MEET our fabulous five contenders for Scotswoman of the Year 2013.
One will be crowned winner at an awards ceremony in Glasgow City Chambers on February 13. Judges, including Evening Times editor Tony Carlin and Anne Ledgerwood, general manager of the our event sponsor St Enoch Centre, whittled down dozens of nominations to a final shortlist. Today, we profile Noreen Siddiqui, the supermum who has raised almost £200,000 for charity as her daughter battles leukaemia; and Geraldine Lynch, who has dedicated her life to helping people with spinal injuries. ANN FOTHERINGHAM reports.
WHEN Noreen Siddiqui's daughter Ayesha was diagnosed with leukaemia, the Newton Mearns mum says it felt like "a hard kick in the stomach".
The little girl, who is now nine, needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant but as she is half Caucasian and half Middle Eastern, her chances of finding a match are slim.
For three years, Noreen has worked tirelessly not just to save her daughter's life, but to raise awareness of the Anthony Nolan Trust.
She has raised almost £200,000 - more than any other individual donor - and recruited almost 1000 new donors to the register.
"When Ayesha was diagnosed, I didn't want to go public, or put my family in the media spotlight - all I could think about was my daughter, and how we were going to get through this," she says, quietly.
"But as I learned more about the disease, and the charity the Anthony Nolan Trust, I realised it went beyond me and my family. There are so many families out there, waiting and hoping, living with uncertainty, just like us. Ayesha is still my focus, of course - she is what drives me, and her cheeky smile keeps me going but it's no longer just about my child.
"Anything I can do to raise awareness of the bone marrow donor register, I will."
Noreen has organised everything from black tie events to bike rides, has raised awareness of the charity and its work across Scotland, particularly among ethnic minorities and helped ensure the issue of transplant donors was debated in the Scottish Parliament.
The senior lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, lives with her husband Nadeem, a consultant oncologist, Ayesha and her six-year-old brother Saif. Life is full - as well as juggling work and being a mum, she spends hours volunteering for Anthony Nolan. Her dining room is full of collection tins and boxes of leaflets and she is already planning a programme of events for 2014.
"When I started, I thought I'd maybe do a bake sale and run a 10k," she smiles, wryly. "I never imagined how things would develop but I am very grateful to everyone who has supported us. People are so warm and generous - they took Ayesha's story to their hearts."
Noreen admits she was shocked to hear she had been nominated for SWOTY.
"When you look at the calibre of former winners, you realise what an honour it is to be involved," she says, adding with a laugh: "I was sure it was a mistake. I don't think I have done anything that any mum would not do. I'm just an ordinary mum, coping with something terrible as best I can."
Nolan's chief executive, Henny Braund, describes Noreen as a "truly remarkable woman". She adds: "Noreen's efforts have had a tremendous impact on the Anthony Nolan Trust - not only has she recruited donors, she has raised an incredible £200,000.
"That money will help save lives, and give people that chance of hope. And it's all down to her determination and her passion for Anthony Nolan and for Ayesha. Noreen is unique."
ALMOST two decades ago, Geraldine Lynch met a young mum in the Royal Sick Kids' Hospital at Yorkhill.
"Her little boy had a spinal cord injury and she could only get her son home when a ventilated wheelchair was available," recalls Geraldine. "I asked her - do you mean to say if you had this wheelchair he could be at home with you all the time?
"And I remember thinking - well, what can I do about this? So I raised the money for the wheelchair..."
That was the start of Geraldine's association with Spinal Injuries Scotland, of which she is now a director. For almost 20 years, the Govan gran has worked tirelessly to help people with spinal injuries, regularly visiting the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Southern General, working in the office and organising fundraising events.
"One of the first things I did was organise a wee dance, and it was great - we raised about £3000 which seemed like an awful lot of money," smiles Geraldine. "It became the annual Winter Ball - and last year, with the support of spon-sors Digby Brown, it was attended by more than 500 guests and raised £71,000."
Geraldine combines her voluntary work for SIS with her busy life as a mum and foster carer. In the last 30 years, she and her husband James fostered 169 children and the couple have nine sons and daughters made up of birth, adopted and fostered children.
Sadly, James died in 2012, but Geraldine is still very much involved in the fostering community and also volunteers with East Renfrewshire Council, organising and facilitating foster carer groups and meetings.
She is a strong advocate for those affected by HIV and Aids following her experiences of injustice and discrimination when she began to foster babies and children who were HIV, and she started a support group for mothers and babies affected by the virus.
Geraldine says she is "gobsmacked" to be nominated for SWOTY. "I just love what I do for SIS, it gives me so much pleasure to help out," she says. "The people I have met through the charity are the inspirational ones."