Tag Archives: London

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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5 Minutes With … Stephen Clancy

Irish professional cyclist Stephen Clancy

Irish professional cyclist Stephen Clancy

The reputation of 22-year-old Irish cyclist STEPHEN CLANCY is impeccable. A bright, talented and kind person, it is no wonder he was asked to become an ambassador for Team Novo Nordisk; the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team. Stephen has raced 4598.25 kilometres in 33 race days in 2014 to places all over the world such as Azerbaijan, Taiwan, Denmark, Italy, France, Korea, USA, China and next week his team travels to the UK. We Are Daytrippers could not be more pleased to have his contribution to the 5 Minutes With … section and we will be proudly cheer on his team at the Tour of Britian from 7th – 14th September, 2014.  Best of luck to you in your next race, Stephen.

The Daytrippers Team:  Did you have a role model as a child?

Stephen Clancy:  Not really, however I always did look up to the top sportspeople in whatever sport I was interested in at the time as I grew up. I always admired how they were the best in the world at what they did, and what they did in order to achieve that success.

The Daytrippers Team: Who is currently your role model or mentor?

Stephen Clancy:  I would say all my Team Novo Nordisk teammates. They inspire me to combine professional cycling and live with Type 1 diabetes. Seeing that they can do it motivates me to succeed and they are always very understanding and willing to offer support.

The Daytrippers Team:  What is your talent and how do you cultivate it?

Stephen Clancy:  I consider myself a very positive, optimistic person. I try to look at the good in everything and don’t focus too much on the negative. As a result, I feel I can handle setbacks quite well and take positives from most things. I use them as stepping-stones and motivators to continue to progress and succeed.

Photograph copyrighted by Eibhir

Photograph copyright by Eibhir

The Daytrippers Team: Would you share a challenge in your life?

Stephen Clancy:  Being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 19 years of age was certainly a challenge for me. It was a huge shock and difficult to understand at first. I overcame it by learning as much as I could through research and experience. In the end, this time and effort rewarded me by being able to well manage my diabetes and consequently being able to return to competitive cycling and eventually to race professionally.

The Daytrippers Team:  Do you have any advice for children who face difficulties?

Stephen Clancy:  You can still pursue your dreams. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve worn a medical ID bracelet on my wrist with the engraving “impossible is nothing”. I faced the challenge of overcoming the obstacles presented by my diabetes diagnosis and I’ve exceeded the expectations of what I thought I could achieve. This is not the only test I’ve encountered in my life. Everybody is different and everyone faces different difficulties, however whatever it may be in life, you must try to be positive and think optimistically to overcome the challenges life throws at you. You have one life, you have got to take the bad with the good and live it to the max.

The Daytrippers Team: Thank you so much Stephen!

Learn more about Team Novo Nordisk:  http://www.teamnovonordisk.com/

Stay connected with Stephen Clancy: @teamnovonordisk

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5 Minutes With … Virginia Damtsa

Mere steps away from the Daytrippers office is the art gallery Riflemaker where director VIRGINIA DAMTSA might be found cavorting with global art collectors or educating a class of university students about contemporary visual art.  When you meet Virginia she oozes a cool charm mixed with wisdom, sophistication and a surprisingly genuine kindness that can be a rarity in the fine art world.  Perhaps no one in London can rival her expertly trained eye for art and ballerina looks.  We Are Daytrippers was lucky to receive a brief interview from the half-French-half-Greek-turned-Londoner goddess:

Virginia Damtsa, co-founder and director of Riflemaker gallery in soho London.

Virginia Damtsa, co-founder and director of Riflemaker gallery in soho London.

The Daytrippers Team:  Did you have a role model or mentor as a child?

Virginia Damtsa:  My parents were only 17 years old when they had me so I had to be responsible for myself from a very young age and become my own mentor.

The Daytrippers Team:  Do you currently have a role model or mentor?

Virginia Damtsa:  I am interested in successful business women and men stories and especially what propelled them to become successful.

The Daytrippers Team:  What is your creative talent and how did you cultivate it?

Virginia Damtsa: I work with artists; create exhibitions, enable private commissions, special projects, collaborations and sell their work.

The Daytrippers Team:  Would you share a challenge in your life and how you overcame it?

Virginia Damtsa:  Life is full of challenges so my strength lies in hope, belief, hard work and perspective.

The Daytrippers Team:  What motivates or inspires you to be creative?

Virginia Damtsa:  Being creative is not something you become, it is something you intrinsically are.  The way I think, feel and believe is through images.

The Daytrippers Team:  Do you have any advice you might want to share to children who may be facing difficulties?

Virginia Damtsa:  Have hope and belief and make every day exciting by trying to learn or do something new or good.

The Daytrippers Team:  Thank you Virginia.  xx

Stay connected to Virginia Damtsa:

@riflemaker1

http://www.virginiadamtsa.com/

http://www.riflemaker.org/s-index

 

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The Daytrippers Team: “Press 4 to hear the message”

Brook Morrison from The Daytrippers Team describes the moment she began to understand what it might be like to have a disabled child.

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and after two miscarriages in two years, I started to worry.  The thought of never having a child was devastating to me and I desperately began to research every possible wives tale, fertility issue and evidence-based study that might help.  Eventually I went to visit a specialist who diagnosed me with mild polycystic ovarian syndrome.  My spare time was spent researching stories and evidence meant to increase fertility; I began to drink whole milk, eat eggs, stopped drinking alcohol, restricted caffeine and followed strict guidelines.

In March 2010 a pregnancy test was positive.  Who knows if the diet changes worked but I felt differently about this pregnancy and called my Mom immediately.  She answered the phone with morning in her voice as it was early for her (we are five hours apart as she lives in Florida and I live in England) and I blurted out “hi grandma.”  For a minute I didn’t know whether the line had dropped.  Then I heard her speak through tears and she said “really?”  I never shared the news of the previous miscarriages with her before but we had a long discussion about it and I’ll never forget how special that moment was between my Mom and I.  That evening I told my other half when he got home (my Mom and I discussed video taping his reaction – I did not do that).  But his reaction?  The repeated word “wow!”

The 12 week Ultrasound scan.

The 12 week Ultrasound scan.

To say I was thrilled to be pregnant but hated how it made my body react is an understatement.  Among the usual constant nausea and exhaustion, I vomited every day on a complete whim without notice (on the Gatwick Express train, while riding a crowded bus in my scarf on the way to Luton airport, while walking to the store … the list is endless).  At week 12 of pregnancy we went for the first ultrasound scan.  The technician slathered goo on my belly and a blob appeared on the screen.  There before my eyes was a little creature like thing moving from one way to the next and back and forth.  It was absolutely incredible!  Was this really happening in my stomach?!  The Ultrasound technician started to snap a few prints for us to take home and then she stopped, focusing on the head.  Immediately, I said, “he has a very thick nuchal fold” (this is a marker for chromosome abnormalities detected by fluid retention behind the neck) and my heart completely, in one loud THUD, sank as low as it could. I remember Dad-to-be telling me not to be so negative but the technician confirmed that it was indeed very thick; she left the room, came back and gave me a 1 in 10 chance of having a child with down’s syndrome. The average risk for someone my age was 1 in 1000. We were told to see a specialist at week 14 to see if the nuchal fold had decreased in size and to make a decision about whether to have a CVS (Chorionic villus sampling – a prenatal test that detects chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus).

The decision was not easy, especially as there was a tiny risk of losing the pregnancy, but decided it would be best to have the CVS in order to prepare ourselves emotionally and mentally for the future. This was also the moment I told friends and family who were overwhelmingly understanding and supportive.  A friend of mine was getting married in Austin, Texas and I had to tell her we would not be there and why.

The staff at the London clinic were positive, the walls were bright, the office was filled with future parents or women about to undergo procedures.  I was freaked out.  We waited in a small room on our own until they called my name, scanned  my belly once again and then went into the room to have the CVS.  The doctor came in chatting a mile a minute, the nurse was smiling and I felt like it was The Twilight Zone.  The doctor kept talking to me, put a numbing agent on my stomach and said he would talk to me during the whole experience.  OOF!  The needle poked through and it felt like being punched in the stomach but it was over in a matter of seconds.

48 hours later I had not miscarried.  Hooray!  But what was most difficult?  Waiting up to 10 days for the results.  The clinic explained that the test could pick up other chromosomal abnormalities, heart defects – a myriad of complications.  So naturally I did exactly what you should not do and researched all sorts of disabilities and experiences of families with disabled children. I could not get enough.  I read heartbreaking, happy and tragic stories about families, carers, women and children; what helped them cope, what broke them down, how they processed the knowledge that their child would have a disability, etc.  Some people made the decision to terminate and others found out too late and/or continued with the pregnancy.  All of them made a life changing and sometimes agonizing decision based on what was right for their personal circumstance.  Surprisingly, reading these stories made me feel better.  There were SO many of them.  I was not alone, it was a whole new world I never knew existed.

One week after the CVS I walked into the house and was handed a mobile.  “Press 4 to hear the message” he said.   Heart pounding I took the phone.   It was a polite woman on the other line and I was so numb I did not even listen properly but asked the future father “was the test positive for DS?”

No.

…Queue floods of tears.

Perhaps you read the story about Melanie Preston?  While waiting for the CVS results during my pregnancy she was in nursing school and she kept reassuring me that all would be fine; she thought I was having a boy because boys were more likely to have thick nuchal folds than girls.  I thought she was just trying to ease my stress.  But you know what?  Somehow she was right.  I gave birth to a boy on 10th December, 2010.   He is THE most wonderful human in the history of mankind. 🙂  And you know what else?  Melanie went on to have her own son with a thick nuchal fold.   His name is Elliott.  The beauty of it all is that; thick nuchal fold or not, any child has the ability to bring joy.   Sure, some children are born with a disability, but they are not fully defined by their disability.

Since this experience during my pregnancy, my heart swells when I see a child with down’s syndrome.  I want to go up to them and hug them.  Thick nuchal folds of the world UNITE!

Brook and her son in Portugal in 2013.

Brook and her son in Portugal in 2013.

 

Stay connected to Brook Morrison:  @ebrookm

 

 

 

 

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The Daytrippers Team: Leila Talmadge

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Leila first started working with Daytrippers in 2006, appointed trustee in 2010.

Londoner through and through, I’ve been brought up here, studied here and also worked here my entire life. I love London and all it offers, it really is a city of opportunity for all. Our aim with Daytrippers is to extend these opportunities throughout the UK and give everyone the basic right of enjoying a day out without being challenged or judged for any reason. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have many experiences that could be taken for granted and hope that with the hard work of the Daytrippers team we can open up all of these experiences for disabled children that might not normally be able to participate.

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Leila and Chief of Security, Marlene.

I’m one of those ‘arty’ types, so offer Daytrippers my background in design, whilst also applying a bit of business acumen to the mix. I also bring to the table my French Bulldog Marlene who is Daytrippers Chief of Security – she also is one of the best dogs ever to sniff out future fun opportunities.

 

Follow Leila on Twitter @MarlenesGang

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