In July 2015, my life took an unexpected turn. I found myself admitted into the hospital after an accident and two emergency spinal surgeries later, my future was still uncertain. The next few months were filled with countless tests and procedures. Finally, the news was delivered to me – I was told that I would be disabled the rest of my life. I was in total shock and denial. As I slowly realized I was not ever going to get better, I went into a spiral of depression. When I was discharged from hospital, I didn’t want anyone to see me. I felt embarrassed and as though everyone else was ‘normal.’ I worried others would see me as a burden. On top of that, I was in constant pain because my right leg suffered as a result of the nerve damage in my spine. I had lost partial function of my right leg, couldn’t feel any of the skin on my leg, or move my toes. After being home for only three days, I was rushed back to the hospital and have continued to face hurdles ever since. Eventually, I received the unfortunate diagnosis of Degenerative Disc Disease, for which there is no cure.
At the time, I was working for the Hilton London Kensington. I had spent most of my career in the legal industry and made the move to hospitality in 2012. I have never looked back. At the time of the accident, Hilton offered me an incredible amount of support, both as a company and as a community of colleagues and friends. After a phased return to work, I was back full time and the hotel did everything it could to ensure my comfort and safety. Hilton aims to ensure that our guests feel cared for, valued and respected and my colleagues showed that exact same treatment to me. I felt so proud to be a part of that team.
It wasn’t long after returning to work that I suddenly came to the realization that I didn’t want to waste any more time feeling sorry for myself – I wanted to make the most of life! It hit me that I never wanted anyone to feel that way that I felt.
Prior to my surgery, I was always coming up with ways to fundraise for charity. I got a buzz from doing things for others who needed help. After the operations, I didn’t feel like doing anything for anyone else because life had become ‘unfair’. Had I not worked for Hilton, I fear that I may have continued down that path but fortunately, I was part of the Hilton Family!
I moved to DoubleTree Tower of London in January 2017 once I had gained the courage to commute further to work. Since I walk with a stick, the London Underground was a big obstacle. My confidence was growing more and more, but I still wanted to figure out how I help others suffering the same psychological pain that I had been fighting.
Not long after, I learned about Hilton’s Thrive Sabbatical program. The program focuses on “Give a Dream; Live a Dream,” and I immediately thought that this could be my chance to kick-start my mission of helping others. After speaking with my General Manager (GM), I submitted my application in the eleventh hour. I honestly had no expectation of winning.
After two short months, our team was expecting Katie Fallon and Simon Vincent and I was to be present for a meet and greet. Before I knew what was happening, my General Manager made the announcement that I had won the Thrive@Hilton Sabbatical! The emotions took over and I lost the power of speech, which my colleagues thought was hilarious as it’s certainly a rarity!
I had seen something on social media about a small charity working towards inclusive education in a country where disabled children were denied any opportunity in life, and sometimes even murdered because of their disabilities. This charity was called Child Support Tanzania (CST) and I chose them because of the horrendous stigma attached to disabled people there. I booked my flights and off I went, just after my birthday in January. The welcome I received was beyond incredible and I felt absolutely accepted as a disabled person from the moment I arrived, much like with Hilton. I spent time with the teachers and children and also the team behind their fight for inclusive education; and equality. The passion they have is infectious and I doubt there is anywhere else in the world quite like this remote little part of Tanzania.
Taken at the main entrance to the charity school displaying their powerful motto “Disability is not Inability”
During my four-week sabbatical with CST, I spent most of my time building friendships with the children, the teachers, and the staff driving the charity. The team’s passionate fight for equality is admirable and they added fuel to my desire to help. While I was there, I talked with the team about their goals as an organization, helped brainstorm fundraising ideas, and worked to source supply items. The teachers at CST get training from the local hospital on how to care and protect the children with physical difficulties, but they still need more aids – both training and physical items. We also visited various companies to negotiate agreements for them to help with the development of their new school, including construction and supplies. The entire team makes the best of the resources they have and never complain about what they might lack. Each night when I got back to my lodge, I would type up my blog and share stories and pictures of my daily experiences with my friends and co-workers back home. I loved every single moment with the CST team.
The opportunity to help others and join the fight against negative disability stereotypes has completely changed my life. I desperately fought to get my confidence and motivation back after my diagnosis and it was a big hurdle, but my Thrive Sabbatical enabled me to excel even more. After returning from my sabbatical, I continue to stay in touch with the charity almost every day and am working tirelessly in getting them the help and supplies they need, in addition to looking at ways to help my community, who are fortunately much more accepting than others. They feel honored to know that Hilton know who they are and the incredible work that they do. When I returned, everyone who had been following my Facebook blog was so interested to learn more about the charity and were all keen to help, including colleagues. From the moment I got off the plane in London, my whole perspective on life had changed.
Given, age 13, has Cerebral Palsy and CST taught him how to walk. During my time there, I helped teach him how to ride a tricycle.
Myself and Noelah (CST Founder & President) visited Edgar (who has Cerebral Palsy) at home and I had the pleasure of meeting his mother. Edgar was one of the cheekiest, most confident students at CST. Edgar’s mother said she didn’t know what she would have done if CST did not exist and take him to and from school.
Going through the trauma that I did in 2015, I never thought I would feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I have faced constant discrimination and it breaks my heart each time I am targeted, but I will not give up and neither should anyone else. Thanks to Hilton and their unquestionable support, I have realized that I already AM the luckiest girl in the world and couldn’t think of a better company to work for. Thank you Hilton for completely changing my life for the better. The only way is up!
Before we said goodbye to CST, the children lined up and presented us all with personalised ‘Thank You’ certificates, with one especially for Hilton.
Big thumbs up from one of the disabled students being taken into school in a wheelchair with a huge smile on her face!