“Giving Back” – Lorraine O’Neill, Founder of LA CREATIVE, describes her volunteering journey, from Ireland to India
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” - Winston Churchill
The beginning - Ireland
For me, giving back is something that has come naturally. I grew up in an extremely big loving, blessed family from Co. Wicklow, the garden of Ireland. In 1973, my beautiful younger sister Barbara was born a healthy and happy baby and needless to say, we were delighted with her arrival.
At the age of 2, Barbara was given a contaminated batch of the “three-in-one” injection (part of the Irish Child Immunisation Programme) and suffered brain damage as a result. Seeing her daily struggles had a profound effect on me and I developed an extremely protective streak as a result. This was something that changed our family forever.
The primary school which we attended worked closely with a local school for students with disabilities, which meant that it was second nature, not only for me, but for all of my school friends to be around and love the company of children with an impairment. Barbara’s disability without a doubt made us all better people with a more understanding nature and the ability to identify with others.
My parents, deciding that they didn’t have enough on their plate (!), started a volunteer group every Thursday night near where we lived. The group began with three other attendees and by the third week, we could barely fit the forty strong group into the venue. Be it a game of bingo, an orchestral disaster or just a simple cup of tea and a hug, our group brought the community together and supported these amazing individuals, who otherwise, might not have had such an outlet. Seeing your family give up their free time after work and changing lives for the better, inspired me to do the same.
An Indian Adventure
Many years later, I was lucky enough to visit India on holiday. I immediately fell in love with the culture but most of all, I fell in love with the people and how their spirit shone through, even under the most awful of circumstances. I decided to get in touch with a UK charity to see what I could do to help and my volunteering journey began. Starting in Rajasthan, I was to meet people that would change the course of my life forever.
One of the first people I met was Nick from London – he was 72 years old and still volunteering! By teaming up with these now lifelong friends to understand the children’s needs and by giving a helping hand, I knew that I was making a huge difference at a grassroots level. It spurred me on to think about what could be done on a larger scale.
As part of a visit home, I stopped en route to see an old college buddy living in in Kolkata, the third most populated metropolitan area in India and final resting place of Mother Teresa. Upon my disheveled arrival, she was quick to point out that after my months of volunteering in the desert, I was badly in need of some beauty TLC!
The first thing that hit me among the hustle and bustle in Kolkata was the number of beauty, hair and makeup salons in the area. I was interested to see that the business was so strong on this side of the world and immediately started thinking of the opportunities that were available.
On entering a very plush salon, I saw a girl begging just outside. The look of pain in her eyes was heartbreaking - she was so young, so beautiful and I couldn’t help but feel that she deserved so much more from life. All that was running through my mind was what I could do to help.
Inside the salon, I found myself receiving a full overhaul from a hive of talented women with a strong skill set. It dawned on me that I could offer the helpless girl outside intensive beauty training to help her succeed in securing a salon such as this one. In fact, I could train her so that she would have an even bigger and better beauty emporium!
My ambition was to link in with a school that could teach basic English and a micro-finance bank that would support women in poverty - and that’s exactly what I did. The “Beyond Skin Foundation” was born.
Beyond Skin Foundation
The Foundation trains women who have come from a background of domestic violence in everything from nails to hair to bridal make-up and importantly, improving their grasp of the English language, allowing them to broaden their horizons. The training is carried out both in Rajasthan and Kolkata through a volunteer programme where students and alumni from LA Creative share their expertise.
The experience is one of a kind, both for our amazing students of LA Creative and the inspiring women of India, who graduate and change both their own lives and indeed that of their family forever. I have watched the former LA students transform in just a few weeks. They can see the difference that they have made in such a short space of time. The cycle of poverty has been broken and these women have been given the help that they need.
I am now so excited to finally share the news that I’m in the process of starting another charity project, working with female acid attack survivors and organising a fantastic celebrity challenge to raise awareness and much needed funds for those affected.
Every woman I have met through volunteering and the “Beyond Skin Foundation”, has changed my life and I hope that, in some small way, the efforts of both LA Creative and the Foundation have made a significant difference.
I truly believe that we are given one chance in life and that it is our duty to give back to others who are in need of our protection and help. A life well lived is one that is served from the heart.