This week John Isles is in conversation with Jennifer Berry to hear about her life and how she helps others. 

John: Welcome Jennifer, can I start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself;

Jennifer: I came to Swindon 18 years after spending what some might call an itinerant upbringing at a succession of British Army bases around the world with my parents. I’ve lived in Germany, Holland, Gibraltar, Malta, Africa and the West Indies and travelled in over 50 other countries. I had a passion for photography and I would jump at every chance to go on shoots with him. I found photography fascinating and I loved to listen to my father telling us stories about the people, history and culture of countries we’d visited. He was like a walking encyclopaedia and his fascination for history, politics and his ability to craft mesmerising stories about different cultures and people was infectious. I think my youth-hood ambition was to become a war correspondent. At the time it seemed like the most logical career to follow. For me it was about the futile destruction of humanity, so pointless and tragic. All I wanted to do was to go to these places and take pictures and shout at the world and tell everyone to stop. My father put a stop to my wild ideas when I was 16. He hid my passport and locked up his cameras to prevent his reckless daughter running off to war zones to take pictures. He was very aware of my impulsive nature, tom-boy attributes and desire for adventure. He issued a disciplinary on a par with a stripping of the ranks and a threat so fearsome I stayed home and gave up on my dream. “In hind-sight he was right. I realised later on that female photo- journalists were especially vulnerable because they are women.  They are still vulnerable, nothing has changed.
John: So you gave up on that reckless idea and settled back in Swindon. Do you have children?
Jennifer: I have one son Philip who is 28.  He graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in Philosophy and a Master’s in Computer Science.  He now works as a software developer and married Rachel last year.  I live with Jon my partner of 17 years.  Jon is a music producer.

John: I understand during your travels you taught English in some unusual places?
Jennifer: I spent time in North India where I taught English to Tibetan monks, ex- political prisoners and Tibetan lay- people and have seen first-hand their trauma, pain and loss of homeland. I helped humanitarian/documentary photographer Edwin Koo run two eight-day international master classes for photographic students in Kathmandu and another is being put together for 2014. Further details about this can be found at http://www.kathmanduinsideout.com/
I have also worked with Tibetan monks and Tibetan ex political prisoners teaching English in McLeodGanj the headquarters of the Tibetan Central Administration.  I raise money in support for the preservation of Tibetan culture, language and history.  I am also raising money with the plan to bring a dear friend of mine, a Tibetan lecturer and scholar to the UK for a cultural visit. I do this by running Tibetan Momo workshops which are a lot of fun.  Momos are small Tibetan dumplings and everyone loves them 🙂

I have also organised projects in Swindon have included work in brain injury rehabilitation with children. We are branching out within the education sector, providing colleges, universities and educational establishments with seminars. “I have presented to the Swindon Rotary Club, who have been very supportive and who have shown a great interest in our work in Nepal.”
John: It sounds like you have been a very busy lady.

Jennifer – Yes. It was, very exciting times!  I have also managed and contributed towards the development for the programme of events, PR and marketing for the Cirencester Festival of Music, Drama and the Arts.  A number of years working with children with traumatic brain injury and I have been involved in a lot of charity work and fund-raising, especially for Headway and the RNHRD ‘The Min’ in Bath.
I cared for both my terminally ill parents throughout their illnesses.

I also work part time for Swindon Travel Choices.  This is a project funded by the dept. of Transport to support the regeneration of Swindon Town Centre by promoting sustainable travel choices to the people who work in the town centre and live in the borough.  And I also work on a variety of photography assignments.

Learn more about Jennifer’s favourite project Master class with Edwin Koo on 17 July

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2 thoughts on “Welcome to our speaker Jennifer Berry

  1. Sinead Darker says:

    Hi, it seems you have been leading a very interesting life!! You have had a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into a very hidden culture, so different from the West, thanks for sharing it with us. Of all the things you learned from their culture, what most affected your life? The work you have done on brain injury sounds really interesting, there is still so much about this area we need to learn about, but it must be extremely moving to see children (and obviously adults) affected.

    Regards,

    Sinead

    • Jennifer Berry says:

      Thank you Sinead, you are most welcome 😉

      It is the Tibetan people’s strength and belief, supreme gentleness and kindness which I would say has made the biggest impression on me. Even to this day I am still in awe of their resilience not to focus on negative emotion in spite of what they have been through. I have met monks and lay people who have escaped from Tibet, many who’d been shot or brutally tortured. They have walked starving and injured across the Himalayas in freezing conditions, wearing no more than their robes and sandals – a journey which takes more than a month to complete by foot. Many arrive in appalling condition, yet they can still beam their radiant and beautiful smile’s. They hold no regrets or grudges, they just get on with their lives with one aim and that is to attain perfection and to free themselves from cyclic existence.
      The Tibetan people learn to understand that all counterproductive emotions are based on ignorance of the true nature of things. They believe that the remedy to ignorance addresses all our troubles and that this is the gift of insight.
      Their reasoning, philosophy and belief helped me through ‘suffering’ the grief of having lost my father just months before I went out there. I returned with a big smile and a content heart, a wonderful sense of peace and a far greater understanding of how one actually exists. It is very beautiful and no I did not convert to Buddhism 😉

      It is terribly sad to see the lives of children affected by TBI (traumatic brain injury-after birth) caused by an accident or a blow to the head, unlike acquired brain injury which is caused by a stroke or loss of oxygen to the brain (after birth).
      I have only worked with children with tbi and not adults. As you can imagine this work has it’s highs and lows but I believe more highs than low, children are a bit like Tibetan monks – very resilient and often very happy. Parents are the one’s often in despair! Devastated by the irreversible damage and personality changes of the child they once knew. Their lives are turned upside down and they have so much to go through, so they need all the support and help they can get in order to be strong to help their child. It’s tough!
      On the positive side I must say that I absolutely loved my work and yes you are so right, it is wonderfully fascinating. Thankfully, so much work is being done in this area and long may it continue.

      Here is a beautiful story about one such child I worked with for many years.
      http://smilebexx.com/

      Best wishes,

      Jennifer.

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