This month we're introducing Angela Colley, who some of you may remember as she previously worked for Compass as Head of Sales. She is delighted to be back with Levy as Regional Head of Sales for Northampton Saints, Aston Villa Football Club and Sheffield United Football Club and is sharing her story of her work with the Memusi Foundation, where she is a trustee.
When did your association with the Memusi Foundation begin and why?
A chance meeting with an event organiser from Lloyds Banking Group led me to a Yorkshire man called Matthew and, subsequently, saw me a few months later struggling to close two suitcases bound for Africa! But this time, it wasn’t my penchant for shoes and toiletries, or even my hairdryer, straighteners and heated curlers that were standing in the way of the fasteners. This time, my cases were filled with pencils, colouring books, paints and jigsaws.
As I said good-bye to family and friends, many asked me if I was nervous.
“Of course not!” I’d replied.
But I don’t mind admitting now that, even though I have travelled the world and back again, this adventure was completely alien to me.
I was heading to the Rift Valley in Kenya with a group of people, apart from Matthew, that I had never met before to work as a volunteer at a school. The school is called the Memusi School and is supported by a charity called the Memusi Foundation that was set up by my now dear friend, Matthew Norton, who is still one of my clients from Lloyds!
Tell us more!
Those of you that know me or have worked with me, will know that I have worked with a Royal Family, have stood up and presented in front of audiences of hundreds of people and hosted dignitaries from all over the world. You will also know that, apart from my two beautiful nieces, Hannah and Lily, I haven’t spent much time with children; therefore, the thought of working in a classroom full of them terrified me!
I was one of the first to get to the airport and as other members of the group started to arrive, we – somewhat gingerly – made our introductions.
Now, I had spent a long time thinking about what to pack to wear for the trip and do believe, even now, that I got it just right with my trainers, Birkenstocks, harem pants and vests. However, as I stood in line to board the aircraft, one word screamed out at me: Backpack!!! Backpack, backpack, flippin, backpack!!!!!!! All my travel companions had them. Of course they did, and there was I with a Desigual handbag full of nonsense! I could have kicked myself! Then, one of our party, opened his to try to fit something else in and as I glanced fleetingly inside, my eyes met packets of wet wipes... Wet wipes!!!!! Of course!!!! Why hadn’t I brought wet wipes???? I knew that sanitation would be compromised at times so why hadn’t I thought of wet wipes????
As we left Manchester, I sat next to a fellow volunteer, Donna. Just after take-off, Donna reached into her backpack and pulled out hand-sanitiser. Hand-sanitiser!!!! I was going to a place without water!!! Why hadn’t I thought to bring this??? Donna and I chatted, and she told me about her two young children. Then she told me about the project that she and her eldest daughter had organised for the kids we were going to be spending the next nine days with and asked if I had organised any lessons. Lessons??? Organised??? Oh God!!!! Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths...
Outwardly, I was still smiling and being ‘me’ , but inside, I felt totally out of my depth!
From Amsterdam, I sat next to another one of our volunteering party, Gill. Talk about ‘six degrees of separation’! It appeared that our paths had crossed before and, Gill’s husband was also in the events industry, by the time we touched down in Nairobi, our friendship was cemented, as were our fears about the lack of creature comforts which we had each ‘put to right’ over a glass of white wine during the flight.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how unfamiliar situations can bring you together? A group of strangers just a few hours previous, were now sharing memories, photographs and laugher – as well as pushing our broken-down minibus up a mountain - and those precious memories and friendships will remain with me forever.
I learnt that all of my new friends had been as apprehensive as me in those initial few hours of our life changing trip. I also learned that they all had kids and had arranged lessons for the week!!!!!
The next morning as our bus pulled up at the Memusi school, I could not have been more nervous nor more excited to meet the kids. I wondered what I could possibly bring to them that week. We climbed out of the bus and 200 little children and their teachers came out to greet us.
Not only was that day, the day I met ‘my kids’, it was the day I fell in love with a people and place that will be in my heart always. It also happened to be my birthday!
As the whole school began, what I thought was a welcome ceremony, I noticed a cake. I then realised the song they were singing was ‘happy birthday’ and the whole procession was heading in my direction!! It was totally overwhelming and humbling. I didn’t feel that I had done anything, neither could do anything, which deserved such a welcome. I almost felt a fraud! What if I didn’t add anything to those children’s lives that week?
My palms were sticky as we were introduced to the teachers and split up into classrooms. I headed off with Trevor and Donna into the kindergarten class – I felt safer with the little kids – what could I teach a thirteen year old after all?
By the afternoon, I had had the best morning ever! I was covered in sand, paint and glitter and dripping in sweat as my 18 new little friends and I made pictures to decorate the classroom walls together and then repeatedly did the Okey Cokey outside in the dusty playground in almost 40 degrees heat.
Oh how we laughed and laughed that morning my new friends and I! I couldn’t wait to go back to the school the next day!
By mid-week, I was brave enough to venture into the ‘big kids’ classroom and three of the young teenage girls there offered to show me and the other volunteers around the ‘market’ that visits the village once a week.
I spent the whole of the next day, answering the questions of these three young ladies. They asked me about anything and everything. Their hunger to learn, quite unlike anything I have ever known. We sang together, laughed together and shared our lives together during those precious few days. Unbeknown to them, these three beautiful young ladies inspired me beyond words.
It was nine days later, with heavy hearts that my ‘English Massai Family’ and I said our good-byes to Kenya and started the long journey back home.
During the flight, I leant across to Matthew and asked him what would happen to ‘my big girls’ next year when they finished their final year at Memusi. Matthew’s answer pulled at my heartstrings. As there was no secondary school for 200 miles, that was the end of their education. The girls would go back to herding goats, gathering firewood and collecting water for their families.
On 21st June 2015 my colleagues at Compass and my Memusi Family attempted two things: A place in the Guinness Book of Records and to build a secondary school for the Memusi kids.
Together, we raised over £30,000 – enough to build the secondary school.
What inspires you?
The kids themselves and their passion to do better. I can’t wait to see our kids finish their education and start work so that they can support their elders and community.
Tell us about your role within the Foundation?
I am one of five trustees and I look after fundraising as well as leading volunteering groups when I have time.
What’s the best thing about your involvement?
The first time I visited, I met a little girl that was four years old. She didn’t speak any English but was a cheeky, confident little lady and we bonded straight away. She is now ten years old and watching her progress is an absolute delight. This little girl and her family have nothing. Literally nothing. But, Penina, comes to school everyday and works so hard to make a difference. I’m so proud of her.
I also love taking new volunteers out and watching how they see everything for the very first time. I can’t describe this so you will have to come with me!
How do you juggle work life and charity life?
I’m never far from my phone or laptop! I usually end up using half of my leave in Kenya too but that isn’t a sacrifice really!
What motivates you?
Right now, it’s the girls at our school. We are so lucky that we have basic needs met here in the West, but most of our kids have to walk two to four hours just to get to school. Many of our girls, miss one week of every month of their education as they don’t have sanitary wear at home and so, then they have their period, they cannot make that walk to school where we keep a limited supply of pads. I have a dream to keep our girls safe on that long walk to and from school and so ensure that they can study every day and not just three weeks a month. I want to see my little girl, Penina, as a leader. I know she has it in her.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your charity work?
There is never enough money and never enough time.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Be kind. Always”
What does 2020 look like for the Foundation? (e.g. future events that you wish to be showcased?)
I’ve touched upon protecting our girls and am currently working on a campaign called ‘Educate The Girl’. I want to build dormitories at the school where the girls can safely stay. I want to protect them from teenage pregnancy, FGM and potential danger on that long dark daily walk. I want their school month to be just that and not three weeks.
We are hosting an event in June at Aston Villa to help towards the goal of raising £10,000 that I need to build my girls camp. I know that some of the other stadiums want to get involved too so I’m going to be challenging Andrew Boyd to cycle from one to the other!
What events/activity have the Foundation held themselves in order to raise awareness/funds for the cause?
We do everything from quizzes, to baking cakes and running marathons.
How can the meetings and event industry help charities such as The Memusi Foundation?
There are so many ways to get involved. For a small charity like us, awareness is really important so just by sharing social media about what we do goes a long way and we all have the platform to do that.
I have taken out pens, pads and pencils from venues before when branding has changed.
I have a lot of event organisers and venue colleagues that are sponsoring children with us from when our industry has invited either Matthew or myself to speak about what we do at conferences.
You can find out more about The Memusi Foundation by clicking here.