I remember the first years of Children in Need- saving up 2p pieces in an old whiskey bottle throughout the year ready for the “Big Night”! I excitedly carried the massive bottle into Swansea Centre one night, it was heavy and cumbersome and as I got to the stage the bottle smashed. I spent the rest of the evening picking up 2p pieces out of glass and wondering why I just didn’t put the proceeds in a bag, but I was still proud to do my small bit for Pudsey. I loved the bear a long time before my passion to help make a difference to the lives of children even started and never considered becoming the CEO of an amazing charity -Faith in Families- or actually on the Board of BBC CIN.
When my eldest son was diagnosed with Autism, at the age of 4 one of the first things I did as a young naïve mother was seek the support of the Headteacher of the school he was soon to become a pupil. I was told my son would not achieve anything academic and therefore was better off attending a special needs school across the city. He could be taxied every day, away from his sibling, his community, and his friends but apparently it was better for him! The Headteacher did not even look down at my son and dismissed him within a matter of minutes as someone that did not deserve to be in his school. It was at that very minute that my enthusiasm began, that every child should have the opportunity not just to survive but to thrive and be valued. AND he was right. My son deserved to be somewhere that he would be appreciated, included, and cherished and certainly not in his school.
We moved house, hunted for the right school, and ensured he and his brothers had the education they had the right to experience. 16 years later when I stood cheering in a graduation ceremony as he walked across the stage to receive his degree, I whooped loud enough that wherever in the world that Headteacher was, he would have heard me. I was incredibly proud and happy and further determined that every child, especially those who did not have a resilient parent would not be dismissed.
Every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves and has the right to the opportunities to be the best they can be and to flourish. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of wonderful young individual people in the UK that do not have these possibilities, that are hungry, cold, unsafe, or written off. I have turned my rage, from that moment, of the injustice that another human being could take away my sons’ opportunities away from him, to be committed to bringing the power back to our children.
My working life has been in Wales, which is the UK worst nation for child poverty. I have worked developing and leading grassroots projects that seek not only to bring laughter and fun to children and their families but also to raise their voices and find ears to listen to their stories. Advocating to change the narrative of what poverty is and the stigma and shame that young people can feel because of circumstances that they have had no choice in. Being born into poverty as a child can be a life sentence, poverty is not a choice. Many have no chance in changing their situations and we all must be ambitious and radical if we really, seriously want to care to help. If we want to understand the challenges of disabilities and adversity, if we want to make every childhood count. I do, I care, I want to listen, and I want to be a partner with Pudsey Bear to make change happen.
Supporting Pudsey Bear, to dance, sing, ice skate, cycle, cake bake but ultimately make a difference to our children. Bringing my knowledge, experience, and tenacity to what we can achieve together so that Children in Need can have the biggest possible impact to children and young people in the UK.
As Leader of Faith in Families I am forever scanning the horizon so that we know when to change direction. Before the pandemic we were moving into more bespoke 1-2-1 work with children that we could see being excluded from education and their communities in our Brighter Futures project. We set about making a positive difference for them and this has proven to have lasting change. During the pandemic we were able to continue our work remotely and now as we slowly move out of the pandemic the stories of the consequences of covid on our children’s mental health and on their development are heart-breaking. The crisis conditions that children are growing up in is catastrophic.
I am incredibly proud of what my teams have achieved during such challenging times. Children’s charities are needed now more than ever, and the strategic direction of Children in Need is even more vital. I am absolutely delighted to be appointed as Chair of the Impact Committee and I hope to have a meaningful presence on the national Board of Trustees of BBC Children in Need.
-Written by Cherrie Bija, CEO at Faith in Families.
At Faith in Families, we see the potential in every child. We know that with the right environment and support, every child can thrive and experience the childhood they truly deserve!
Giving these children the chance to play, be outdoors, and meet friends is incredibly important and something that they rarely get the chance to do. But with your support we can do so much more to make our city a better place for everyone to live, work, play and grow in Swansea.