Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Sparkbrook's secret admirer

Last night's 'Secret Millionaire' was a treat.

It featured the inspirational story of Aria Taheri.

Aria arrived in Birmingham over twenty years ago as an asylum seekers and has since become an IT millionaire.

Sparkbrook obviously had a big impact on Aria, (or 'Harry' as he called himself in the programme), when he first lived here all those years ago.

He was revisiting to see what the area was now like, and to see if with his wealth he could give back to a community that had given so much to him.

Not surprisingly, the experience of being an asylum seeker had a defining impact on the person Aria has become.

His visit to St Chad's Sanctuary (which is not in Sparkbrook, but never mind) to meet recent asylum seekers was moving.

Contrary to Sun-style headlines about asylum seekers sponging off the system, the vast majority just want the opportunity to better themselves.

As one Zimbabwean women that he spoke to said, 'give us chance to work - that's much much better. To be self sufficient is the most excellent thing'.

The organisation is maintained by the dedication and love of an Irish nun, Sister Margaret.

Aria's £15,000 donation will go a long way in helping her to continue providing invaluable support to one of the most vulnerable sections of our society.

Dynamic women doing fantastic work in the community was a feature of the programme, so it was no surprise to see Mary Mockbill appear!

Mary is a friend of mine, and a long standing volunteer and committee member with Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum.

Passionate, articulate and fearless, she is a strong advocate for local residents.

I enjoyed seeing Mary and her Forum colleagues going out and about doing rubbish pick-up's in their specially acquired truck for the job.

Sparkbrook is a high density area, and rubbish is a constant concern.

A number of years ago Councillor Ishtiaq and myself, working with the Forum to try address this problem, put together a bid to secure funding for a truck to supplement rubbish collection services.

The bid was successful and thanks to the dedication of Mary, Farouk and other volunteers in running it, the subsequent scheme has made a big difference to their local area.

Another great success is the Apna Ghar project for elderly people of Asian heritage.

I have written previously about the fantastic work the staff do at Apna Ghar, and it was great to see them get some public recognition for it.

There was a really touching moment when, upon seeing the older Asian mums at the centre, Aria broke down. They reminded him of own mum, who he had not seen in four years.

It was a scene which will have tugged at the heart strings of mums everywhere! (Now Aria, get on that plane and go see her!!)

Aria donated £15,000 each to both organisations.

I really like the 'Secret Millionaire' because it shines a light on good people, quietly going about their work to make their community a better place for all.

Sparkbrook and Balsall Heath is teeming with such people, doing great work, in difficult circumstances, and often for little financial reward or recognition.

They are the real heroes.

It was inevitable that in a hour programme the producers could only focus on a few such organisations and people.

But if there are any TV producers reading this, there is a much larger story waiting to be told...