This time next week, I’ll be nervously sitting in a Green Room waiting for my turn on stage at the Dancing CEOs gala event. Right now, I am just looking forward to the moment where the event is over (just so I can stop singing the same tune and dancing the same steps in bed each night).
But all this work over the past few weeks has been in aid of an amazing cause. The funds raised next week will go to further the work of the Women’s Legal Service here in Brisbane who provide free legal and counselling assistance to vulnerable women and children.
Many years ago, I was a volunteer with the Women’s Legal Service, attending once a month in the evenings to provide legal advice to many different women. That experience was both challenging and rewarding- challenging as at times in the 30 minutes I had available I would often feel I could do so little and yet rewarding knowing that sometimes that little bit of help was enough to help a woman find a way forward.
I have the advantage of now running my own legal firm and being able to pick and choose the work that I do. Regularly through my firm I offer pro bono assistance to men and women who are otherwise unable to access legal services. Over the past year, I’ve worked with a woman, let’s call her Ellen, who has touched me deeply. Her experience is by far the worst I have ever seen in my time in this job. She and her children were tragically assaulted by her husband/ their father in the most serious way and it is a miracle that the three of them survived.
Ellen was initially given assistance by the Women’s Legal Service and I’m not sure whether it was luck or fate but somehow I heard of her story and through a colleague was asked to offer assistance. I still remember hearing a little bit of what had happened prior to the first time I met with her, and I remember thinking ‘how on earth am I going to sit in a room with this woman who has been through so much and properly understand all that she has experienced’. You see, she and her children were stabbed so many times that it is a miracle that they survived.
In the time working with her, I have come to realise that I could never understand just what she’s been through and I can certainly never hope to understand what her children have experienced. But she, through her own wisdom and grace, through what must be one of the most difficult things a person could ever have to experience, is an inspiration. Last week sitting and chatting with her I was reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s powerful words-
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
As I listened to Ellen last week talk to me about the depth of her experience she reminded me of 3 important life lessons that I think I had started to forget-
- We cannot choose what happens to us but we can choose how we respond This is how Ellen explained things to me, from her perspective- she had no control over what happened to her that morning, but she can choose how she responds. I was reminded of the work of Rosie Batty since she has lost her son and her tireless advocacy for change. Ellen and Rosie are cut from the same cloth. I am sure you can think of many others- Bruce and Denise Morcombe come to my mind. Those people, who when the most extreme tragedy’s strike, seem to muster courage that I cannot imagine could be found. To have to experience and then live with such tragedy as a parent and at the same time, to lead your family, for your children, surely must be near impossible. And yet, every day Ellen does it.
- We are in charge of how we feel and today I choose… Last week Ellen chose happiness. We were in a situation that was anything but happy, in a building that certainly does little to make you feel ‘happy’ and yet she had me laughing, giggling and enjoying every minute with her. Her grace, humour and good will even in the most difficult of circumstances reminded me that I am in charge of how I feel and perhaps more importantly that how I choose to feel can rub off on those around me- for better or for worse.
- Forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you-Before I met Ellen the first time I was so worried about how she would feel having to share with me her experience. The thing is, working with Ellen, I have listened to her share very openly her experience but what she always talks to me about are her learnings- the things she is now grateful for- that would never have happened in her life, but for the terrible tragedy she and her children suffered. I expect that to get out of bed and face each day she has had to try and forget the hurt she was caused and instead focus on all that has come from it that has been good. Otherwise I expect she just could not go on.
And so this week, as I madly practice a fun (and hopefully not too funny!) dance routine, I will be reminding myself of those families, those women and children who find themselves in situations, in hardship and in tragedies that are too much to bare. I will be thinking of women like Ellen, who without services such as the Women’s Legal Service may have nowhere to turn. And as I feel nervous and scared about wearing a sparkly dress and dancing on a stage I will be firmly reminding myself that my problems are nowhere on the scale of what so many people are dealing with right now.
Over the past two years we’ve seen Rosie Batty travel our country, advocating for change and bringing the tragedy that is domestic violence to the forefront of the Australian community’s minds. Never before has there been such a public dialogue around such a significant issue and I feel we are finally on a wave to change.
It is organisations such as the Women’s Legal Service here in Queensland that are at the forefront of this change. So many women experiencing domestic violence are unable to access the services that they need. It’s for this reason that when asked to participate in next week’s event I quickly said ‘yes’, without pausing to really understand just how much hard work was going to be involved.
It is time for change- as I write this piece this week another 3 women have lost their lives this week alone here in Qld at the hands of their partners. These tragedies need to stop and as I have shared before, we all have a part to play in this change.
Someone asked me the other day if all this time fundraising, dancing and driving my friends mad with requests for help is it worth it? Of course it is, because the money being raised next week will go to help many more thousands of women and children that need assistance, many of who would be otherwise unable to access the support they need. Spending time with Ellen last week brought home for me just how lucky I am and if I can’t spend some of my time raising money to help those who need help then we really have an upside down world.
If you or someone you know is in need of help please reach out- call Lifeline on 131114 or DV Connect on 1800 811 811- you don’t need to suffer in silence.
Would you like to help me raise funds for the Women’s Legal Service?
Next Friday, the 15th of April 2016, I will be hitting the stage at Brisbane City Hall to dance my heart out all to raise much needed funds for the Women’s Legal Service, to further their work supporting vulnerable women like Ellen. Any help you can spare in this final week will be so gratefully accepted. You can donate here.
Last year WLSQ helped 3,700 Queensland women and their children, however, approximately 19,000 calls went unanswered. All funds raised by Dancing CEOs 2016 will help WLSQ to implement a new phone help-line which will allow the service to answer more calls from women who need a helping hand.
A $35 donation supports WLS to help a woman and her children for one month.
A $60 donation gives an hour of free legal help with her domestic violence or family law matter.
A $420 donation supports WLS to help a woman and her children for a year.
Any amount you can spare will make a difference to the lives of others. You can donate through my everyday hero page here.
And to all those who have already supported me, a HUGE thank you! Now I am off to practice those dance moves….