Andrew Sherlock inspiration for the story
The story came to me like many by word of mouth. This time from Paula mum’s hairdresser, whose sister and brother-in-law had taken part in the scheme the previous year. Two undernourished and unhealthy Belarusian kids, one month to get to know them, learn their language and customs as they learn yours, you give them everything you can then send them back. To what? You can only imagine and probably don’t want to.
I am drawn to the difficult and the painful. Those emotionally charged, life altering situations and experiences that people go through. The events that make so-called ‘ordinary people’ extraordinary. The characters in this story never expected to be emotionally, wracked and drained, to have their ideas of how the world works and its gifts and injustices fundamentally challenged. They never expected to have to question their own lives, families and relationships. But they did and they did it simply by meeting two children whose expectations were very different from their own. All the more shocking because these children who suffer from some the most serious poverty, ill-health and low-life expectancy on the planet are white and European. We have become accustomed and to a certain extent accepting of the distant images of many African children suffering from poverty but these kids are our continental neighbours. With their new trainers, T-shirts and hair-bands, they look and after a few English lessons, sound like our own kids.
The host families I have met are not religious, or worthy or self-consciously conscientious. They are average Liverpool families who live, work and get on with their lives like anyone else. The fact is, as we can see for example in the meteoric rise of ethical and organic, Fair Trade produce being sold in supermarkets (the UK is second only to Switzland in ethical product buying) from The Big Issue to 9/11, we live in times of increasing conscience. This is amazing element that attracted me to this story. That it dealt with such epic issues of mortality, justice and international humanitarianism in such a local, accessible and domestic way. ‘Liverpool couple confront and ruminate on humankind’s legacy to future generations‘. It’s a bit trite I know, but it’s not far off. Stories and issues like this are discussed in pubs and round kitchen tables, in offices and on building sites and on the way to football matches and hairdressers just as much as if not a little more than ‘Posh and Becks’ or ‘Jordan and Peter’ or whoever it is this week. This is stuff that people want to know about and talk about and that’s how it came to me in the first place.
The over all tone of this story is affirmative. It is about the struggle and the striving for quality of life. Yes it is a warning and yes there are casualties but the overriding sentiment is that despite mankind’s mistakes and capability to create danger and self-destruction the overwhelming drive in the most commonplace of people is to create, to nurture, to care for and to love.
Khalil Gilbran – The Prophet
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said,
Speak to us of children!
And he said:
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
This is a hard one to swallow, especially when you have kids of your own, but I think he’s got a point. Along with the people I have met and interviewed it is thinking like this that has inspired to want to tell this story.