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#atozchallenge: T is for Trans and TED…

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Today’s A-Z post could just as easily be T for Topical, due to the amount of media coverage the Transgender community has had recently; notably for stories about Caitlyn Jenner, who controversially (and temporarily) won Glamour magazine’s “Woman of the Year” award and for the equally contentious Bathroom Bill, which seeks to ban transgender people from bathrooms that do not correspond to the gender specified on their birth certificates.

But that isn’t the reason for me choosing to use this as the topic for today’s post, I have a far more personal reason; I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.

Facebook has always been a fascinating way to make new friends; you can get to know people from all over the world, from all walks of life and from many different cultures (the ones that don’t think the internet is the work of the devil, anyway) and it’s almost inevitable that you will connect with people you never would have met, if you’d had to depend on bumping into them purely by coincidence.

Which is how I met Kelly.

I was introduced by a mutual friend, (one of the many Americans I got to know when I first joined Facebook, five years ago) who had been at school with Kelly and thought that she and I would get on. All my friend told me was that Kelly had recently transitioned from male to female and that she was an airline pilot.
Now, given my earlier statement about making interesting new friends, I could hardly pass up the chance to meet a transgender airline pilot, especially as those are two things I have all but the most infinitesimal chances of experiencing myself, so I got in touch with her and we have been friends ever since.

It wasn’t until I’d known her for a while, however, that I realised what a truly extraordinary woman Kelly is; that is really the only word I can think of that sums her up, there is nothing “ordinary” about her at all, every time I learn something new about her, it just confirms what an incredibly driven, compassionate and caring person she is.

Kelly’s story is one of faith, overcoming prejudice, personal loss and sacrifice and a strength of character and self-belief that most people can only wish for.
She works for an international courier and logistics company, which has allowed her to work with some amazing people, including her colleagues, both at home in Alaska and with children’s charities around the world.

Here are some of the photos that Kelly (on the right in the first picture) has taken on her travels, described in her own words;

“The greatest joy in my life is spending time with orphans. The blessings I receive from these children are immeasurable. It gives me a purpose and a chance to leave a legacy on the lives of children around the world. Thank you Dr. Joseph, for being my host and allowing me to learn more about this incredible place!

For those of you who have a passion for orphans as well, Harmony House could really use your support. Asia has an escalating HIV rate due to many factors and is now affecting young children. I’m including this link, written by my good friend Dr. Joseph. If you get a chance, please take a moment to read.

Kelly”

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“This is my very dear friend Nicole, the Director of Harmony Home. We met for lunch yesterday to discuss ways to increase financial support for her nineteen shelters in Taiwan and China.

Her story is inspiring and started with her heart; to care for a college student who was dying of AIDS. His family had rejected him and the college expelled him. She took it upon herself to love him when nobody else would.

Combined with her passion, and her determination, she has touched hundreds and thousands of lives of those inflicted with this horrible disease. Today, Harmony Home cares for 102 adults, and over 1000 children. Her love for her children (adults included) is truly a reflection of what James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” 

She has touched so many lives with such a limited budget. It is with great honor, to call her my friend.”

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“Dr Joseph, is like a brother to me, and was there from the beginning standing by me through my transition. He has a heart and a passion for orphans worldwide and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Megan, is a very dear friend, who has a heart for orphans and recently developed a program to fund 30 orphans in Cambodia.

It’s people like them with such huge hearts that inspire me.”

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“This evening we hosted over 300 children from the the Head Start Program. To many, this was their only Christmas and to see their faces lit up, brought more joy than one could imagine. To my fellow pilots who sacrifice a portion of their earnings to make these programs possible, you have my deepest gratitude.”

All of which is pretty amazing, I think you’ll agree; Kelly and her fellow pilots do fantastic work with these kids and really do light up their lives with their dedication and generosity.

But it’s when you hear Kelly tell her story in person, that’s when you truly understand what she has fought through to become the woman she is today. And last year she got the opportunity to do just that, when her logistics company teamed up with TED, the ideas sharing platform, to stage a series of talks on diversity and overcoming obstacles.

I don’t often ask much of you, my lovely readers, but I’d like you to do me a small favour, just this once.
I know you all  have busy lives and may not have time right now, but you’re bound to have a spare ten minutes tomorrow (it is Sunday, after all) so please watch Kelly’s talk in the video below, I don’t think anyone can fail to be moved by the courage and dignity with which she tackles an emotive and deeply personal subject.

You can learn more about Kelly and the TED/UPS talks at this link.

#atozchallenge

Update: Kelly has asked me to make it clear that she is part of a team and, as such, only a small part of the good work they all do.

“On my time off I volunteer as a charity coordinator for my pilot union in Anchorage.”

Like I said; modest to a fault.

 

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One man’s commenter is another man’s troll…

All it takes is a news report on the death of a statesman, rock legend or movie star to bring the usually silent contributors to internet discussions scuttling out of their holes, pouncing on the slightest opportunity to cast their pearls of vindictive wisdom before the common swine of social media.

Such was the case this week with the deaths of both Hollywood star Paul Walker and elder statesman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and all-round international man of the people, Nelson Mandela.

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From the first post on my Facebook newsfeed the morning of Walker’s tragic accident, messages of sympathy and condolence appeared every few minutes, (at which point I have to admit I Googled his name, not being a fan of the Fast and Furious movie franchise that made him famous) and it soon became obvious that he had been a much loved and respected figure in an industry so often populated by superficial and cynical egomaniacs.

In an age when celebrities tend to see a chance to do good deeds as more of an opportunity to get good publicity, it was good to discover – albeit in tragic circumstances – that here was a man who really did “do a lot of work for charity, but I don’t like to talk about it”, not only setting up a disaster relief charity in the wake of a tornado which hit Alabama, but also personally funding and helping distribute aid in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
All without the slightest hint of a photo-op or magazine exclusive.

And yet not 24 hours after this online outpouring of seemingly genuine grief and compassion, the mean spirited, troll-like inhabitants of the Weird Wide Web hunched over their permanently sticky keyboards to start producing rants and memes that would render any subsequent display of public emotion trivial and confrontational.

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First we had a wave of rants berating users of social networking sites like Facebook for posting memorials to Walker which failed to also commiserate with the families of Roger Rodas, the driver of the car in which they both died.
As if they themselves had been busy posting tributes to Rodas the whole time, champions of the common man that they are.

But that was nothing to the pseudo-indignation that was unleashed when, a week later, Mandela died and the whole world mourned a man who many considered the father of modern South African society, a man who was the face and voice of oppressed black South Africans even during 27 years of imprisonment.

It was then that the Trolls went into creative mode, knocking together a particularly fine example of their art.
This one featured pictures of both Walker and Mandela, but instead of showing respect to two good men it chose to once again castigate those unfeeling enough to have paid tribute to a mere film actor when there was a real-life, bona-fide saintly hero to be eulogising.
The text went along the lines of;
“If you’ve spent a week grieving over a dumb movie star and don’t know who this man (Mandela) is, then YOU are what is wrong with the world”

Now, this automatically assumes that anyone with the compassion to mourn for a charismatic and generous entertainer is unable to feel similar emotions toward a Nobel winning politician.
But worse than this is the fact that people are then encouraged to engage with these agent provocateurs, giving them the satisfaction of responding with the skewed logic of trolls everywhere.

For despite having started off their diatribe seemingly in support of the ANC leader, when someone in the comments posts an objection that they should be free to show equal respect for both men, they somehow reverse their position and resort to the fatuous “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” argument, belittling Mandela’s contribution and instigating a less than dignified slanging match between other commenters on the thread, before slinking off to their hole unnoticed.

What none of these anonymous cyber-trolls seem to understand (or more likely choose to ignore) is that some young people who grew up with certain celebrities in their lives really do feel a bond with them and are genuinely devastated when they pass away.
It is almost certainly a more profound and sincere loss than that felt by the politicians and pundits who cry crocodile tears for the cameras at the thought of a week of retrospective news specials and biographical documentaries when a head of state dies.
And I’d like to think that they also don’t give enough credit to those same young people, most of whom are perfectly well aware of what a great man Nelson was and what he contributed to the world.

So don’t give them the satisfaction.

Because unless they read every obituary, in every paper in the world, every day of the year and then mourn the loss of every life lost that day, they are just like the rest of us.
Each of us touched by the lives of others in different ways, not always knowing the way in which our lives are affected by those we don’t get a chance to meet but still open to being part of their legacy.

(Much respect and gratitude to Ho for his fabulous “Cyber-troll” cartoon, done at very short notice this afternoon)

 
 

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