Write your blooming story!
I sat in Sara-Lou's Empowerment Breakfast on Saturday, already impressed. The vision to host girls who are living in state care, while deliberately creating a space for mentors to share with them; is a commendable undertaking.
Added to my insider information that this event wasn't a one-off act for Sara-Lou, but that she consistently serves these girls and young women, further had me beaming with pride. But then she took the microphone and dropped a bomb which rendered me almost teary-eyed. She told the story of how she, a young unmarried woman, happened to have a double-barreled surname. I actually never stopped to think of it.
She shared with the utmost sense of purpose how she was born to a mother at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. A mother who then took her to the gate and stood waiting....on a passerby. Another woman approached the gate, and the new mother approached her with a story of needing to use the bathroom back inside the facility. She asked the lady to hold her daughter for a little while. One hour passed, then two and then four. Realizing that the story was really just a story, the woman took the baby girl to the police station.
It was then, 35 years ago, that a life-altering question was asked of this unsuspecting woman: "Do you want to keep the baby?" After consulting with her sister, the woman said yes. And so goes the story of Sara-Lou's early days and her double-barreled surname. I was spellbound. An all-time high level of appreciation for Sara-Lou's work washed over me. I was and still am so proud of how she has recreated this narrative at this point in her life, primarily by way of her Angelic Ladies Society.
Sara-Lou, at about age 25 was working at her mom's school. She found that the girls gravitated to her with their sensitive questions and family situations. She told White Lotus Blooms: "I formed the Angelic Ladies Society to provide a place for the girls where they could feel loved, safe, inspired, motivated to have a brilliant future. The non-profit organization caters to the needs of vulnerable high risk girls. Being an orphan and someone who is very passionate about girls who are often overlooked, I turned my focus to girls in juvenile facilities, foster homes and teenage moms who prematurely stopped their education."
Apart from her intrinsic impetus to give back based on her own experiences, I asked Sara-Lou what inspired her. She shared that "Oprah Winfrey opening the school in South Africa for girls, the work of Marjorie Harve's organization "Girls who Rule the World," and the Girls Inc. movement motivated me and made me realize that there was nothing wrong in doing what your heart was passionate about."
Having taken the brave step to start the foundation with no funds, I had to ask her what has kept her going for 10 years! Sara-Lou vulnerably shares the ups and downs. The downs are so vividly expressed, and her persistence to keep running the race so inspiring, I had to share it in her own words: "There are many days I came close to giving up. Last summer, I was in such emotional pain I hid under my bed for days, without food and little to no contact with people. Just a couple of days ago, I cancelled the [Empowerment Breakfast] event, and had to send back emails to participants that it was back on. In the Summer, I thought about the girls at South Camp Rehabilitation Centre. I thought about all 48 of them, and how over 18 months, they were not as insecure, and how they came to believe that I would show up every Tuesday. They stopped asking me, "Miss, you coming back next week?" It was as though they were confident that I would always be there. I thought about how painful and how disappointing it would be to not even say goodbye, to not hug them. What keeps me going is, an understanding that you really can't run from purpose, and fulfilling your purpose has its growing pains. And so I was more determined to pour out my soul to each girl I met who needed me." Wow! I celebrate this grit.
With all this work that Sara-Lou does how does she self-care? She admits that for years she wasn't a practitioner of self-care but now she is a convert. She now reads, does adult colouring, captures nature photos, chases waterfalls, writes, and dances in the house by herself. She adds "I attend and participate in a lot of church activities (being around church family who I am close to fuels my spirit), I go to counselling, I meditate, I pray, and this might sound silly, but I clean. I believe that when I de-clutter my space, it de-clutters my mind. I haven't had a good handle on my eating habits as yet, but I am trying. "
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Sara-Lou goes to the prison once a week, (every Tuesday). She engages them using dance (used for controlling anger, reducing body shaming, and increasing confidence and self awareness), and life skill sessions. They get to talk about what matters: visioning, menstruation, careers, healing, hair and skin care, nutrition and fitness. You can help The Angelic Ladies Society through in-kind or monetary donations. The execution of the life skill sessions are more effective when enhanced with tokens they can use after the learning period.
Sara-Lou is running with grit the race that is set before her. I am beyond happy that she keeps running; over obstacles, through doubt and around financial challenges. We salute her!
Follow her on IG @angelicladies_society and @locd_empr3zz
Kamala P. McWhinney is God's Idea. I am academic, I am creative,I am dreamer. My name is Hindu for Lotus. Given the beautiful symbolism of the Lotus Flower I have embraced it as a metaphor for my evolving, my surviving and my thriving.