From empathy to empowerment

One girls story of overcoming the odds

About a month ago I was asked to help out with a pitch. The interesting thing about this request is that it was not to win a new piece of business but rather to win a large sum of money for a charity.

A group of business leaders get together once a year and each donate $500. They then pitch on behalf of a charity and the winning pitch gets all the money. In it’s first year the winning pitch won $4,000. This year the winning pitch would win $50,000.

There were 10 groups all vying for the prize and the group I was asked to help pitch had selected a charity called Sister 2 Sister. This is a not-for profit that takes abused girls and partners them with a female leader. These Big Sister’s then mentor their Little Sister, providing them support and helping them get their lives back on track.

As I began to read the briefing material I was horrified at what I was reading. Story after story of abuse I could not imagine.  As a father of 2 girls myself, I really struggled to come to terms with what these young women had experienced in their short lives. My initial reaction was one of sorrow and pity for what these young women had experienced.

But as we spoke to Jessica, the founder of Sister 2 Sister, what also became clear is the passion she has for “her girls” and the amazing difference she and her team are able to make. How they are able to often turn these young girls lives around. As Jessica said “most kids that are abused become abusers themselves. What we do is stop that cycle of abuse”.

This was a far more empowering message and a story I was very keen to tell. So what we chose to do was to focus on the difference Sister 2 Sister makes by telling the story of one brave girl who had been through the program. That girl was Maris.

When I met Maris I noticed right away that she was very bubbly and sweet. What I didn’t get was any sense of the life she had experienced, years of abuse from the age of 6, moving from refuge to refuge and foster homes, and years of drug and alcohol addiction, as well as self-harm. She simply was not what I expected.

As Maris began to tell me her story, what did become clear was her learning difficulty that was as a result of the physical abuse she had sustained as a child. Maris spoke very matter of fact about the abuse she experienced and it wasn’t until I asked her about Sister 2 Sister that she became extremely emotional.

In Maris’ own words, Sister 2 Sister had saved her life and helped her move away from the self-destructive path she was on. The simple fact of knowing that someone was there for her helped Maris deal with her past, and not only gave her back her childhood, but gave her hope for her future.

Now doing Animal Studies at TAFE and working as a dog minder, Maris dreams of one day working at the Zoo with reptiles. Her passion for animals was infectious and I have no doubt she will achieve her goal.

Having helped tell Maris’ story, it is anything but a story of pity and misfortune. For me it is a story of overcoming the odds and creating a meaningful life. When I first read about Maris I felt sorry for her and unable to make a difference. Now after helping to tell her story I feel empowered as I know that Sister 2 Sister is a program that makes a difference and all they need to help young women like Maris is financial support to fund the program.

So what about the pitch? We came 2nd. In many ways it’s hard to accept, to get so close and just miss out. On the other hand, we were able to raise great awareness for Sister 2 Sister and they also now have a tool they can use to help with their fundraising.

On a personal level, I got to meet one of the bravest and most inspiring women I have ever met. One who so selflessly shared her story in the hope that it will raise awareness for the program and help other young women turn their lives around. Thank you Maris.

3 Comments

  1. Will B July 8, 2014 at 1:30 am #

    What an amazing story Mark, thanks for sharing! It’s stories like this that inspire people to take action, and look forward rather than back.

  2. Mancy July 8, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    Mark, this is a wonderful and empowering piece of writing.

    I really liked the way you took the ‘chaos’ of the bits and pieces of Maris’s life and arranged it into an inspiring story for others to understand and share. In your writing, the story of Maris really came to life and it just goes to show not only the power of storytelling, but also the impact of a well written story.

    I truly felt this one.

  3. Kari July 9, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    What a beautiful story about a strong woman and the great Sister 2 Sister -Foundation. Thanks for sharing 🙂