that some real and conclusive information will one day give answers to our many questions but of course the answers may not be what I want to hear and this is where I have to face my fears. In asking to know what has happened to my son I also have to ask if I’m ready to know? So it’s a test of finding the balance between being positive but realistic and accepting of all possible outcomes. Whatever the story behind Quentin’s disappearance all those years ago, surely nothing can be worse than living with the constant questions and the search for answers.

My personal realisation is that we can take on board great trauma and tragedy, it does change us and define us in new ways and life is different after than it was before. Hope does survive even the toughest challenges and with it all comes a wider, deeper understanding of the human spirit and your own capabilities.

By Sarah Godwin,
Family Representative for the charity Missing People

Monday, 16 June 2014

29 May: Kingston appeal Day

Josie Allan & David Lamb.
A few Thursdays ago, I joined Josie Allan, Regional Coordinator, South of England and David Lamb, another volunteer, at our Kingston Appeal Day in the town centre outside BHS, one of our partner organisations, and in the store. It was great to see all the BHS staff wearing our Missing People t-shirts and taking part in raising awareness for our appeals. 

We had two main objectives. Firstly, to raise awareness of what Missing People does and to talk to shoppers about two local people who have been missing since 2009; Simon Hickson last seen in Surbiton and Ola Akinbowale last seen in Kingston.   

Secondly we asked people to sign up to Child Rescue Alerts; a system designed to alert the public, as quickly as possible, to an abduction or other high risk child disappearance. People who have registered with a mobile phone number and their post code will receive a text in the event of an Alert being issued in their area, asking them to report any sighting to the police.  

It was a busy half-term Thursday, with many families out and about, suburbia and sunshine. I saw my own home town in a different light, especially as I’m usually the one avoiding charity reps! We spent time in the store and outside in Eden Walk.  

Some people just kept walking. A few stopped, disinterested faces, and rapidly signed up despite appearing not to be listening! A few others let me go into some detail, with keen faces, before carefully saying no, they wouldn’t be signing, sometimes because of privacy concerns. It can sometimes be hard to explain our strict data protection rules in the few minutes you have to talk to someone, but I did my best. The most enjoyable conversations were the ones where people had a genuine interest in finding out more and delved quite deeply, asking how often Child Rescue Alerts would be put into action and under what criteria- and then signed up. At least three of the people I spoke to worked in related areas, and I felt quite tested by very knowledgeable people.

One lady unexpectedly told me that her own son had gone missing twice, though he had returned both times.  I expressed sympathy and asked if she’d been in touch with Missing People at all. She’d never heard of us, she had only contacted the police. I talked about our free 24 hour helpline -116000- and the support we could offer if ever needed.  She took a card, though she hoped she wouldn’t have to use it. She was someone who had seemed disinterested initially and slightly put on the spot, but she was happy to chat. 

A young woman in a group was concerned she would be expected to join the search if she received an Alert and said she would feel responsible. Her friend corrected her, explaining that she would simply have to alert the police if she spotted the child. All three signed up. Another person was concerned her phone was too old to receive the text and that it wouldn’t show the photo. I said it would probably be OK, and she would get a description anyway – and if not, she will also receive the alerts via email.

It felt like real grassroots work; a sort of canvassing. There is a genuinely supportive feeling about Missing People. Someone had heard about us on TV, but many people had never heard of us – of these half were definitely interested to hear more. As a Social Media Volunteer, I found it hard work in a non-virtual world to get information across, but perhaps you get a more realistic idea of the cross section of views and interest levels in an ordinary Surrey town.

Penned by Fiona Eddleston
Social Media Volunteer.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Why did I volunteer for Missing People?


As Volunteer Week nears the midway point, another Missing People Volunteer shares their perspective on working for the charity, this time in a social media-based role.

"I have always had a desire to help people. Having learnt of some of the fantastic work that Missing People do for individuals who have gone missing and their families, I was inspired to become involved and dedicate some of my spare time to supporting the cause.

"Previously, I volunteered for just over 5 years as a Special Constable, averaging a commitment of around 1200 hours per year on top of a day job.  After then joining the police full time, I noticed that I had a lot of spare time on my hands so I naturally decided to continue volunteering. I specifically chose Missing People as the charity to volunteer for because I believe that working here will help deepen my understanding of the plight of those that go missing and their families; I believe this understanding will help to inform my professional career, particularly when dealing with people affected by the missing issue.

"I chose to become a Social Media Volunteer at Missing People because I know that social networking sites play a huge part in peoples’ lives these days.  I understand that social media is a very useful and powerful communication tool. As I don’t avidly use social networking sites in my personal life, I am keen to learn and develop skills in this area and perhaps use them in my professional life.

"I’ve only been here a few weeks but I feel that my efforts are valued by the team and I’m keen to continue to contribute the hours!"


Social Media Volunteer.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Moments


As you may know, this week is Volunteer Week! To celebrate this fact, and show how many awesome ways there are to volunteer at Missing People, we're posting a series of volunteer experiences here on the blog. First up is Bhavin Patel, a Team Leader from York:


"I’ll be honest, there was no real thought process involved in choosing to volunteer for Missing People almost a year ago now, apart from that I wanted to do something more than my degree, learn some new skills and meet new people. I faced my laptop screen and filled out my university’s volunteer application. Out of about 7 charities available, I was drawn to Missing People, which seemed the most unique. I submitted the application and waited. That was the first moment.

"After an induction with Martin Crosby, Missing People’s Campaigns Manager for the North of England and Wales, the first event I attended was in Manchester. Moving to York for university, you would think all of my work would be in that area, but to be part of a team back at home in Manchester- and across the north for that matter- was quite remarkable. The event was Team Leader Training. It was here that I learnt about the charity’s values, the issues they deal with and the importance of Missing People. It was great to see so many enthusiastic volunteers; some had been personally affected by the issues surrounding missing people. When I got back to York, I was asked if I wanted to take up a Team Leader position in York. My answer was a resounding “Yes”. These were moments two and three.

"After a few (nervous!) appeal days, I got to know some of the volunteers that I would be working with. My main task was fundraising for a sponsored skydive that I agreed to participate in. Getting to know my team gave me a better chance of getting hold of any help when I needed it. This all led to one of my favourite moments as a volunteer; I was asked to run a small collection at BHS York alongside the supporting RockChoir.


"The main purpose of the event was to raise awareness for the upcoming Carol Service in York. Once the Rock Choir started performing their Christmas songs, a crowd gathered. On a rainy December day, we brought the light to York town, if only for a couple of hours. I could not stop smiling as the generous public filled my collection tin. That was moment four.


"My efforts for the skydive did not go to plan. Whilst I managed to organise a successful charity meal, York street collection and bag pack at a small ASDA, other businesses and societies were less helpful. A lot of supermarkets were all full in terms of their charity work.

"The amount of money needed to skydive for free also meant a lot of my team pulled out. I was disappointed, but through the efforts of myself and other skydiver (Fred my housemate, shout out!) we raised £700. It was a long day, but jumping out of that plane and freefalling achieved one of my life ambitions. It was the best experience of my life.  Moment number five times infinity!


"I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah my fellow team leader who skydived the year before and offered me some advice! She’s also done a tremendous job in York and can graduate with her head held high.


"As a thank you from the charity, team leaders were invited to London to spend a day at head office. It was great to put a face to people I had spoken to before and to speak to some that were new. I also helped in some filming for the new fundraising campaign, Everybody Stops for Tea. I hope to organise one of these events in York soon.


"The theme of this post is ‘Moments.’ I hope these special experiences will stay with me throughout my life. Everybody has moments; those times when we live for the present. The problem is, not many people stop to record these moments and enjoy them. That is why I am writing this.  I enjoyed these moments as they happened and I can look back on them with pride."


Penned by Bhavin Patel

Team Leader, York.

Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit www.missingpeople.org.uk.

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.