|Sister Shirley Crawford speaking |
at school last night
It was she who talked with me over the phone or in person virtually every day, always willing to listen and put aside time for us regardless of how busy she was. It was she who handed me tissue after tissue when I broke down in the school medical centre when the stress and strain got too much for me. It was she who hugged me when I needed to know someone understood and cared. She even took me out for lunch on one occasion and invited me round to her house for lunch, just so I could vent and lean on someone's shoulder.
To say that "Sheila" (whose real name is Sister Shirley Crawford of Woodhouse Grove School, Bradford) went over and beyond the call of duty as a school nurse is an understatement. She was an absolute saint and I don't know what I would have done without her.
And while she was supporting our family through our years of hell, she was supporting other families at the school through their struggles, too.
What a woman.
Shirley and I are still very much in touch. She is also in touch with my son, always eager to know how he is getting along.
Anyway, last night she was back at the school doing a talk about her volunteer work in Uganda. She used to devote the school summer holidays to flying out to Northern Uganda to work with child and teenage victims of the war.
Then, in 2012, she decided that this was something that was so important that she couldn't simply break off and fly back to the UK at the end of August, leaving vulnerable youngsters who had come to depend on her.
So she sold her house and car, handed in her notice at school and moved to a small remote village in Northern Uganda to work full time with these youngsters. She relies totally on donations to do her work. She doesn't get paid a penny.
Woodhouse Grove School has been incredibly supportive to Shirley, raising money and getting her to speak about her life in Uganda to pupils and staff. (A delegation of senior pupils is going out there to help Shirley during their holidays this summer.) And twice a year Shirley comes into the school to talk at an evening event, which is why I was at the school last night (along with my son, my mum and my husband).
Shirley's project for 2016 is to continue with the foundation of a hospice for children with cancer in an area where there is zero medical support for this illness and where, as a result, 80% of children die. She's retrained so she can offer nursing support as well as the oodles of love that she doles out to these kids who know her as "Mama Shirls".
Shirley is looking for people or businesses to "sponsor a bed" in this new hospice, so this year I have decided to donate the royalties from my books for this purpose.
So in 2016 I will be "Turning Books into Beds" - and my ex art college pal, cartoonist Peter Coupe, is kindly creating an image for me to promote this message here in the blog and on Facebook, etc.