International Womens Day Blog Series (3 of 4)

  • 02/03/2017
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In the build-up to International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, I’ll be writing a short blog series regarding some of the famous and not-so-famous women of the world; women who have triumphed in the face of adversity and overcome challenges both worldly and personal. Nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale is the subject of our third instalment of this series.

Florence Nightingale was born on the 12th of May 1820 in the Italian city she was named after. As with all the women in this blog series, Nightingale would go on to achieve great things, but unlike our previous subjects, Nightingale came from an upper-class background and actually worked her way down, as nursing was seen as a working-class woman’s job during this time. Affluent young women of the 1800’s were only meant to be wives and mothers, nothing more; its telling that Florence never married or had children. Her early life was particularly rosy, she enjoyed an upper-class lifestyle and education and her father William would take the family on tours of Europe. Even in her early days she would find herself caring for the sick, whether it was a family member or a local in the nearby village. But it wasn’t until the spring of 1937 believing that God had spoken to her in her dreams, that she became truly impassioned to devote her life to nursing. She encountered strong resistance from her family upon telling them of her plans, particularly from her mother and sister. It would take her more than 20 years to fully commit to and learn her vocation, and she would eventually take a post as superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London a year before the beginning of the Crimean War.

The Crimean War is where Florence Nightingale truly made a name for herself. Upon arriving at the Selimiye Barracks in Scutari (formally an area in Istanbul), Nightingale found that the medical team was understaffed and over worked, and providing poor care in dirty, unsanitary conditions. Men were littered around the barracks with hay used to soak up the blood on the floor, the food was poorly processed, and more men were dying of diseases spread throughout the hospital than their war wounds. Florence worked to install more sanitary conditions to the hospital, even processes as simple as washing hands before seeing to patients. But the key moment was when a plea written by Florence to The Times newspaper was published, and subsequently a prefabricated civilian hospital was sent to Scutari – once the new build was up and running the mortality rate dropped from 42% to 2%. Following the new hospital was a report which popularised her nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, as she would often do nightshifts on her own. Her time in Istanbul would make for the foundations of her legacy, as upon her return home she would present her evidence for the need of sanitary conditions in medical areas to the Royal Commission of Health in the Army, and go on to be a great advocate for hygiene in hospitals, the effects of which we still see in hospitals today.

After the Crimean War, Nightingale reduced her involvement of in-field nursing and moved onto teaching her methods of the trade. She would set up the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery which lives on to this day as part of London’s King College, and at the time her student nurses would go on to become matrons at major hospitals throughout Britain. In her later years, her sanitation activism would move from hospital level to the realms of governance, where she lobbied for social reform and stronger legislation, eventually culminating in the Public Health Acts of 1874 and 1875. These acts would have been considerably weaker if not for Nightingale, and along with giving more power to local authorities (which Nightingale also had a hand in) would contribute to a 20-year rise in life expectancy from 1871 to the mid 1930’s.

Florence Nightingale died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 90 in 1910, with many honours, including a Royal Red Cross bestowed by Queen Victoria. Against a backdrop of social restraints in Victorian England, Nightingale rose above it all to become a powerful woman in a world dominated almost completely by men.  

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International Womens Day Blog Series (2 of 4)

  • 22/02/2017
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In the build-up to International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, I’ll be writing a short blog series regarding some of the famous and not-so-famous women of the world; women who have triumphed in the face of adversity and overcome challenges both worldly and personal. In this second instalment, we’ll be learning about the most famous woman in science…

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland on the 7th of November 1867. The daughter of two teachers, Marie excelled in school during her early years and her love for science blossomed when her grandfather had to move his lab equipment back to his home. But it wouldn’t be long till Curie found hardships on her way to success; her mother died when she was ten years old due to tuberculosis, her sister died three years prior to typhus. Curie had been religious up until that point, but joined her father in atheism following the death of her mother. Marie would finish school with the highest qualifications, but was unable to join a regular institute of higher education due to her gender, and so had to join a ‘flying university’, an underground educational system for Polish youths to learn in a more traditionally Polish manner, particularly encouraging patriotism at a time when the country was under the rule of the Russian Empire and most importantly, allowed for female students. During her later years at the university she would start her practical scientific training, until she could eventually gather the funds to move to France in 1891.

Marie Curie enrolled at the University of Paris, studying physics, chemistry, and mathematics all the while living very meagrely, suffering cold winters and occasionally fainting from hunger. She would be awarded a degree in physics by 1893, and a second degree the following year. Over the next 10 years, there would be a plethora of milestones for Curie, starting with meeting Pierre Curie, her future husband and scientific partner, discovering polonium and radium, publishing 32 scientific papers, coined the term ‘radioactivity’ and went on to prove how much more complicated it was initially thought to be. All this culminated in the two being awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903, and another in chemistry in 1911. She is the only woman to be awarded two Nobel Prizes in different categories to this day; but even in between these lofty achievements, difficulties marred Curie’s life. Her husband was struck down and killed by a horse drawn carriage in 1906, she was regularly vilified by the right-wing press in France, particularly when she won French science awards, normally reserved for French nationals, and due to the nature of her work, she was constantly exposed to radiation – there were no safety measures at the time – which would inflict her with chronic illnesses, ultimately causing her death in 1934.

Marie Curie is one of the greatest examples of a woman overcoming obstacles to go on and achieve great things. The odds were severely stacked against her throughout her life and tested her to her limits, but not only did she pass with flying colours, she did so whilst raising two children, Irène Joliot-Curie and Ève Curie Labouisse, the former going on to jointly win a Nobel Prize with her husband, and the latter writing a best-selling biography of her mother. A lasting-legacy indeed.

Vandu Language Services will be supporting Eastbourne Borough Council and Creative Force to hold an event to celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March in Eastbourne. Please check our twitter page for more information @VanduLanguage or email

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International Womens Day Blog Series (1 of 4)

  • 16/02/2017
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In the build-up to International Women’s day on the 8th of March, I’ll be writing a short blog series regarding some of the famous and not-so-famous women of the world; women who have triumphed in the face of adversity and overcome challenges both worldly and personal. In this first instalment, there is one name that immediately came to mind…



in 1997 Malala Yousafzai was born in Swat, which is in a northern province of Pakistan. The young woman has gone on to achieve many things in her 19 years that most of us would only dream of. Fluent in Pashto, Urdu and English, Malala’s activism was ingrained through her father, and would come to the fore at a time where the Taliban were imposing a ban on women attending school in the area. Her first act of protest came in 2008 where she spoke at a local Peshawar press club. Following this, she was selected to do an anonymous blog series for BBC Urdu, revolving around life as a young schoolgirl at the time. The request for the blog was put to Malala’s entire class, but only her and her family were courageous enough to accept. Malala would document her days in the conflicted area of Swat under a pseudonym, noting how as the violence grew fewer girls would attend classes, until finally the school was shut down in 2009. The schools would eventually reopen, initially only for boys and eventually primary school level girls. It was during this time that Malala first saw excerpts of her writing in the local newspaper.

Malala was eventually displaced from home whilst a second battle for Swat took place. Once the fighting was over, upon her travels Malala became set on becoming a politician. Whilst she had been away a reporter from the New York Times had made a documentary about her, which had boosted her public image, it was also around this time that she was revealed as the writer of the BBC blogs. She would go on to give several interviews on national TV, promoting female education in Pakistan. This, along with more community based activism, would lead to Malala being the first recipient of Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize. Given to her by the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, a school was renamed in her honour and an IT campus was built in the Swat Degree College. The honour would eventually be renamed after her.

The publicity following these awards had made Malala famous, and the values she stood up for were an affront to the Taliban. When other means of intimidation, such as death threats under her door, online and in newspapers had all failed, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to kill her. An assassination attempt was made on the 9th of October 2012, which involved a Taliban gunman getting on a bus calling out for Malala and shooting her in the head, with the bullet eventually ending up in her shoulder. Amazingly, after a year of being hospitalized, Malala made a full recovery. An ‘unfortunate’ side effect of the assassination attempt is that it made Malala’s plight an international one, and once she had recovered she would go on to make a speech at a UN summit, meet the Queen and meet President Barack Obama, where she even confronted him on his use of drone strikes in Pakistan; all the while continuing her activism. All this would eventually culminate in her being the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. At the tender age of 17, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Laureate ever, and surely one of the most inspirational women in living memory.


Vandu Language Services will be supporting Eastbourne Borough Council and Creative Force to hold an event to celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March in Eastbourne. Please check our twitter page for more information @VanduLanguage or email

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The festive season around the world

  • 28/12/2016
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Here in the U.K we’re all very accustomed to the dates and traditions of our festive season, but what about the rest of the world, with all its different cultures and religions? Here we’ll search around the globe for the more ‘exotic’ festivities.


Hanukkah 2016 – 24th December to 1st January

Hanukkah used to be a relatively minor Jewish holiday, and still is in many parts of the world, but in North America and Europe it has come to rival Passover as one of the biggest holidays in the Jewish calendar.  Starting at any time between late November and late December, the celebration commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The holiday is observed by lighting a unique nine-branched candelabrum called a Menorah, eating olive-oil fried foods, and giving gifts such as money and other presents; this is to rival the similarly timed Christmas, which is the reason why the celebration has become so important to western-world Jews.


Omisoka & Shogatsu - 31 December to 1st January

The 31st and New Year’s Day are the most important in the Japanese calendar, signalling the end of something old and the beginning of something new. Time is spent with the family, and at a 11pm there is a late dinner of plain noodles, which is followed by a trip to the shrine after midnight for the first prayers of the year – this is called hatsumode, and while the act of worship is generally brief, the huge influx of people means the process can take a long time. This is then followed by the New Year’s Day celebrations (Shogatsu), which involve eating rice cakes along with food specific to the region, bells are rung 108 times to get rid of the number of sins referred to in Buddhist beliefs, postcards are sent (much like here at Christmas) to friends and family, and interestingly, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is played all around the country, a remnant of Imperial Japan to promote allegiance to the island nation.



Kwanzaa – 26 December to 1st January

Kwanzaa is the last celebration in this blog, and the newest in the group. Founded in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga, an activist in the Black Power movement, the aim of this festival is to celebrate African heritage in African-American culture, and it has seven main principles which are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, all of which are used to promote community within African-Americans and are often represented by seven candles. Other ways that the celebration is observed is by wearing traditional African clothes, performing African music, libations (the ritual pouring of liquid), and other African traditions. Kwanzaa is a growing celebration, and it has already crossed the border to North America’s neighbour Canada. Numbers vary dependant on the given source (Dr Karenga claimed that there were as many as 30 million celebrators), but its estimated by other sources to be between 2 and 12 million people that celebrate this festival annually. 

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Lead yourself at the Next Level!

  • 13/12/2016
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How do you feel about being a leader? Are you relishing the leadership opportunities that come your way or are you afraid that you don’t have what it takes? Do you feel burdened by too much responsibility or welcome it as part of your ongoing learning journey? If any of this sounds familiar, then you are hearing The Leader’s Call, which is what I called the inner urge that is moving you to the next level of your leadership experience. So, what can you do about it? Here are four insights to empower you to make the most of the new opportunities that are on the horizon.


Insight 1 - Commitment: moving to the next level

Committing to the next level of your leadership experience is the first move you will need to make. If you are proactive and do your research, use your values as a guide, trust your intuition and connect with people around you, you will move forward into this new opportunity.

Insight 2 - Authenticity: becoming who you are

Be willing to discover yourself, so you can lead from your place of uniqueness. Explore all the aspects of your inner and outer self, and be true to who you really are, rather than an imitation of other leaders. You will become a leader who is honest, real and transparent.

Insight 3 - Learning: developing mastery

Being a committed and authentic leader means taking personal responsibility to keep on learning. Make time to reflect on your experiences and consider what they have to teach you; broaden your knowledge and expand your skills rather than stick to your usual repertoire. You will grow into a mature leader with presence, influence and the ability to develop others.

Insight 4 - Legacy: sustaining your contribution

Legacy is not just for political leaders or celebrities. Being a leader means that you have the power to make a lasting difference. Learn to take care of yourself so you have the energy to devote to the task. Ensure you have a support network who believe in what you are doing. Be open-minded and communicate with others to see the big picture as well as the detail. Become a leader who leads from a place of generosity and openness, and you will create a legacy that is truly meaningful to you.


Consider these insights

You will hear The Leader’s Call several times during your leadership experience so you can revisit these insights again and again. What are the benefits? They will vary from person to person. For me The Leader’s Call has meant that I am making a contribution to the world that is ‘shaped’ like me. I feel that my values, feelings, thoughts and actions are in alignment. Arriving at this place has not been easy but it has been worth it!





About the author

Grace Owen is a leadership development consultant. For over twenty years she has developed thousands of leaders from around the world, at non-executive, board, senior, middle, junior and graduate levels, to make a greater impact wherever they are.

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