Womens’ Empowerment Symposium
Testimony By Tecla Fontenard, Saint Lucia
As I entered the designated area for the Milestone Development Womens’ Empowerment Symposium at the Sandals Grande on June 5, 2010, I immediately felt awe‐inspired. The dimly lit registration area was the first point of entry – complete with candles, petals and prevailing scents – and lovely looking women – all creating an atmosphere of soaking in a soothing air bath.
The registration lobby was filled with quiet excitement, generated by the women of Milestone Development, all carded in their simple uniform – a white fitted polo blouse with small sleeves (containing the company’s logo) and black trousers. A wardrobe so simple, yet so telling ‐ each woman carrying their uniform uniquely. As I registered amidst the flurry of chatter, hugs, smiles and other greeting forms, I concluded that if the energy in the registration area was an indicator of the energy of the scheduled conference, I was up for the spiritual treat.
I completed my registration and asked for directions to the ladies’ room. I needed to head there first to freshen up and complete my make up, finger my afro and compose my spirit for an all day meeting with great women from all walks of life. Of course I was not the only woman who needed this pre‐conference touch‐up, for there were many other already posing before the mirrors. The air in the bathroom was fresh, and the atmosphere cool. Why does everything seem so perfect?” I asked myself quietly.
As I proceeded to the conference room, I encountered more of the uniformed Milestone Development posse. Through the hallway, I acknowledged the cheerful environment created by a small trade show in which some merchants had set up sale stations with products on special offer.
Finally, I am in the conference room – a half full hall, organized in a semi‐circle theatre style. After a brief search (trying to get a front row seat), I finally settle down. “Not the best seat”, I’m thinking to myself. “If only I had entered the room 10 minutes earlier, I’d have captured a more desirable seat.” Ah well! No sweat!
Within 15 minutes of settling down, the Governor General makes her entrance. By the time the first speaker is brought on, my curiosity is as big as the earth, Christine Schaap, very motivational with her sharp, high pitched voice, delivered a highly organized speech in two parts. The first part focusing on “Shattered Dreams”, and after a tea break, she delivers, “Restored Dreams”.
Christine outlines the many ways in which women are wounded, and challenges us to think carefully about ways we may be dealing with our wounds. How are wounds affecting your life?
- Do your wounds leave you hopeless?
- Do your wounds leave you angry?
- Are your wounds leaving you depressed?
- Do your wounds leave you emotional?
- Do your wounds leave you negative?
- Do your wounds leave you anxious?
- Do your wounds leave you defensive?
When we are wounded everyone else is happy. “Shattered dreams have us deflated. They leave us without air”, she says.
As I soak in the words, the tone, the mood in which Christine delivers, I am reminded of how my own life’s experiences have taught me to be strong and keep on moving no matter what. “Shattered Dreams, NoWay”, I was thinking.
She encouraged us to take stock of our lives. “Its time to do self‐evaluation” she urged. Go through a metamorphosis – a butterfly stage.”
I quickly scanned my consciousness – and thought quietly, ‘Dreams’, I have dreams ‐ maybe some not yet realized, maybe some semi‐accomplished, maybe some no longer being pursued, but not shattered. No.”
Christine confirmed so much for me. Yes. Indeed shattered dreams can make us develop patience, maturity, compassion, and improve personal depth. In the second part of Christine’s presentation, I become more convinced that I had began to restore my dreams a long time ago – whether I was consciously thinking of it in that context did not even matter. The advice from Christine which left the greatest imprint on me was this ‐ “list 100 things that you would like to accomplish in your lifetime” ‐ for example 10 financial goals, 10 places you’d like to visit etc. Making sure she emphasized that we all have a finite amount of time, she asked the question, “What do you plan to do with yours? By the time Christine was finished outlining the steps we need to take to create a new life, I had already confirmed for myself that my new journey had begun at least one year ago and that this
presentation, in this symposium, at this time and place were all a part of my journey to resorted dreams.
By the end of Christine’s presentation, the Conference room is filled.
The next speaker was Angie Montoute, with an inspirational presentation on “How to Have It All”. She started with a bang, listing a series of facts about women:
- The value of daily communion with myself,
- The importance of setting goals,
- The need to constantly believe in self,
- The philosophy of receiving what you ask for,
- The greatness of looking afterme first,
- Not Having a Will
- No Written Financial Goal
- No Written Budget
- No Structured Emergency Fund
- No Net worth Calculation
Much of Carol’s presentation focused on being financially smart. The tips were useful. As Carol asked the question, “Are you financially fit?” We all seemed to be questioning ourselves quietly and not so quietly. All of us at sometime have had messed up finances.
Carol was deliberate in her coaching, “Build your Credit. Consolidate Your Debt.Write Down Your Financial Goals. Develop and Stick to a Savings Strategy. Learn to Invest.”
As a person who promotes and practices frugality, Carol’s presentation served as a booster for me.
Almost as if to provoke, Carol ended her presentation by asking – How many pay cheques do you have left? Displaying a chart, the financial expert presented the estimated amount of cheques left from age 40 to age 60, using a 5 year differentiation. The women chuckled, some appeared apprehensive, others seemed hesitant, others were just plain curious. At its climax, Carol’s presentation had our interest in high gear.
Wendy FitzWilliams was up next. Ooh! This is a girl I have admired since she won Ms Universe. I have followed her life stories since I witnessed her victory in 1998 and fell into the mix of growing fans. I have to be honest, she was a compelling factor in my decision to attend the Symposium, and I do not regret it. The delivery of her testimony was an eye opener. It reinforced the importance of being truthful (no matter what your story is); it emphasized the realities of single motherhood; at the same time, it exposed the risk women take in response to maternal instincts; it revealed how the father of your child may treat the pregnant form and of course, it brought to light how small societies can likely regard you as an outcast if they determine that you have done something morally wrong. Wendy began by asserting that “becoming a mother is a life‐altering experience. It was a tremendously positive
experience for me. If you are comfortable becoming a mother, it is a most fulfilling, exciting experience.”
I am not yet a mother myself, so as Wendy disclosed her pregnancy experience, I had mixed feelings about her honest revelations – I felt bamboozled, mystified, excited, curious, sympathetic, yet utmost appreciation for her courage and fearlessness. Wendy’s testimony (though beautifully done) was sometimes uneasy as my own sister was 8 and a half months pregnant at the time and although she was very excited to be a mother, I did not see any thrill or buzz to her pregnancy.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Wendy’s natural and effortless conversation with us and I basked in her presence at the Symposium.
While I agree with Wendy that single motherhood does not have to make a woman feel disadvantaged, I still believe that children belong with both parents. Following the Symposium I purchased Wendy’s Book, “Letters to Ailan”, and read the book in two weeks – a great personal accomplishment ‐ as it is the first time I have read a full book since the 1980s. Her story is compelling, and the writing is relaxed. BravoWendy and Well done to the organizers of this powerful symposium!
The final speaker of the day was Star Jones, making a special entrance for her presentation. It was her first appearance. She had not been in the conference room at all. Star’s presentation was brief. It was the shortest of all the ones before her. Was it planned like this or is it because it was the end of the day? Is it just her style to present so succinct? I was not sure.
Star told of her personal adversities and encouraged us to “stay under the space that God had created for each one of [us]….” She listed four things we should stand for: Knowledge; Truth and Responsibility; Thrift and Yourself. She used a series of juicy anecdotes to engage us and urged us to know the difference between being a humble person and a humiliated person.
A most inspiring aspect of her presentation was her suggestion that we arrange the circles of our lives:
Intimates – The inner circle contains the intimates. Those persons you love and who love you
Confidence – Those persons you trust with your secrets. They are precious but sometimes they need to go home
Friends & Family – Those persons you trust with your secrets. They are precious but sometimes they need to go home
Associates – Those persons who are associated with as a result of your work, profession, and other like activities
Acquaintances – This is the largest circle. Includes some people you think are interesting; some you like, but don’t need
This analogy of the circles brought home the meaning of relationships and the importance of having enough faith to believe that what does not kill us make us stronger.
Since the Symposium, I have spent more time with myself and increasingly growing an appreciation for the joys of silence, and the gift of stillness; I have found more time to share life’s pleasures with others ‐ family, friends, colleagues (even strangers) and have worked on being a more patient, compassionate and caring person; I have become even more frugal with my income and increasingly intolerant of those who are wasteful of good earnings; I have become more fearful of useless borrowing and a bigger critic of unmanageable debt; I have stopped focusing on the negatives; I have given up the past and begun looking to each day with renewed hope. I have increased my practice of “random acts of kindness” – sending a kind note of love to those who touch me in a special way, buying more gifts for arbitrary reasons, spontaneously offering a meal to random associates, getting together with lost and new friends. I began to concentrate on attracting the things I want in my life, and I have grown more conscious of the belief that every challenge is not a curse…
Submitted by Tecla Fontenard (Communications Specialist)