In the first of our Inspiring Women series, Camila Batmanghelidjh explains how the founder of Helen House and Douglas House in Oxford has influenced her...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, special supplement
Camila Batmanghelidjh is the Iranian-born founder of the ground-breaking British charity Kids Company. Sister Frances Dominica Ritchie, OBE, grew up in Scotland and trained as a paediatric nurse before becoming a nun and a mother superior. In 1982 she founded Helen House near Oxford, the world’s first hospice solely for terminally ill children; in 2004 she opened Douglas House, for terminally ill teenagers.
Your first impression of Sister Frances is her delicate, still presence. If you were to come across her in a supermarket, she’d seem like any other nun. It is only when you talk to others that you see the extraordinary contribution she has made to the lives of vulnerable children and their families. Helen House is special because it was the first children’s hospice, but also because it tailors its provision to the needs of the family, offering sensitivity and dignity at the most difficult time. Working with terminally ill children, and with parents who dread losing them, can be deeply painful, but also inspiring: at times of crisis, so much truth and intimacy is generated.
Sister Frances is secretly cool, very in touch with children’s rebellious, naughty sense of humour, which they express even when they are sick and dying. What people don’t know is that she also adopted a young boy, who grew up to experience many challenges. She hung in there and stood by him through many storms, which is typical of her commitment and vocational approach to life. People like her go unnoticed, yet they represent the best of humanity.
Photograph Jonathan Root
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