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Jo Yirrell

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Speaking at the House of Lords

Posted: 14/03/2013 11:54

On 12 March I found myself, once again, transported from housewife and Inclusion Officer to Special Ambassador for Malaria No More UK. The Upper School where I work are very accommodating when I need a day off to be an Ambassador. They understand just what it means to me to be able to tell my late son, Harry's story and add my voice to the battle to help end deaths from malaria. I am lucky!

The programme for the day started with an interview with Martha Kearney, World at One on BBC Radio 4 followed by an early evening reception organised by Malaria No More UK and hosted by Baroness Hayman at the House of Lords. This event comes at a crucial time in the malaria fight: The UK has played an instrumental role in fighting the disease and there's been huge progress with deaths in Africa down by one third in the last decade. The coming months are critical as the UK considers its scale of future support so our event made the case for investment and sustaining funding and political will to achieve what would be a historic humanitarian victory - making malaria no more a reality.

Accompanied by Arabella from Malaria No More UK we arrived at Broadcasting House ready for an 11am interview with Martha. I had met Martha previously at the private screening of Mary and Martha, the film by Richard Curtis which recently aired on the BBC. She had been touched by my story and the film and was very interested in the work of Malaria No More UK. Following that evening she invited me to join her on her show with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, an eminent economist and Justine Greening, secretary of state for international development. Once again I told my story and stressed my hope that I could be instrumental in contributing to the work to make malaria no more a reality.

Whilst I do not suffer with nerves in these situations, after all, I know my story and as any mother will know I want to talk about my children, it is always a comfort when people like Martha go out of their way to make me feel relaxed.

Martha allowed me tell my story and to make my point: "all I want to do, in Harry's name, is beat malaria"! She then interviewed Professor Sachs, who put across the economic argument for fighting malaria and Ms Greening, who put across the governments' viewpoint and why it is a continuing UK priority.

Following the radio interview, I had a few hours to kill before we moved onto the House of Lords. I wandered down Regent Street then went onto the train station to meet Tilly, Harry's cousin, who was joining us along with her Dad (my big bro) at the House of Lords.
Tilly, who is 17, swam the English Channel when she was 14, along with five other women. They swam to France and back in relays and raised money for Malaria No More UK. The family were all very proud of Tilly doing this; after all it was no mean feat for anybody, let alone a 14 year old!! I know Harry would have been proud of Tils too.

At the House of Lords, we were shown into the Cholmondeley Room, the backdrop of which was the river Thames, quite an amazing view! Before long all the various dignitaries started to arrive. Some of the faces I knew, some I did not. There were introductions and photos, then on to my part, giving a short speech about Harry and explaining to the audience how I wish to build a monument to Harry and his memory by ending deaths from malaria.

This time, at the very end the emotion did get to me. Although I talk about Harry willingly in these situations, the gravity of losing him does overwhelm me at times. As I said, I am usually alright but the tears did start to flow this time.

I always find that after one of these events I always very tired and drained. I go back to my 'normal' life and reflect on our loss. It is quite an emotional drain going backwards and forwards from housewife to Special Ambassador, but I would not give it up for the world. It means a lot to me doing what I do, being in the privileged position of talking about Harry and at the same time doing something so positive to raise the awareness of malaria.

At these events, I am always struck by how interested other guests are in me, something that is very surreal. People often tell me that I am 'inspiration', I always smile and say thank you, but in truth, I am not always comfortable with outright praise and do try to play it down - in general our family is pretty modest!

It has been a very eventful week this week, my interview, the House of Lords reception, feeling a sense that there really is some important voices including the government supporting our aims, I even managed to secure a new job! But it was also Mothers day, a poignant reminder that although I have my lovely boys, Bert, Berry and Buster, around me, there is still a massive hole in my life, one that will never be filled, Harry.

 

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