Louise’s EPIC journey
3 years after starting This Is EPIC, I have finally decided that it is time to write a few blog posts.
Why now? Well it’s been a combination of a few things that have happened over the last few weeks that have encouraged me to finally put my thoughts down on paper…or computer!
- The Womenpreuners event that was run by Sasha Kazantseva-Miller– a great event that made me realize that perhaps I do have a story to tell, and perhaps people will be interested to hear it. This event has given me the courage to actually share my motivations and reasons behind the charity rather then thinking that people will be bored or will just think of me as a ‘charity flake’. I think it made me realise that even though I work from home (not very efficiently I hasten to add!) and I sometimes downplay what we do, then the motivations and reasons behind the charity are just as important as the work.
- Coffee with Sasha: Again she really encouraged me to actually starting writing. I have always left blogging and social media for Philip to do, and to be honest he is awesome at it! I compared myself to him and figured that he could just do it better (which he can!) But he is not me, and I still have my reasons behind why I do This Is EPIC and what I do for the charity.
- A seminar I attended called “Finance for Good: The opportunity for impact investment from the Channel Islands” with Jacqueline Novogratz the founder of Acumen. Oh my! She is such an incredible women, I felt goose bumps listening to her. But I will share a whole blog post about that meeting, as I know Philip has also done. But that meeting highlighted how important what we do at This Is EPIC is, and that fact that we are already operating in the Impacting Investment environment. I loved that meeting. I love her! I felt empowered, motivated and emotional after it.
Okay so what better way to start my first blog then by sharing my story? I have also realised that it is good to explain how and why things are started.
So about me, well I’m 38 years old, wife to Philip and mother to Barnabas (7) and Eden (5). After leaving university with a business degree I went straight to work for BT as one of their buyers. It was a fantastic learning ground for Procurement and I was lucky enough to work on some pretty huge contracts. However Guernsey was always drawing me home and so I moved to work as a buyer for Specsavers. I was there for about 5 years before I become an International Business Manager for NRGi. From my early 20s I was highly motivated to progress my career and obtain all the things that I thought were important. I bought my first house at the age of 21 and worked to pay the mortgage, I was also travelling a lot with work (which was great for a while).
However life does not always go the way we plan (and in hindsight I am very glad about that!), and a difficulty in my life presented itself and all of the foundations that I had built my life on came crashing down. Everything I thought I wanted from life painfully started to change and I realised that I was leading a superficial and pretty selfish existence; what I thought was important wasn’t. I used to say to myself “when I retire I would love to work for a charity”, so I obviously had something inside of me that wanted to make a difference.
Whilst my foundations were rapidly being ripped down, I had the opportunity to go to China to visit an orphanage out there, and this was the start of my charity journey. I realised that I wanted my life to make a difference and that I didn’t want to just live a ‘comfortable life’, and that I don’t want to look back at my life and regret not doing something just because it was too hard or too uncomfortable.
I then had further opportunities to go to Uganda to visit some other charity projects. With that I helped start a charity. With that charity we always knew we wanted to do something with businesses that would help individuals and their families to rise out of poverty. Months of researching went on until Philip came across “Village Savings and Loans” with Care International. It fitted perfectly with everything that we wanted for the charity at the time. I spent 7 years with this charity developing some amazing projects in Uganda and at the end Malawi. Unfortunately things changed with the future direction of the charity, which meant my position there was untenable.
I was so privileged to have experienced and to see first hand Village Savings and Loan projects and the impact that it has on individuals and their families within the groups. Very simply, Village Savings and loans (VSL) makes my heart sing, I feel lucky enough to know what I am meant to be doing for the rest of my life and if I don’t carry on developing VSL projects and helping people rise from poverty, I will be wasting my life.
3 weeks after this very painful separation from the charity my beloved mother died very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 63 whilst on holiday in Greece. I miss her every day.
2013 was not a good year!
Her death has also been a driving factor. Life is short and you just don’t know what is around the corner. It is about living life to the full and maximising your dreams and potential. That is easier said then done and sometimes it goes against the grain of what is normal in our society. Balancing living an adventurous life and the comfort of home is difficult, especially as children come into the mix.
Philip was awesome during this hard period and he knew my heart for VSL. He has always encouraged me to make a difference with my life and not just do what is normal. He simply asked me what I wanted to do now? That was easy – I had to carry on implementing VSL projects. So his next question was where? Again this was easy – I wanted to carry on in Uganda as I had built up a fantastic relationship with out partner out there and I trust the work that they do: they are simply brilliant. The other place where I really wanted to start a VSL project was the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why there? Because life is incredibly difficult and there is so much need. The history of the DRC is disastrous and people have experienced so much pain in life. I wanted to help people who really need it.
In 2011 I watched a TV documentary (Ross Kemp’s Extreme World). One of the episodes was on the DRC and in particular in the area of North and South Kivu, which is still pretty volatile. The documentary focussed on the work of the Panzi Hospital, which was started in 1999 to help repair the victims of sexual violence (rape is and was used as a weapon of war in the DRC). The program showed women and even little girls who had been victims of rape and mutilation and the on-going difficulties that they faced not only physically but also within the communities. Many of these women were ousted from their communities after being raped or their families were murdered. This all brings complete destruction to communities and these women are left in absolute pain and with nothing.
I remember watching the program and being so moved and just wanting to do something to help. I also remember saying that ‘I want to work with the Panzi foundation’. 2 years later the opportunity finally arose! In November 2013 I started searching for a suitable partner organisation in the DRC. Through some fantastic contacts I came across an individual called Bercky Zihindula. Bercky had spent many years as a manager of the Panzi hospital. He saw how these women were hanging around the Panzi hospital and did not have a home to return to. So he started an organisation called PAPROF to help these women and children. Bercky came across Village Savings and Loans and in October 2013 and he wrote a thesis paper on how he wanted to use Village Savings and Loans as a foundational platform to help reintegrate these women back into their communities. 3 weeks later I came long saying ‘Hello I want to start a VSL project in your area’! Our partnership had started.
We now have a VSL project in the DRC and two in Uganda – we have over 110 groups and over 2,800 group members (76% are women). I will explain about both of our projects in my next blog.
So that is my journey to how I came about being a Founder and Director of This Is EPIC. I feel very blessed to have the incredible support of my husband Philip. He is also one for a small challenge or two! And has managed to raise thousands of pounds for This Is EPIC which is helping to fund our projects.
As a side note, I want to mention that as a charity we have made the decision that none of us Directors will ever take a salary if we can help it. We certainly do not have anything against people being paid for what they do, but as Directors we have decided that any money we raise we want to go directly to our projects. The projects are our motivation, not the money.
We also have the support from so many other people, but the other main person is my Dad, Martyn Langlois. As soon as we said we were starting another charity, Dad was right behind us and happy to be one of our Directors. His enthusiasm for making a difference with This Is EPIC (and his work with Compassion International) is so encouraging. He has a natural gift of being able to talk to people about what we do and the reasons behind it. He does it is such a natural and beautiful way – and through that he has helped us gain some key donors. He is also a man who is very useful to know when it comes to fundraising events – a bit of a Del-Boy (in a good way!). I know that if Mum were alive she would also be a big supporter.
This Is EPIC was born in 2013 – it has not been an easy journey. It can be lonely work. But we frequently get reminded about why we started it in the first place. Some of the stories from people who are part of our VSL groups are incredible. They fill me with so much joy and hope.