About Me

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Just for kids

I had a fairly unconventional childhood, details of which you can find if you go to 'Just for Kids - About me.'

The subjects that I choose, and the way in which I write about them are a reflection of the way that I see the world. I have always been passionate about inequalities and discrimination, and I have a strong sense of fairness. For many years I worked as a social worker, then a teacher, and more recently as an interpreter. When interpreting for asylum seekers and refugees, I have been privileged to hear the dark world of their stories and I have witnessed their suffering.

Yet in the popular press I read about 'bogus' asylum seekers who jump the housing queues and are given welfare handouts that the country can't afford. It is incredible how irresponsible journalists can twist the truth and appeal to people's worst instincts. They play on greed and fear; and often they get away with it through the ignorance of their readers.

The same kind of thing is happening with regard to people who are poor. They are depicted as lazy layabouts who have become dependent on welfare benefits. Whilst there may be a minority of whom this is true, it is far from true of the majority of people who are poor. I know this from my social work experience. Poverty is not glamorous. It is constant anxiety and hardship; and the road that might lead you out of poverty is almost impossible to find.

If you grow up in a family that is reasonably well off you won't meet people who are poor. You won't mix with them and hear their life experience from their own mouths. You will grow up in what is essentially a cultural ghetto, maybe monocultural even, if you largely mix with people of the same skin colour. This makes you an easy target for the right wing press to manipulate. I suppose that biased, irresponsible reporting helps to sell papers to a public who are ignorant of the living conditions that poverty imposes and the terrible plight of those who are forced to seek asylum elsewhere. Frighten people enough, and they will vote for politicians who will keep the underclass in its place, and send outsiders back to the countries to which they belong. And other myths are encouraged to grow; such as the idea that if you are richer than someone else, it is because you deserve to be rich.

What we'll get, if this continues, is an increasingly selfish, self-centred and defensive climate in this country. If adults are feeding on stories that pander to selfishness and greed, what are they going to teach their children? What kind of people will their children become? Will they be able to feel compassion for others less fortunate than themselves?

In writing stories about asylum-seekers and refugees, I hope to find a wide audience for their voices. I try to depict the heroic courage with which they face events over which they have little control. I try to show their moral strength, their courage and their heroism. They are individuals caught up in a web of other people's attitudes and the choices that governments make. We cannot change what has happened to make them flee from their countries, but we can try not to add to their problems by stigmatizing them for seeking asylum.

Nicki Cornwell