We are young voices
Everybody views the world in a different light, depending on individuals’ experience, their surroundings, and mindset. We are young people who have been in care. But it’s not ‘care’ that defines who we are. We are the sum of our experiences, our ambitions, and our dreams.

I wish this day would pop up more frequently because I think everyone could do with a bit of happiness in their lives. I live in London, apparently the least friendly place in the UK, and it’s very rare to see a day where people are smiling and happy. It’s almost always gray and the weather seems to reflect our mood – pathetic fallacy.

For those of you who don’t know, I have depression and keeping happy is pretty difficult.

I prefer having people around me, getting stuck in and doing something that will make a change and share that happiness with others. In my experience, you make more of an impact when there are more people involved.

One of the places I like being when I want to lift my mood is Drive Forward. It’s almost like being in a safe bubble of happiness, everyone smiles, greets you and makes you feel welcome. As for the projects, I got involved in. Last fall, for example, I was part of a group of young people that put together a proper theatre production. All of us worked together, coming up with ideas, writing the script, and rehearsing as a group. We had some guidance and help, of course, but only because we all pulled together the play was a big success in a sold-out theatre!

In short, happiness is awesome! It’s so powerful, that it can even help us overcome times of sadness and distress. When losing a loved one, for example, we often think of the good times we shared with them, where something made us smile or laugh uncontrollably. It’s these moments of happiness that will stay with us, engraved in our memories.

Putting on a ‘happy face’ can work wonders. I went to my local corner shop a while ago and this lady had the most serious face I’ve seen in a long time. Her mouth was basically a straight line, her eyebrows pulled together and her eyes kept staring at me. It felt like she was expecting me to steal something and she wanted to catch me red handed. I put my gum on the counter and said in a calm voice ‘Hi, how are you today?’ +Judging from her reaction I don’t think anyone asked her how she was for ages. Her frown literally turned upside-down! Seeing her face light up and all that anger disappear seemed to brighten up both our days.

I love making people smile and making them happy; it helps with my depression too. I suppose many people would agree with me when I say that making someone else feel better lifts your own mood as well.

A lot of us strive to achieve happiness in life through achieving specific goals like graduating from college, getting a well-paid job, being in a relationship or getting married. Honestly, I think that doing all of those things is great, but is it really those things that make you truly happy? I’m not talking about feeling satisfied or content, but actually HAPPY.

I’d love to hear what makes everyone else happy. Send us an email and share your thoughts about happiness and how you manage to make yourself happy!

PS: Join the movement for a happier world 🙂

Written by Roopa Mehta.

Published on 20 March 2017

#CareDay

Pizza Day

Many people hear the word “care” and immediately think of Tracey Beaker. That’s what came to mind when I was young. I never thought that one day I would find myself in the same situation; I never thought that one day I would be in “care”. 

When the holidays rolled around, my mum used to send my brothers and me to my one of my uncles or aunties, to get away from the problems at home. Technically, that counts as “care”. I was about 4 years old when I started staying with my uncle’s more and more often. I can honestly say I didn’t like it much; I missed my mum and though I loved my uncles and aunties, but I loved my mum even more.

When I got to the age of 10, things started to become more stressful at home, but instead of sending us away as usual, my mum kept us with her. Social services eventually got involved and took one of my brothers and me into care. My other brother was deemed “too old” to be taken into care. It was only for a short period, 3 days, but I still remember the relief I felt to be away from all the troubles at home. What I didn’t know then is, that everyone who knew my parents, our friends and neighbours, knew about what was going on, and they were angry; angry at me for not being with my family!

When I was 13 years old, social services set my mum and dad up in hostels. They didn’t feel like it was safe for my brother and me to stay there, so they decided for us to stay with my eldest brother for a while.

About six months later, my family and I were eventually given a place to live, but troubles started to brew again. Social services were in and out of our lives whilst my brother and I carried on living at home. That is, until I ran away for the second time. I was immediately placed into “emergency care”. Retrospectively, it all seems a bit surreal, since the very next day I was told I couldn’t stay with her anymore and had to live out of a car with my brother for a week before I was returned home by social services. I know it was only one day, but for 24 hours, I had the best carer I could have ever asked for! She was kind, made me smile, and even invited my brother over to take care of me. I was happy with her, and we actually stayed in touch.

It didn’t take long until someone at college found out about my situation and what was going on in my home. This is how I got in touch with the Gaia Centre, where, after telling my story, I was advised to look for another accommodation.

Soon after, I experienced yet another type of “care”, a properly set up placement through the Council and facilitated by a charitable organisation. For about a year and a half, I stayed with a family in a reasonably happy environment, before I was told that I had to move into “independent living”. Unfortunately, the flat share I was put in didn’t work out for me at all, so I was sent back to live with my mum.

As you can see, “care” for me has always been a bit inconsistent, you have no independence and no way of really being yourself but, if you are placed with the right person and have kind people around you, who really invite you in and nurture you, I believe you can really thrive.

Being “in care” or being a “care leaver” brings about negative connotations with most people. They make assumptions and stigmatize you and in a heartbeat they think to know that you’re trouble. I refuse to think like that, because I know that having been in care and being a care leaver, I’ve made more experiences, good and bad, than someone twice my age and those experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. From an early age, I had to learn to stand up for what I think is right and stand by my ideals, which I believe not many young people can say they can do confidently.

Being in care doesn’t make you any different from anyone else it just makes you…you 🙂

Written by Roopa Mehta

Published on 20 Feb 2017

#SVW2017SVW2017Student Volunteering Week reminds us that, supporting others is one of the kindest and potentially most life-changing acts you can do. Volunteering isn’t just for wealthy people who want to “give something back”; it’s not just for people who are fulfilling their community service commitment either; it’s a chance for YOU to step up and support others!

From my own experience, I know that possibilities to volunteer are endless!

When I first started volunteering, I was in secondary school and helped at Vauxhall City Farm for a month. I looked after the animals and supported the staff where I could. I also gave tours to visitors, taking them around the farm and talking about the animals. Did I mention that I love animals?

I then went on doing something more challenging, working with vulnerable adults aged 23-65. Considering I was just a college student, it was a heart-breaking experience. I saw people break down under the burden of their addictions and, to twist the knife, I became witness to an act of abuse committed by a member of staff. At first, I didn’t quite know what to do, but eventually, me and another volunteer decided to step forward and reported the incident to the Head of Department. Thanks to our “whistleblowing”, the victim was provided with bespoke support, allowing them to move forward. In this case, my volunteering was truly “life-changing”.

During my time at college, I was giving tours to prospective students, showing them what the college had to offer and explaining the different courses and specialisations available, as well as the difference between B-Tech and A-levels. It was fun!

Probably the most exciting experience I’ve ever made volunteering, was when I was working for a children’s organisation. My specific job role was…wait for it… a “Playworker”! What on earth is a “playworker”? Well, besides data protection, legalities, and the care aspect, the job is exactly what you would expect it to be. I spent a lot of time with the children (2 to 12 years old), essentially playing and having a great time. I would take them to the park, engage them in craft making, prepare food with them, and so on. We would have water fights and just do what you would do with any child on holidays!

In my six months with them, I grew quite attached to the children, even the troublemakers. One boy will always stay in my memories. He was deaf and with time, he found a way to teach me how to communicate with him. Leaving was definitely bittersweet.

Loving working with children, I then started volunteering as a student pediatric nurse on an intensive care ward for babies. Emotionally, this experience was very difficult for me, as I grew close to my patients as well as their parents. In any case, it was definitely the most labour intensive experience, but also the most rewarding. I learned a lot!

As you can see, there are so many ways you can give your time and volunteer for the benefit of the community. Volunteering not only gives you the opportunity to help those in need but also allows you to expand your own social and professional networks, find support for yourself and build your skills. All of that whilst doing something you truly believe in! And, if that doesn’t convince you, remember that it always looks good on your CV!

Written by Roopa Mehta.

Published on 24 Feb 2017

#RandomActsOfKindness
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When you help an elderly lady carry her heavy shopping bags up the stairs; when you take a day off work to help a friend move house; when you spend your weekends volunteering for a charity, what do you do it for?

In the words of Joey Tribbiani from FRIENDS, “Look, there’s no unselfish good deeds, sorry”, but is that necessarily the case? I mean sure, doing good generally makes us feel good, but does that mean we’re only doing it out of purely selfish reasons? Just to get high on that self-endorsing good feeling? Personally, I don’t think so…

When I see someone who needs a “pick me up”, my first thought is ‘How can I help?’ It’s not ‘Seeing you in that situation makes me feel bad, so what can I do to make me feel better about myself’?

In all honesty, as someone who is in receipt of benefits, I feel guilty all the time. Especially, when I see people on the streets who doesn’t even have a home to go back to. I don’t have much money myself, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help people who are worse off than me. Support is something that I feel everyone should offer to someone in need.

I once met a homeless man who exchanged his artwork for clothing or food, sometimes money. I sat with him for a while and when he said he was hungry I got him a pack of water bottles, a sandwich, and some soft fruit because he said he’d lost his teeth and couldn’t chew hard things. I think what made his day more wasn’t the food or the water, but having someone to talk to, someone to listen to his story and appreciate him as a member of our society.

People usually walk past homeless people, they toss money in their direction or give them things they don’t really need. This is how people become more and more isolated and lonely. I’m not saying you have to buy things or hang out with someone homeless in order for your good deed to count, but talking to someone for five minutes can really make a difference, to them and to yourself.

I feel that London has become a really cold place, not just temperature-wise, but also in the way we treat one another. Believe it or not, it is important for us as human beings to reach out and make people smile. I used the Uber app a few weeks ago and my driver had only been working for about 3 weeks. He felt that most of his passengers were rude and inconsiderate. They didn’t help him out with directions when his satnav crashed and made unpleasant comments. I spent the best part of our journey chatting to him about his life and giving him directions. When we arrived he was beaming, and you could just tell that someone being kind to him really made his day. Well that, and the fact that he would finally get a good nights’ sleep and stop thinking about all the rude customers he had encountered.

It’s the little things, random acts of kindness, that can make a real difference to other peoples’ lives, or at least their day. So whenever you have the opportunity to do something kind for someone, take it! That’s what Dance Moms Jojo Siwa is doing (watch the video!), and as Ellen Degeneres would say “Be Kind to one another – bye”.

Written by Roopa Mehta

Published 17 Feb 2017

 #PizzaDay

Pizza Day

Pizza…what seems like the universal favourite for so many people. What do you think of when you hear the words “I’m ordering Pizza”? Well…I think of the gooey cheese, the amazing tomato sauce and the never ending variety of toppings.

One of my cousins lives in East Africa. She visited England when she was about 17 and she tried her very first slice- NO! – her very first BITE of pizza and she never looked back. Every day she was here all she wanted to eat was pizza. I mean, can you even FATHOM not ever having a slice of pizza for 17 YEARS??

I digress. Pizza originates from Italy so they say, but America (particularly New York) is famous for their huge slices of pizza. I’ve never been but I’ve seen the pizza Tony Stark had in Ironman and boy…what I would have given for that pizza. If I could insert the emoji with the hearts for eyes right now I so would. Everybody seems to like pizza – it’s one of the few foods you can share without that whiny voice saying “they have more than me!”

Each slice is proportionate to the person you’re giving it to and it has practically all the food groups; pizza bread – carbs, tomato sauce and veggies – one of your five fruits and veg a day, cheese – dairy…protein and healthy fats (kind of.)

Finally, after all these years, there is a National Pizza Day a day where we can fully appreciate pizza for all it has to offer us. According to nationaldaycalender.com the best and only way to observe this auspicious occasion is to throw a pizza party! I’m down, just tell me when and where! But wait…there’s more! Not just a day BUT according to the Metro (I know, I know, not the most reliable source) Domino’s released an “emergency pizza button” on national pizza day in 2016. 50 VIPs (that’s Very Important People, not Very Italian Pizzas – which by the way, is so much better) were given these buttons – even Kiss 100 Radio’s Melvin Odoom. These weren’t released to the public unfortunately, but you could have won a button by entering their pizza competition. If only I had heard about this earlier…sigh…Domino’s spokesperson Louise Butler stated, “The good news is that easy ordering isn’t just restricted to a few lucky winners – all Domino’s fans can now download our mobile app to use our ‘virtual one-touch’ payment system – the rest is simple, just push the button when you want pizza!” But it’s just not the same Louise…It’s Just. Not. The same!

I hope you guys have a lovely National Pizza Day and spoil yourselves with an abundance of pizza! I would end this with a cheesy joke but…oh right…LOL bye for now!

Written by Roopa Mehta

Published 9 Feb 2017

Do you have something to add to the conversation? Get in touch with juno@driveforwardfoundation.com and start writing!

Young Voices provides a space for the young people working with us to bring their thoughts to paper and express their opinions on a variety of issues. The views and opinions are those of the young authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Drive Forward Foundation.

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