Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHALLENGE (08/17/17)
TITLE: My Eye on the Prize
By Melanie Kerr
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I thought I was done with school, the choking smell of chalk, the shuffle of chairs and the expectation foisted upon a child. The chairs and the expectation remain, I suppose, but the chalk and the board have given way to whiteboard screens, projectors and animated power point displays.
More than that, on her home ground, I am in the company of my sister, Serena, the school Rector. She stands at the side of the hall, casually leaning against the wall, neat in her suit and heeled shoes. I feel intimidated. Dressed in my jodhpurs and mud encrusted boots there’s a species worth of space between us.
The letter inviting me to take part in this year’s YPI scheme is lost among other letters on the table in our small office. YPI - The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative is all about getting groups of children to work together, research a charity, do some kind of presentation and win the £3000 prize. Discovering philanthropy in their local community and supporting it apparently matters. You don’t get more local than my stables on Eastwitch Road.
I weigh up the opposition. The woman from the dog rescue centre has a sad looking collie sitting obediently at her heels. There’s a man from Limmington next to an empty wheelchair and a table spread with gadgets to help the deaf, the blind and the lame to become independent. Jim, my husband, jokingly told to me to bring a horse with me. Harry, he suggested, is good with children.
Horse riding is for the affluent they say. There’s nothing philanthropic about riding lessons, except if it’s for the disabled. The term “Equine Therapy” is a new one to most people. They have heard of old people’s homes inviting dogs and cats to be stroked by their clients. Think in terms of a horse, and not in an old people’s home, but in a field. Think beyond the old people. Think about the young. Think about the damaged young. Maybe they came out of the womb that way, or maybe someone, a friend, a neighbour or a family member did the damage. They have lost, or they never had, the trust of people. Animals, horses, are perhaps better company. They don’t judge.
It is more complicated that putting a horse and boy together. Rather than share the science involved I share stories, illustrated by power point slides of some of our workshops and the people we have helped.
Question time arrives and I expect a cynical silence and the unwritten rule of not seeming to be interested that was prevalent in my day but there’s a wave of hands across the hall. Serena steps forward and directs the discussion. They want to know about the horses and the young people I meet. They want to know about how I got into the project, the funding I already receive and whether I am qualified to do the job. They are taking the £3000 seriously and don’t want to see it wasted!
“What would you say is your greatest challenge?”
There’s a lull in the questions and Serena steps in.
I think of the bills piled up on the table at home. It’s not the most lucrative of businesses and, yes, those simply learning to ride and paying lessons pay for much of it. We are constantly hunting down funding opportunities and wading our way through pages of application forms. That’s a challenge.
I think of the long hours before and after a workshop trawling through research papers on autism or reports on best treatments for victims of domestic violence. Fragile people need careful handling. That’s certainly a challenge.
There’s the physical challenge of dark mornings, cold handed and cold footed trudging out to the stables. Age eats away at my flexibility and stamina and there’s never enough sleeping time to recover.
Is it in proving that my help offered really helps? We are lumped in with other off-the-wall treatments. There’s probably a pill on the market that can be prescribed to our clients and health workers are suspicious of us.
The challenge I realise is in standing here in front of a crowd, sharing what I do and why it matters to me, talking not to the crowd but to Serena showing her who I am and asking her to accept me.
The end comes and there’s loud applause.
Serena hugs me.
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