The following speech was delivered by Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.
This is Coleen’s story.
What if I were selected to speak at graduation?
It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you and address all of the guests in attendance tonight and my graduating class. Before I proceed any further, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to a few people who journeyed with me along this path.
The first person I would like to thank is Ms. Deborah Lee who afforded me the opportunity to participate in this empowering and uplifting program. To you, I will forever be grateful and indebted.
Secondly, the reason for me standing here delivering this charge, my classmates. Thank you all for selecting me!
Lastly, to the staff of the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) for doing an amazing job with the graduates.
When I was selected to speak on behalf of the class just a few days ago, I smiled and chuckled to myself before positively responding. You must be asking why? Why did I smile? The average person would have been terrified out of their wits if they were asked to do [something] similar.
Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.
An opportunity to do better for myself and my children
Today, I wish to bring a message of inspiration – a message of hope and a message of continued perseverance. My journey with E.E.P. has been a bitter-sweet one and I say bitter-sweet for [a few] reasons. Upon my acceptance into the program I was overwhelmed, excited and of course clueless as to what was ahead of me. With these mixed emotions I hurried home to share the good news with my children.
We discussed for hours how things would change knowing the program was five days a week, 9 am – 3 pm, leaving just a few hours for me to work at the beauty shop. Being a single mother of three and having to provide for two households was not an easy task. I worried [endlessly about] how I was going to adequately provide for my children.
In the face of these adversities I still went ahead and gave it a try. I saw this opportunity as one to do better for myself and my children. I saw it as an opportunity that would only come my way once.
At the commencement of the program I was told that I would be given a monthly metro card, a stipend to cover my expenses and free daily meals. This support really made it possible for me to do the program, and provide for my family! Through this assistance, I was able to get myself to class. Even with the assistance [though], I still needed income to cover rent and food and bills.
It was a huge struggle, and I started to second guess my move. I questioned if this program was the right thing to do. But, as the days of training went by, I started to see the long-term benefits of being a part of this program.
It struck me that I had been afforded an opportunity to elevate myself professionally and personally – how could I not seize my best chance at success? When I changed my perspective and attitude towards my situation everything slowly started to work.
I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally
Over the following few weeks I acquired computer skills, developed my business communication and literacy skills. I saw major improvements in my work life, my professional life and my personal life. I was completely transformed. It continued to be a lot of work, but [I had no doubts].
I thought to myself, what would have happened if I had passed up an opportunity like this? As the program progressed, I was privileged to visit so many professional places, meet so many people and most importantly create friendships that will last after the completion of this program.
Apart from this, internally, there were so many times I felt like giving up – so many times I doubted myself, so many times I broke down and cried. I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. There were days [when] I was so tired from waking up very early to prepare myself for school and [my] daughter for the sitter, making lunch for her and juggling through the rain and sun to get to both places on time.
Other days I was so tired from leaving work really late to head home to do home-work, study and my basic housekeeping. There were times I got frustrated and angry at myself when I couldn’t get a problem or exercise right but I toiled day and night until I got it right. I constantly kept these words with me, “God is with her and she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5).
With hardly any sleep and a heart filled with determination, I was able to persevere, overcome my shortcomings and most importantly, stand here before you. Together these were the challenges of Coleen.
There is so much more I want to say but in the interest of time I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with this message: be relentless! When faced with trials, be relentless – in the face of unpopularity, be relentless. In your darkest hours, be relentless! For “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I further charge you ladies today to be the optimist and be relentless in all your future undertakings!
Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing program!
Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.