Principal’s Assembly 12 Feb 2019

When Leah Barrow, the GB 800 metre runner, visited us last month, she mentioned that her inspiration had been a lady called Kelly Holmes, but didn’t really say why Dame Kelly had been so inspirational.  Indeed, Kelly’s greatest achievement, writing herself into the history books, happened almost 15 years ago so I thought I would start today by explaining what a remarkable lady she is.

Holmes was one of the unlucky athletes whose preparation for the big events was always hampered by injury.  You name it, she injured it.  She was also unlucky to be running in the same era as the great Mozambique athlete Maria Murtola as well as a couple of Russia’s greatest ever middle-distance runners.  It seemed like a Bronze from the 2000 Sydney Olympics might be the only reward for her talent and dedication.
In 2004, however, at the age of 34, she arrived in Athens after one of few sustained periods of full-out training in her career.  First in the 800m then in the 1500m, she won Gold.  The photo of her I asked your tutors to show you is of Kelly winning the 800m.  She became only the third woman in history to do the 800/1500 double as well as Britain’s first double gold medallist at the same games since 1920.  Later that year she was crowned Sports Personality of the Year.
Dame Kelly Holmes is a study in resilience.  Indeed, since retiring, she has been open about her mental health, as well as physical injuries.  In the end, her optimism and self-belief allowed her talent to triumph.
Such was her talented achievement, however, it might seem remote to us mere mortals.  After half-term, I want to switch themes to people who have inspired us.  I have invited my colleagues to contribute and would welcome contributions from you too.
To bridge the gap I want to tell you about someone who has inspired me. You won’t know her.  Her contribution to the world isn’t dependent on talent.  It’s hard to think of anyone whose story is more dependent on human resilience.
Zainab Salbi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1969.  Her mum was a teacher, her dad an airline pilot.  Back then, growing up in Iraq was no different to any Western Society.
Then, in 1979, Saddam Hussein took control.  As Saddam was deposed in 2003 and executed in 2006 I need to give you some context.  Saddam was a monster – he ruled with an iron fist, murdered his opponents and butchered his own people.  Whilst the reasons behind the 2003 Allied invasion are highly disputable, no one misses Saddam Hussein.
Back to Zainab Salbi.  She grew up with a privileged lifestyle, close to the palace.  In fact, her father had become personal pilot to Saddam and Zainab was therefore constantly close to the brutal dictator.  Another of Saddam’s brutal ways was his abuse of young women.  As Zainab became a teenager it became clear that she was a target for the dictator.  As a Dad, I can’t begin to understand that level of fear.
Desperate, her family found her a way out with no repercussions for the family.  A distant relative was living in America and the Salbi family engineered an arranged marriage and therefore escape from the clutches of Saddam.  In 1990 Zainab left her homeland for ever.
Having married a man she had never met before, the abuse began on their wedding night.  By the time she left him, she had suffered in ways that I have no wish to describe.  As a human, I can’t begin to understand how someone recovers from that level of physical and mental torture and bounces back to accomplish what she has.
During the 1990s, Europe was at war.  A country known as Yugoslavia broke up into the countries you now know as Servia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Kosovo.  Hundreds and thousands of Bosnian and Croatian civilians were killed in the genocide.  Women were treated especially cruelly and no-one stepped in to help.
Two months after reading about the mass rape and murders, Zainab Salbi set up an organisation called Women for Women International and flew to Croatia.  I will not describe to you what she saw but can tell you that she stepped in to help.
Since 1993 Women for Women International has helped over 479,000 women from war-torn countries to rebuild their lives. 
Personally resilient and socially selfless, Zainab Salbi is awe-inspiring, a reminder that we are our brother’s keeper.
I would like to wish you all a very happy half-term holiday.

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