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I am a wife, mother,grandmother, aunt, dog and cat owner, professional buyer, reader, movie lover. I love reading blogs and now I am writing one.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A small part in a BIG event: Or, how I found my voice

 A short while ago, I stumbled upon a blog written by a 9-year old girl, nicknamed VEG.  I have since learned her real name, as has the entire world. More on that later. I’m not going to use it though because to me she is VEG.

I do not recall how I heard about the blog http://neverseconds.blogspot.com/.  I think it was an article on CNN.  I’m not sure though.  I was enchanted by this amazing young lady and I started following her.  I added her to my igoogle and moved her right up to the top, just under my beloved niece and nephew-in-law, so I would always remember to read her posts.
She started the blog with the encouragement of her dad.  She had been having discussions with him about her school lunches.  Firstly, there was not enough food, secondly, it was not great food, and lastly, it was not healthy food.  I forgot to mention, VEG lives in Scotland. 

VEG and her dad decided that it would be fun to blog about this situation.  She planned to take a picture of her lunch and then apply a formula to rate the lunch.
·         Food-o-meter- Out of 10 a rank of how great my lunch was!
·         Mouthfuls- How else can we judge portion size!
·         Courses- Starter/main or main/dessert
·         Health Rating- Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter?
·         Price- Currently £2 I think, its all done on a cashless catering card
·         Pieces of hair- It wont happen, will it?

In April she started but was plagued with technical difficulties, mostly camera problems.  In May she was off and running.  On May 9 her blog has 25,000 hits.  This, in and of itself, was a huge accomplishment for a 9-year old talking about her school lunch.  Jamie Oliver even found out about it and he tweeted VEG’s dad.   At this point, let me take a side note to answer the question asked regarding “Pieces of hair” – Yes, Yes it will happen.

VEG was enchanting people from all over the world and many started sending her pictures of their school lunches.  Kids, teachers, and parents were all participating.  VEG’s awesome father took this as an opportunity to teach.  Once VEG choose the picture she planned to use for the day he would have her find the place on the globe.  She always tells us how many seconds it took to find the place.
On May 17 Jamie Oliver sent her an autographed copy of one of his books.  Also VEG’s dad met with “the council” (remember them, they come back later) and confirmed that the kids were allowed unlimited salad, fruit, and bread.   I remember when I read that post thinking, “Why wouldn’t” the council” make sure that everyone knew that?”  OH, on May 10 VEG has 105,000 hits.  These hit counts are going to become very important later, trust me.  On May 23, http://neverseconds.blogspot.com/ reached 1 million hits.
This little blog, written by a 9-year old, living in Scotland, talking about what she ate for lunch at school has ONE MILION hits.  In a few short weeks this little lady grabbed attention from all over the world.  She is not just talking about her lunch.  She is raising awareness about what we feed our kids.  She is not “just a kid”, she is now an activist.  VEG has made a difference because now her friends know they can eat as much salad, fruit, and bread as they need in order to feel satisfied; in order to go back to the class rooms and have enough energy to concentrate and learn.  Happy ending, let’s move on to the next fun thing, shall we?

Wait,not so fast.

Her family has long been supportive of a Scottish charity called http://www.marysmeals.org.uk/.  This organization uses no advertising and relies on word of mouth so more of each dollar can help a child.  I have a lot to say about Mary’s Meals, but this is a story about VEG so please follow the link and learn about this amazing charity!  VEG responded to several comments on her blog saying that she was lucky to have lunch at all by starting her own campaign to help starving children.  She asked her wonderful readers to give to Mary’s Meals.  She put a button on her blog so it would be easy to give.  VEG set a goal of 7000 pounds that would go to a school in Malawi.  She kept track of the donations and provided updates on each blog.  She would tell us what percentage of a kitchen and how many children the money would provide. 

Let’s recap; in a matter of week’s she-

·         Impacted her school by raising awareness about the food they are allowed to eat
·         Found followers all over the world and joined virtually with the likes of Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver and sparked more dialog regarding what we are, or are not, feeding our children
·         Joined with a charity to feed starving children.

This brings us to June 14 when VEG posted this http://neverseconds.blogspot.com/2012/06/goodbye.html
“The council”, not the school mind you, “the council” ordered her teacher to tell VEG she can no longer take pictures of her food.  She was devastated.  I was devastated.  The other 34,000+ followers were devastated.  In seconds, I knew what I wanted to do.  I suspected a large number of the other followers were thinking the same thing.  This is unacceptable and we are going to change it!  I found the email for the Argyll and Bute Council and I sent them this –

I want you to know that I feel your decision to ban 9-year old VEG from posting photos of her lunches on the blog Never Seconds is appalling. There is only one motivation for this decision; self-preservation. She is eloquent, smart, engaging, generous, and passionate. The world has been enjoying reading her colorful blog. How refreshing it has been to see someone this young find her voice and discover she can make a difference. Did you even pay attention to the money she is raising for charity???
What do you think you accomplished with this decision?
I fully expect you to be shocked by the feedback you get from this as you are clearly out of touch. I hope you learn from this mistake! On Monday morning, I fully expect to see a blog post from darling Veg. I want to read a post that tells us you apologized to her for your short-sightedness. I want to read that each of you on the council made personal donations to Mary’s Meals. I want to hear that you restored some of her innocence and some of her faith (although you all must live with the knowledge you took something from her today that she will never get back).
You made a terrible mistake today. Fix it!
Bridget McArthur
47-year old mother of 3 from Minnesota USA

I absolutely believed “we” were going to fix this.  There was no doubt in my mind.  My only concern was that sometimes people go over the top in situations like this, and over the top loses the message every time.  When I first got home on June 14 and read the post there were 157 comments.  At bed time there were 586.  The next day at lunch there were 1700+ and the blog had over 3 million hits.  At 2:50 PM I found this article on CNN http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/15/world/europe/uk-school-dinner-blog/index.html?hpt=hp_t3.  I was fist pumping for all I was worth as I read through the article.  I was whisper screaming yes, yes, yes we did it.  And then my eyes fell on this –

The response from some of Martha's more than 34,000 followers was swift, with more than 1,100 comments by lunchtime local time Friday.
Bridget McArthur, a 47-year-old mother of three from Minnesota, said she had personally e-mailed Argyll and Bute Council demanding a change of heart.
"I want you to know that I feel your decision to ban 9-year old VEG from posting photos of her lunches on the blog Never Seconds is appalling," she wrote. "There is only one motivation for this decision; self-preservation. She is eloquent, smart, engaging, generous, and passionate. The world has been enjoying reading her colorful blog. How refreshing it has been to see someone this young find her voice and discover she can make a difference. Did you even pay attention to the money she is raising for charity?"

Holy Stars.  That is my name.  My name is on CNN.  That is not just my name.  That is my email.  My email is on CNN.  I AM ON CNN. I admit it, I geeked WAY out about it. There was jumping and squeeging and making others read the article.  My heart pounded.  My hands were shaking.  I indulged in about an hour of selfish excitement that was all about me. 

I came back down and remembered that “we” used social media to respectfully correct an injustice.  “We” won VEG’s voice back.  “We” penetrated bureaucracy in less than 24-hours.  WOW!  I spent several more hours enjoying the exhilaration of being a very small part in this moment.  It was really fun.

Then I started to ponder the bigger picture.  There is a lot to think about here.  One of my co-workers asked what caused me to start following VEG in the first place.  Until that moment, I had not thought about it.  It only took me a few seconds to realize it was because at 9-years old she found her voice.  I put that in my email to “the council”.  Now suddenly, it struck me as the core reason VEG fascinates me.  Most of us never find our voice.  We live out our lives never finding out we can make a difference.  There are people who find it later in life.  I’ve met some.  Once they find it, their lives are changed forever.  VEG found it at 9.  If we all found our voice at that age, can you imagine how amazing this world would be? VEG is all of the things I put in my email to “the council”.  She is eloquent, smart, engaging, generous, and passionate.  She enchanted me from the first blog post and she continues to inspire me.  However, she is more than that to me.  To me, personally, she is a teacher.  I live my life wishing I had a voice.  I feel envious of people I see making a difference.  I think about and talk about all the ways the world could be better.  There is just one thing I don’t do.  I don’t actual go out and MAKE a difference. 

VEG gave me a gift.  She touched my heart, she inspired me and she taught me.  I can make a difference! 

BTW last count http://neverseconds.blogspot.com raised £45,889.46 for http://www.marysmeals.org.uk/.  A school in Malawi can have an amazing kitchen and feed thousands of kids.  I have a feeling that number will keep going up.  VEG’s blog has 5,086,608, no 9, no 10…since I started typing that 5,086,726…..hits.  It is changing so fast you cannot keep up with it.  I cannot wait to read what she posts on Monday.
I am going to follow-up with “the council”.  I’m going to send them another email and thank them for hearing us and doing the right thing.  It feels like the right thing to do.  I also learned another lesson through all this.  The universe will put things in your path to open your mind and teach.  You have to pay attention. I frequently don’t.  This time I did.  But, more on that another day.

SO, thank you VEG, you taught me a lot.   

I am ready to start using my voice.  


Jaylah Priest said...

I was more than a bit surprised to find one of my own messages quoted in the CNN article, too.

In addition to the donations from the council members, I am hoping against hope that the Daily Record, the paper that was responsible for the ban (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2012/06/15/read-the-martha-payne-article-that-made-council-bosses-overreact-and-ban-her-blog-photos-86908-23896447/), takes responsibility for their actions and attempts to provide amends by making a LARGE contribution as well.

Particularly given the fact that VEG began her fundraising effort with the money she received for allowing a photo of her to be published in a different paper.

And now I'm wondering if we shouldn't start another fundraising effort to allow VEG and her family to attend the opening of the NeverSeconds Kitchen, when build. (I think it's important that we keep in mind that VEG has a sister who has had to deal with the seemingly overnight celebrity status of her sibling and may often feel more than a bit left out.)

I have a feeling VEG would want any money donated to go to Mary's Meals, but I think -- considering all she's been through and the money she's raised for MM -- she has a real right to be there at the opening. Plus, it would almost undoubtedly create more publicity for Mary's Meals. By that time, donations will probably have dropped off, and -- with luck -- her trip could generate further interest.

What do you think?

Bridget said...

Wonderful idea Jaylah! I love it. I would support that effort! It would be wonderful for the entire family to be able to be there to see the school, kitchen, students, and teachers who are getting the money.

I already pinned Mary's Meals to my pinterest board. That will get some more interest for them. Anything we can do to help them will be awesome. I DO think that a separate effort started from outside VEG's family to send them to Malawi is a grand idea!!!