Meeting with Mama Sarah Obama – Highlights of our trip to Magical Kenya

In November 2015, Wilson and I spent ten days in Magical Kenya where we attended the 40th World Congress of the Africa Tourism Association.  What we experienced was magical and because there were so many touching and inspirational moments, I  will be blogging over the next few days to give you a snapshot of moments which inspired me, especially as it relates to the theme of Mags Magazine.. ‘Live Your Future Now’.

Meeting the Mama Sarah Obama: 

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I met with Mama Sarah Obama, the only living grandparent of President Barack Obama, whose dream is to live her legacy to make sure that there is adequate educational resources to support underserved and at-risk youth in Kenya.  Although she herself is illiterate, she has spent her lifetime helping  orphans and impoverished families feed and educate their children. After years of feeding and clothing children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, Mama Sarah established her foundation with the goal of making a larger impact on their lives.

I met with six young women who attended her session at the conference, and asked them about the impact which Mama Sarah had on their lives.  Here is what they had to say:

“Our lives have changed a lot mostly because girls were denied that opportunity to attend education but through the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, we have reached University level and we are grateful for Granny’s kindness and caring heart.”  Mercy Oyuongo

Isn’t this amazing!

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What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Think of how your talents, skills and passion can make at least one small change to the lives of those around us… or who may be in a faraway land!

Live Your Future Now…  Follow me to see the next inspirational story from Kenya!

Love,

Magdalene

Travelling to Kenya?  Check Nature Expeditions… they offer a wide ranges of interesting safari trips to make your stay comfortable, exciting and inspiring.

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Memories of Mom Living her Passion.

IMAG3216“Come and look at the sewing machine with me.” My mom beckoned me to follow her to the dark corner where the old singer sewing machine had been stored for several years since she became blind.

She uncovered the sewing machine.  The cloth over it was a heavy linen which had covered it for decades. She pulled out the small wooden draws on the side and took out a small brush to dust it. She gently pulled it out from the dark corner to the light and then started to test the peddles which seemed to be stuck and made a funny creaking sound.  She found an old bottle of  machine oil, safely tucked inside the drawer and applied it to the various small machine parts while she tested the peddles over and over until it rolled with ease. Her numb hands fumbled with the parts and they dropped from her hands occasionally. She bent her head and strained her eyes as much as she could but she did not stop  until she felt that she had given the sewing machine the proper care and touch which it needed.  It seemed to me that at the end of that experience she looked exhilarated.

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My tears flowed nonstop as I helped her with the sewing machine and observed the pensive and thoughtful look on her face.  I know how much this sewing machine meant to her and I am sure that if she was right here with me, she would tell me that it was her lifeline. Back in 1929, women like my mom did not have the fair advantage to go to school.  She was denied an education because she was the eldest child and had to stay home to help her mother with the house work.  I believe that she must have been about fifteen when she learnt how to sew with one of the top seamstresses from the neighbouring village of Laborie.  To get to her sewing classes, she had to walk almost an hour to and from the class.  She got married about fifteen years as well and her father, who had been physically absent from most of her life,  gave her  the sewing machine – I believe as a wedding gift. She smartly invested her time in mastering the art and developed her small business in sewing tailored made clothing for  the people in the community.  She was one of the few seamstresses in the community.   Many people came to our home with bags of cloth and styles of clothes from catalogues and gave countless instructions to my mom so that she could turn their visions into wearable garments.

Looking back, I can see what a great mom and entrepreneur she was!  She kept everything in balance by waking up early, getting us all ready for school, cooking meals, doing all the house chores and creating the time to live her passion for sewing as well as earning an income. She sewed all of our clothes and uniforms as well as my dad’s pants and shirts and even the undergarments. Just before his death, he showed me some of the pants which she had made for him and which we still wore up to 2012!   All of my three sisters and I learnt how to sew by watching her.  However, she never wanted us to  sew as a means of earning an income. She believed that we could do more than that and ensured that we had the support which we needed to have a good education.

As an adult, I appreciate all what my mom did a million times more now than I did while I was growing up.  She had a lot less to work with – no education, less money, less opportunity, no management training, no marriage counselling, no parenting classes, no brands, no luxuries… but she had courage, faith, vision, great time management skills and knew how to prioritize her time to get things done. She lived her passion for sewing.  I can only imagine the devastation she felt when she became blind and could no longer live her passion.  Yet, she courageously accepted her fate and one of her favourite lines were “It is not my will but if God wills it for my life, I accept. ”

Those photos were taken in 2007 on my first visit to Saint Lucia after migrating to Canada in 2003. She crossed over in 2011.  I will always hold on to those memories and I am glad that I captured those moments with those photos.

Live your future now.  Do what matters to you and don’t wait for perfect circumstances.

Love,

Magdalene

Recognizing Mrs. Ruth Magdalena Louis, a retired St. Lucian School Principal who saved me and inspired my life and the lives of many others!

As a tribute to observe St. Lucia’s 35th Independence Day Celebrations on February 22nd, I am featuring 10 St. Lucians on my blog who are making (or have made) a positive difference in uplifting the human spirit and adding inspiration and motivation to the lives of others. Today, I would like to recognize Mrs. Ruth, Magdalena Louis, whom most of us know as Ms. Brett, who was the principal of the Augier Combined School from 1970 – 1979. She in now 76 and I feel blessed that she is still with us and I can say thank you to her for the great impact which she had on my life as a little girl of 3 years old and which until today, she has no idea about!

“Thank you Ms. Brett!  Your gentleness, sweetness and empathy for me and others, left an imprint on my life, which I use every day to further help others.  By breaking the ‘rules’ you saved me.”

( Mrs. Ruth, Magdalena Louis below embracing her daughter Kay at Kay’s Graduation as a lawyer.)

Mrs. Louis

Here is my recollection of what happened.

My earliest memory of myself  is about 3 and a half years old and it is still quite vivid. My mom had six of us and I was the 4th girl.  Every morning she walked the three older girls to the Augier Combined School where they all attended school.  I was too young to go to school so she would carry me on her hips back to our house which was about  20 minutes away.  Every morning, we went through the same drama – she would let the older girls go the school yard and I would start my yelling and screaming, “I want to go to school too!”  One day, she lost all patience with me.  In my screaming match at the house, she hitched me back on her hips and walked back down the road shouting, “You want to go to school… I will take you to school.” Of course, I got a few spanks along the way too.

And that was the day, I met Ms. Ruth, Magdalene Louis, whom we knew as Ms. Brett.  My exasperated mother went to her office (with a dishevelled me) and bluntly said, “Do you have space for this child?  Every day she cries that she wants to go to school. I don’t know what to do with her!” 

It was the gentleness in Ms. Brett’s eyes I will never forget.  She looked at me in the sweetest way and said, “You want to go to school my child?”  It was the look that said, “Poor child, I need to save you and save your mother too!”

I nodded “yes.”

Now, I think that my mother’s plan was get me to hear Ms. Brett say that she could not accept me because I was too young to be accepted at the school and the morning drama would stop.  Surprisingly, Ms. Brett told my mother to leave me with her that day and she would find a space for me. (On  that day, I learnt that rules could be broken because my mother told me all along that the school would not accept me because I was not 5 years old yet.)

That was the first time Ms. Brett saved me.  She saved me from staying home with my mother!  She placed  me in Stage1 and I remember overhearing her conversation with the teacher. “Just keep her in your class because she is too young for us to register her.” 

I loved Ms. Brett because she was so sweet and kind to me.  She looked out for me because I suppose she knew that I was just a baby really.  There were two situations where she intervened and I will never forget them because to a larger extent it  inculcated in me a deeper sense of empathy towards the vulnerable, simply because she stood up for me.

The first instance was being in that Stage 1 class.  The teacher was not at all pleasant to me.  Maybe she did not like me because I was not supposed to be in school.  Every single day, she would beat me on my head with an open Math book.  It would start out with her calling out the name of each student and  would hand them their Math book.  She would deliberately ignore me when my hand went up and then after handing out all the books except mine, she would say, “Why didn’t you raise your hand?” and before even hearing my answer, she would beat me with the my Math book on my head. I hated that math period.  I hated being beaten and I felt powerless.

One day  Ms. Bret walked into the class just when the teacher was about to hit me. I heard her voice say, “Why didn’t you give her the Math book? She raised her hand.”  From that day on, the beating stopped but this created a lifelong trauma for me with Mathematics and with that teacher.  That was the second time Ms. Brett saved me!

Since I was not an “officially registered” student, by the time I was ready to move to the next grade, she placed me in Stage 2B.  Back then the classes were graded A and B, with the “bright students” going to A and the “not too bright” one going to the B class.  The Stage 2B teacher was sweet and loved me.   Her name was Ms. Edith. I loved being in her class and I won all the prizes for spelling and daily quizzes.  By the time that year was over, I had figured out the “A” and “B” system and I knew that I did not belong to a “B” class.

The following school year, I was determined to go to Stage 3B but didn’t know how to do it. One morning, it dawned on me that maybe all I needed to do was just simply go to the Stage 3A line… and I did just that!  That morning, my move caused a huge commotion in the school yard.  The students in the Stage 3B line started shouting, “Magdalene, come back to your line,” and the students in the Stage 3A line were yelling, “Magdalene, this is NOT your class… go back to your line!”  I remained rooted with my little bag on the Stage 3A line.

That was the 3rd time Ms. Brett saved me.  She came over and said, “Why are you not on your line?” Again, in her  gentle, sweet voice.

“I want to go to Stage 3A,” I answered.

“O.k. You go there only for the morning, but in the afternoon you will have to go back to your class.”  She said a bit more firmly.

The students were all shocked but I felt  elated that I could go to the “A” class.  She spoke to the teacher.  That very day, I got a beating from the  Stage 3A teacher because I could not spell the word “umbrella” which we had not learnt yet in  Stage 3B!  Stage 3A was quite  a learning curve for me!

I never went back to Stage 3B.  I remained in Stage 3A.  No one ever told me to go back.  I have no idea what Ms. Brett did but she always smiled at me when she run into me at the school.  I continued my education as an A student.  I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had remained in Stage 3B.

Those examples I have mentioned above may seem to be quite trivial but they were critical in my development as a child. I am grateful to Ms. Brett because as a  head teacher she did not have to break those school rules, but she did to give me a chance and to give my mother a break. She did not have to stop the teacher from beating me – she could have ignored it, but she challenged the teacher and protected me.  She did not have to let me stay in Stage 3A but she never bothered to send me back to Stage 3B.  Most of my life I have worked with vulnerable people – both children and adults.  Often enough I have broken a rule to support someone else to get to his or her goal and I often draw strength  from people like her, who did what they needed to do for  others with humility, integrity and genuine concern.

“Thank you Ms. Brett!  I have never told you this story but I am so glad that I have finally let you and the world know, that you are indeed a beautiful and gentle soul, and I was truly blessed to have you in my life at such a young age.  Thank you!”

(The picture below is of the beautiful family with her husband Watson Louis, amazing children, in-laws and grand children.)

Mrs. Louis with family

Sons and daughters of St. Lucia, love the land that gave us birth….keep on flying high!

As we celebrate 35 years of independence, let us all remember that our greatness is in our service to others!

(My mom and I below – I know about the boobs – it’s o.k. It is my favourite picture with her and that makes the boobs o.k  :))

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TuneIn today to all the people who have been instrumental in shaping your life!  StepUp to express  gratitude to them and let them know how they inspired your life.

You can also support my Ist TuneIn and StepUp Challenge by joining us for our Independence Day Gala here in Ottawa where we will further celebrate St. Lucia and St. Lucians. Read more: http://tuneinandstepup.com/2014/02/07/my-1st-tunein-and-stepup-challenge-for-2014-supporting-20-families-who-have-been-affected-by-flooding-in-st-lucia/

Yesterday, we recognized three St. Lucians in Ottawa who are making waves in using their talent to bring a Caribbean cultural experience to people in Ottawa.  Read more here: http://tuneinandstepup.com/2014/02/16/three-inspiring-st-lucians-in-ottawa-providing-a-culturally-rich-experience-which-brings-the-caribbean-to-the-people-of-ottawa/

Spread the good karma by sharing this blog! You can also FOLLOW the blog by subscribing to it (on the side bar) or LIKE our  FB page!

Contact me if you would like me to highlight someone you think is truly inspiring!

Love,

Magdalene

Rest in peace Dave Antoine. You were an inspiration to me and many others.

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This is Dave who was my my student over 20 years  ago.  Dave recently crossed over and I wish to extend my sincere condolences to his family and friends, especially to him mom whom I have tremendous respect and admiration for because of her love and dedication to ensuring that Dave lived the best life he could have lived. I feel blessed that I met Dave and knew him well – not only as his teacher but he was also a soul companion who taught me more about Special Education than any class could have taught me. He was my first student after I graduated from the MICO University College in Jamaica and I spent five years with him in an integrated classroom with five other students with other disabilities. Dave kept us all amused with his smart responses, refusal to accept anything, determination to have his way but above all his loving nature will always remain close to my heart.  As I write these words, I can still feel his small gentle hands on my face and I can still hear his voice saying, “Mrs. Maxwell, this is your nose?” He would touch each part of my face almost daily to reinforce the names.

I met him when he was only 5 years and I believe that Dave and I  were destined to meet because he was truly one of my greatest teachers.   With him, I experienced the Ying and Yang of life and knew that his presence on this earth was just as perfect as anyone of us walking through life with perfect bodies and perfect minds.

On the first day of my job as a specialist teacher for the blind and visually impaired, the school principal introduced me to Dave.

She said, “This is Dave.  He is blind, he has problems walking, is mentally challenged, can be rude sometimes,…”,  and continued to explain to me the various challenges he faced.  At first, I thought I would not be able to do much with Dave because his disabilities almost overpowered his strengths. As a new Special Education teacher, I felt overwhelmed. However,  within 2 years of working intensely with him, his family and the community, we got this kid to walk independently, sing, identify colours,  carry out conversations and most importantly think through things.  He had a mind of his own and it was a beautiful thing to watch him push his boundaries and to have his voice heard and respected. Four years after working with Dave, he was integrated into the regular primary school on a part-time basis and became an inspiration to teachers, students and the community at large.

My experience with Dave and the many other persons with disabilities, has made me more appreciative of their presence in this world.  There are all kinds of myths around people with disabilities and often parents and families are put under severe pressures, navigating through the maze of health care, daily care, long-term care and generally the responsibilities that come with caring for people who are challenged in various ways.  I learnt to work with them using their strengths and must say that in some cases their strengths will never be able to provide work to help them sustain themselves, take care of themselves  or do anything ‘meaningful’ in the way which we define it.

However, what if their only purpose on this planet was to teach us kindness, respect, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness?  What if they came to teach us unconditional love?

Among the many lessons I learnt from Dave, was this experience in teaching a blind child to smile.

One day, I was photographing him and just as I was about to snap the photo, I asked him to smile but he showed no response. He stood there like a rock with his ears on the alert.  I said,  “Come on Dave, smile.”

After a pensive moment, he asked quietly, “What does smile mean? What do I have to do?” I was shocked for a moment. How could I explain what a smile is to a blind child?  It is something we learn automatically through observation.

I said very foolishly, “Smile, is like laughing.”

To that he responded curtly, “I don’t have anything to laugh about. What is “smile”?”

I put the camera away and told him I would try to explain it to him.  None of my education had taught me how to teach the concept of ‘smile’.

“Come here.” I said. “Let us play with the ball.” He enjoyed rolling the ball on the floor and finding it. His face beamed with a smile every time he found the ball and rolled it back to me.

“Dave you are smiling!” I said. “You smile when you roll the ball.”

“I don’t know what smile means.” he said. “What is it that I am doing that you call a smile?”

This was getting hard. I tried to explain to him how to move the muscles in his face and his mouth to create a smile but he could not get it. When he did it, he was just stiff without any emotion. We rolled the ball back and forth and he squealed in delight each time he found the ball.

I asked him, ” Dave, how do you feel when you find the ball?”

He said,  “Happy.”

“When you feel happy, how do you show it?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

“The next time you find the ball  tell me what you feel in your face”. I said.

He found the ball and then said, “I feel happy when I get the ball and I think that my face smiles.” There was an “Aha” moment on his face!

“What part of your face smiles Dave?” I asked.

“I feel my mouth and my eyes smile.” he responded.

I never forgot this statement. Even though he was blind, I could see the sparkle in his eye and he was so right when he said “I feel that my mouth and my eyes smile.” His eyes were smiling. This was a profound teaching /learning moment for me – when a 5-year-old child, who is blind, could connect that his eyes and his mouth created a smile. How authentic and true is that!

Dave reinforced to me that we can’t smile if we don’t feel happy. We don’t really smile when we simply poise our mouth to show our teeth. Our smile is an automatic response to the happiness we feel.

After four years of working with him and teaching him how to use his residual vision, one day he said to me, “Ms. Maxwell, I can see you smiling at me.” He moved closer to me and let his hand touch my face and then my lips. I can only imagine with the little vision he had, how I must have looked to him.

Teachers and students from the Vieux-Fort Infant and Primary Schools as well as the Saltibus Combined School would remember him.  He loved singing and would often bless the schools with his voice.

After many years, I re-connected with Dave’s family through Facebook.  The family has moved to the USA and he graduated from High School and attended an adult day care.

I am grateful for the time we spent together.  I will never forget you Dave… may your soul rest in peace.

Tune in and pay attention to those who have disabilities.  Be grateful for all the gifts you have.  Step up to look at life through their souls – there may be some beautiful insights for our growth and learning.

Love,

Magdalene

The Power Of Writing Your Soul Mission… You Can Live An Inspired Life!!!

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I once thought that having a job called a “teacher” would be what I would be for the rest of my life. I love teaching and I was called to this profession from a very young age.  Over the years, due to changes in my life such as  geographical relocation and my search for meaning, I no longer practice being a teacher  as defined by the profession. Moving to Canada made it even more complicated because I was not prepared to go through the licensure process to become licensed to teach here.  This left a hole in my heart and there are moments when I feel sad that I don’t have a classroom and students to teach passionately.

About a year ago, I started a process of inner self-reflection to figure out what my soul mission was so that I could die in peace knowing that I fulfilled it.  I spent hours and hours reading and researching  and wrote and re-wrote several mission statements until I found the one which resonated with my soul. As I studied some of the people I admire, I realize they don’t simply have a job… they live an inspired life which brings out their creativity and causes them to experience life in a magical way. Then boom!!! Something magical happened to me  when I finally wrote something that spoke to my soul –  I had an Aha moment!   Even though I no longer called myself a teacher, I still practice the art of teaching in my current career and in my personal life. In fact, this blog is a product of living my soul mission!

Here is my soul mission:

“My soul mission in this lifetime is to learn and share knowledge which will inspire and motivate others to expand their souls and be inspired to live their own life mission. I live my soul mission by: a) facilitating, training and coaching ; b) writing and c) sharing resources and tools with and from others”

The power of having this soul mission is that I can live it anywhere and anytime and it helps me make daily decisions about how I choose to spend my life. I actually lived my soul mission through my teaching career!  I am not restricted to a classroom – my classroom is this huge earth school.  I live my soul mission when I talk to a total stranger or when I have a conversation with the lady next door or the old man who happily educates me about the plants in his garden or challenging the thoughts of my teenagers or facilitating a conference with hundreds of people. Living from that authentic space makes my soul come alive and interestingly enough I experience hundreds of “WOW” moments all day long that fuels me and leaves a broad smile on my face.  I feel joyful and that joy is instantaneously communicated to others.

Try writing a personal mission statement if you have not yet done so. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • As a child or even at any point in your life, what were some of the things you did or thought about that made you feel excited? ( For me, reading, teaching, writing, creating art)
  • What are the unique strengths you have that comes naturally to you? (For me, communicating with others)
  • Look around you… what are some of the things you collect without even thinking much about them? (For me, its books, paper, pens,  art supplies, journals, movies, autobiographies)
  • What do you like to do that feels effortless? (For me, talking, writing, talking to God, walking, enjoying nature, entertaining)
  • What do you like to do that makes you lose track of time? ( For me,  writing)
  • If you died right now, what would you regret not doing? (Not writing this blog and not creating more learning/sharing opportunities)

Now, don’t confuse your soul mission with your job!  Your job may be the vehicle to live your soul mission but it may not be the full package.  After writing  your soul mission, ask yourself “How do I live my soul mission through this job?”  You will be surprised to see that you will look at your job in a different way. This may cause you to start thinking of a different career path or to integrate some interesting elements in your current job or seek opportunities for you to do more of what truly speaks to you. For me, I discovered that while my career changed over the years, I have been fortunate to live my soul mission (even when it was not written) and that my current job is an amazing vehicle to live my soul mission in a very powerful way. The daily grinds no longer faze me as they used to as the mission is now BIGGER and MORE POWERFUL than the trivial ups and downs.

TuneIn to hear what life is saying to you and StepUp to do something about it!  Happy writing!!!! Check out my daily inspirations page to see what my last weekend’s inspiration was:)

Love,

Magdalene