Monthly Archives: January 2015

Word of Advice: Unleash the Power of Presence

Advocate for social change, Maya Mehta in 2015

Advocate for social change, Maya Mehta in 2015

When you hear Londoner and lawyer MAYA MEHTA speak, you listen.   We Are Daytrippers recently attended an event called Putting the Soul Back into Business which was hosted by Harvard Club of the United Kingdom and co-hosted by Ms. Mehta.  Not only did Maya project the presence of a strong woman who genuinely cares about social change, but she also seemed to make sure it was going to happen; there was something extra-special about her.  We reached out and found out how she continues to intend to move mountains for the greater good.  Maya has founded Microfinance Groups at her current and past employers with law and investment firms.  In 2004, she established an advice surgery for Asian victims of domestic violence and forced marriages in East London.  Maya studied law at Oxford and in 2013 she co-founded the Harvard-Oxford Alumni Social Business Group, a forum dedicated to bringing “social intrapreneurs” together to use business as a force for positive social change.  Her message encourages all of us not just to sit there and tsk-tsk about social issues we notice or feel passionate about: but to do something:

THE POWER OF PRESENCE

Feeling Powerless?

When I hear about the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram and dragged into the forests of Nigeria, or rather when I don’t hear about them anymore because the world forgets so quickly and moves on to the next popular hashtag or the next ice bucket challenge, I feel powerless.
But then I remember how I felt back in 2004, when I kept reading stories about young Asian girls who were forced into marriage, or even worse, subjected to honour killings by their own families for choosing to be with the person they loved, or who committed suicide because they did not want to marry a complete stranger.  I couldn’t just turn the page of the paper and turn a blind eye.  But then I couldn’t exactly fly to Pakistan, India or Bangladesh and catch the perpetrators.  However, I could change things here at home in London.   

I would travel on the DLR to my law firm in Canary Wharf, watching children playing on the estates of Shadwell, their mothers hanging laundry out of the windows of the surrounding tower blocks.  The juxtaposition of the gleaming glass towers of Canary Wharf and the relative poverty of the surrounding areas was striking.

Mobilising Resources Around Us

Having met with a local charity, the Newham Asian Women’s Project, it became clear that the abuse of Asian girls was happening not just a million miles away, but right here on my doorstep.  I knew I had a wealth of resource at my fingertips– professionals such as lawyers, IT experts, secretaries, all of whom were passionate about helping others and were willing to give up their lunchbreaks to do so.  We weren’t experts in the field of domestic violence, far from it, but we had a basic skill to offer – the skill of listening, of being present.

Having asked the charity what they needed and having enlisted support from my law firm and my peers, the “Newham Asian Women’s Project Advice Surgery” was born.   Each week my colleagues would travel two stops on the Jubilee line to lend their ears to and give basic advice to the women of Newham.

Before we knew it, word spread like wildfire around the local community and women, often with their children, were lining up for advice on all sorts of issues.  It was often so simple.   One young girl ran in and told me she had been beaten up by her boyfriend.  She just wanted to enlist on a journalism course so that she could learn how to write well and tell her story.  We heard her aspirations and pointed her in the right direction.

Another lady was living in fear of her stalker ex-husband who was subject to an injunction but she still did not even dare to take her child to the local playground in case he showed up.  When we suggested she go further afield and take a trip on the Jubilee line to London Zoo she looked at us as if we had suggested going to the Moon.  She didn’t know how to use the tube.  But when we showed her a tube map and explained how to get there, her face lit up with an empowered sense of liberation – a whole new world of possibilities outside Newham had been presented to her.

Just by being present and engaged for one lunchtime a week (often less of a commitment because we had devised a weekly rota), we were able to instil a sense of self-worth into victims of abuse and remind them that they do have a voice, they do have a choice and that no-one could tell them otherwise.

The more complex issues were referred back to the charity but even in those instances we were able to use our basic professional skills to interview the women, elicit information, identify red flags, make phone calls to specialist services and point them in the right direction.  This saved the charity valuable time.

10 years later, now with clients of the firm involved and thanks to the dedication of colleagues who kept it going when I left the firm in 2011, the advice surgery is still going strong.

Call to Action

What I have learnt is that if there is a social issue that disturbs us, we don’t have to wait for government to take action, for students to take to the streets or for celebrities to tweet.  And we certainly don’t have to feel like our only option is turn a blind eye.  If I hear about something awful and find myself constantly thinking about it as I try to proceed with my day, that is my call to action.

This happened recently when I saw on the news a beautiful Eritrean girl who was languishing in the notorious refugee camp of Calais, “The Jungle”, having been trafficked for thousands of miles across Africa.  She had so much hope, promise and defiance in her eyes, I couldn’t forget her.  The obvious next step was to brainstorm with my peers about the issues faced by victims of trafficking and to partner with a charity who might welcome some different skillsets and a few extra pairs of hands.

Unleashing the Power of Presence

There is so much we can do just by asking a charity or other expert on the ground what they might need (to ensure we are a bonus, not a burden) and offering to spend precious face-to-face time listening to and engaging with victims of poverty, trafficking, domestic violence, the elderly or disabled, whatever the issue may be.  This is how we can unleash the power of presence, a weapon too often forgotten in an age of smartphones and social media.   This is the offline revolution.  This is the power of that is within each of us to drive forward social change.

The Daytrippers Team:  Thank you Maya for your contribution and we wish you the very best.

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Daytrippers New Year Baby: Elliott Preston

Daytrippers New Year Baby - 6 Month Old Elliott Preston

Daytrippers New Year Baby – 6 Month Old Elliott Preston

Nurse and mother-of-three MELANIE PRESTON from Knoxville, Tennessee writes about life with Daytrippers New Year Baby; ELLIOTT PRESTON.  Melanie has agreed to regularly update We Are Daytrippers (THANK YOU!) to share with readers about her experience caring for a child with down syndrome.  (Don’t miss the beautiful photos of Elliott’s previous five months at the end of this post).

Melanie’s update:

“Last year this same week we found out Elliott would have an extra chromosome and while I wasn’t shocked, it certainly wasn’t what I “wanted” … fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and he is everything we wanted, needed and more!

I suppose it’s fair to say he makes us appreciate the little things in life more.  Things that I’ve never even considered with my other children … like reaching for toys, propping up on elbows and then hands, et cetera.  Sure, I remember Elliotts siblings milestones (mostly because one was super late and the other was super freakishly early); but did I celebrate them?  Not like we do (and will) with Elliott.

There is just so much work involved for something so simple like reaching his hands above his shoulder height (that was a huge one!).  Low muscle tone is also a subject of concern.  It is real and fascinating.  One of the neatest things to see is his older sister (by 17 months) is his biggest cheerleader.  She claps and jumps up and down for him – it’s adorable and I hope she remains his biggest advocate throughout his entire life.

The Preston Family

The Preston Family

Overall, Elliott is doing well developmentally for a child with down syndrome. We are working with physical therapists to help him sit and he is making huge strides.  The occupational therapist discharged him because he had met current goals and will re-evaluate when he is around 10 months.  He is about to start some puréed foods so we have an evaluation with speech therapy just so they can see how he does.  Speaking of appointments … can you say more than we can count?  Seriously!  It’s been busy in the Preston household. That’s really the only “change” to our lives in the past year and to be fair – a lot of those appointments are not only Elliott’s but his siblings as well, so it could also be very much part of having three kids?!

We have a cardiology appointment coming up in a few weeks to see how the two holes in his heart are healing so that’s our next big “thing.”  We have been so thankful this year to have had a positive experience through diagnosis, delivery, and beyond.  It’s very helpful to be surrounded by so many supportive family, friends and medical professionals but sadly I am incredibly aware that is not the norm.  Sure Elliott is different but so what!  (Aren’t we all?).   Difference is what makes us unique and he is certainly no less unique than I am!  So Happy New Year 2015 and cheers to being maybe not so different after all?”

Past articles with Melanie and Elliott:

  • Read about when Melanie found out she was having a baby with down syndrome: http://wp.me/p4FQqM-11
  • Read about when Melanie delivered Elliott herself in the car (a shock to all!): http://wp.me/p4FQqM-2v
  • Read about Elliott’s first month of life:  http://wp.me/p4FQqM-3R

We cannot get enough of these adorable pictures of Elliott’s first five months:

Elliott Preston in the NICU

Elliott Preston in the NICU

 

 

Elliott Preston - 1 Month Old

Elliott – 1 Month Old

 

Elliott - 2 Months Old

Elliott – 2 Months Old

 

Elliott - 3 Months Old

Elliott – 3 Months Old

 

Elliott - 4 Months Old

Elliott – 4 Months Old

 

 

 

Elliott - 5 Month Old

Elliott – 5 Month Old

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