Do you have an Origin Story?

Many of us working in this sector have a BIG WHY in their lives… a reason why we began all this work.

During these strange and difficult times when its felt really hard to carry on at times – I have been reminded to go back to my origin story. Here it is…


I’m in a church Hall in Colombia. It’s crowded with young people and in front of me are a group of boys. And I’m SWEATING!  I’m sweating because it’s hot and I’m sweating because the young people just aren’t doing what I want them to do.

I’m asking the group of boys to make a list of health problems that affect them or others in their family – it’s all part of a health project I’m helping with. “So – what are the health problems that affect you – or your family?” I say once again, standing in front of them with the poster board behind me and waving the pen at them. Once again, when there’s no response, in the tired, old tradition of, ‘say it slower and louder’, “WHAT – ARE – YOUR – HEALTH – PROBLEMS!” Nothing! HELP! I feel the panic rise.

Now one of them stands up and walks away. He is over by the door, hands in pockets, looking at his shoes, shuffling about. Big mass of black curly hair. As I watch him about to bolt, one of them mutters, “that’s Mario”. Then I see he’s looking at me and he’s coming back! He stands in front of me and points at my hand. Please can you give me the pen,” he says to me. I give him my green marker pen. Mario takes a piece of flip chart paper and gets down on the floor. The others group around him, and they are off! Talking together and scribbling down ideas.

Time is up for the group work and soon it’s our turn to talk to the bigger group of 100 young people plus teachers and health workers.  I hadn’t interfered much after Mario had started to lead the group and I didn’t know what they would say about their discussion. I just felt smug they had got there by themselves. When it is our group’s turn to report on the discussion, Mario – stands up – holds up the paper and on the top in large letters is a word that I had not seen them write… MURDER!

Arghhh! I go into a tailspin… I scream inside and inside I’m saying… “This is what happens when you give them the pen! I should have known… I should have stayed in charge. Now look what’s happened! What will the others think! How did I ever get to be doing this stuff in Colombia…? Someone take me HOOOOOME!”

I try to compose myself and then, before Mario carries on and in front of the whole group, I interrupt with, “I see the word ‘murder’ there on your list. This is of course a problem in Colombia but,” I say, slightly in a somewhat reproaching tone, “is it a health problem we see every day and is it a problem that young people can help to solve?”

Then, in a barely audible whisper he says, “My father was just murdered.”

A huge weighty silence falls upon the whole group.

Until quietly, Mario added, “And I think we CAN do something. I think that our teachers can THROW AWAY the STICKS they use to beat us and we can use words to control our feelings when they are exploding.”

This moment was a turning point in my life. Because Mario taught me a vital lesson. That young people know what is going on in their world. They know how to move things forward. All we have to do is trust them enough to give them the pen.

And this moment led to the founding of Children for Health which is dedicated to helping those that live and work with young people to give them the pen!

What does this phrase mean to you? Where in your life do you Give Them the Pen?

This coming week I’ll be posting about the person that helped me reflect on and shape my origin story. Maybe this is a good moment to be reflecting on and shaping yours too?