Amanda Bedzrah is living testament that miracles do happen. Having lived through the ordeal of a life shattered by sexual abuse, Amanda raised herself to set up a ‘not for profit’ organisation to help other women in the same situation here in UK and in Africa. She is also a qualified project manager, leading change at a number of NHS trusts in Kent as well as an entrepreneur selling hand-made candles and gift items to the wholesale market aimed at women. Amanda’s story is extraordinary given her starting point, though she will be the first to remark that her story is not unusual and can be replicated with support, faith and sheer determination to conquer the odds. Her Christmas message comes laden with ‘gifts’ and messages of hope that anyone can rise to claim their destiny.
1 You have such a compelling story which has led you to this point in life to found the Empower a Woman organisation. Can you describe your journey and your life’s mission?
My journey unfortunately is not unique. Many days I wish it was. I was sexually abused as a child from a very young age and that had a significant impact on my life. However, by God’s grace, I have overcome my past and I am passionate about helping other women to do the same. Not just women who have been sexually abused, but women who have been through or going through unfortunate circumstances. My mission is to share with them my life as an example, to show them that the start does not define the finish; that the past does not define the future and that dreams do come true. My whole life is an awesome testimony, I have done things I never thought I could do, achieved things I never thought I could achieve and if I can do it, any woman can. I want to create a platform for any woman who is willing to make changes in her life to do so.
- How did you get the wherewithal and resources to start a not for profit organisation?
I started with a vision and God. I learnt a lot on the job as I had no experience in setting up an organisation. Even though I had some business experience, there was still a lot to learn and I am grateful for the support of family and friends as that was integral to our the success.
The truth is, Empower a Woman as it is today is a miracle. I started with the very little money I had and very limited resources and honestly just trusted God. 1 year later, we have moved out of my home into temporary offices that have been donated to us by another charity. People have also been generous. They have sponsored, supported, donated and the public (via social media) has been amazing. I cannot personally take any responsibility for how the organisation has grown today. It has been a collective effort. I still invest
- How do you find the women who require assistance and how many women have you helped since you set up the organisation?
I had already started working with women before I officially set up Empower a Woman and so when we set up, there were women waiting to benefit. I didn’t set to change the whole world, it is not about the numbers, my heart was to help as few or as many women as possible and do what I could do. I really have not counted how many women I have enabled in these last years.
As an organisation we do four main things.
Shine Women – This is a self-esteem, personal development course that focuses on WORTH, STRENGTH & PURPOSE. So far we have run 2 training sessions for approximately 15 women.
Smile Gifts – This is our free gift giving services to women on low incomes, homeless and in prison. Women who would not normally get gifts on festive occasions with the simple aim of just making them SMILE, to give them hope. In this last year, we have given over 100 Smile Gifts and we are set to give a further 500 Smile Gifts this Christmas. 381 of these gifts are going to women in prison. My vision for this part of the organisation is huge – I imagine a world where broken women are given a reason to smile, to have hope and to believe in a better tomorrow.
Smile Bank – This is our new initiative; we hope to launch this in 2016. It is like a food bank, but instead of food, we stock toiletries and household cleaning products. So far we have received a huge amount of donations and we hope to have enough stock to open with in the New Year.
Sponsorship – We aim to sponsor women to start small businesses or to get education that can lead to employment. So far, we have sponsored 4 women in the UK and 10 women in Congo.
Because the services we offer vary, it is hard to fully quantify the help we have given. But the focus is changing lives one woman at a time.
In regards to finding women to help – when people get to know what you do, then referrals come in for women in need. I also work in collaboration with other charities and help them meet the needs for the women they work with. I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel, I prefer a collaborative approach. And so I partner with charities that deal with women who have been through domestic violence and abuse, I work with charities or organisations that deal with women who are marginalised etc. I also do international projects and work with women in Congo as well as widows in Nigeria.
- Can you tell us about some of the success stories, transformational stories of the women you’ve helped to turn their lives around?
I started empowering women even before I officially launched Empower a Woman. My biggest success to date is my sister. More than 5 years ago, I sponsored her to do a course in Project Management. Today, she has used that skill to become very successful, she is more confident and is financially free. And so, she has been instrumental in helping me set up Empower a Woman as she knows first-hand the value of enabling another woman to succeed.
Another story is a lady I met last year in a shelter; she was a victim of human trafficking. When I met her, she was quiet, withdrawn and very hopeless, today; she has blossomed into a beautiful young woman, more confident, more able to deal with life and has now become a very good friend. I am so proud of the woman she is becoming and I know that I will continue to support her.
However, to me, each woman I have had the pleasure to work with is a success story. Change is a journey and that makes it difficult for me to give you lots of instant success stories. Also, I never get to meet some of the women we have supported. For example, we have a Project 100 which is our commitment to sponsor 100 women in the Republic of Congo into a small business in 2016. We are doing this in partnership with Hope For All Trust, a UK registered charity that works with these women who are victims of rape. In October, we sponsored 10 women and we hope to sponsor 90 more by the end of 2016. Also, we funded a feeding programme for these women in August 2015. It was a very successful event and we catered for 250 women. As our services are varied, we would impact women in various ways.
- You are also a trained project manager and run your own consultancy, please tell us about your field of work and some of the projects you have undertaken in the past?
I work as a Project Manager and I am also a Certified Business Analyst. I supply services to the NHS, working as an interim contractor from 3-12 months doing a variety of projects. I run this consultancy to support myself and my family and having this and my main job also provided the finances for me to start Empower a Woman. I enjoy working on a variety of projects and using my skills to improve services in both Primary and Secondary Care NHS organisations. It also gives me the flexibility to work as much or as little as I want as I tend to choose the location and length of my contracts. I am currently working as the Business Change Lead at MTW Hospital, introducing Nervecentre and Mobility. This basically means we are enabling staff to use mobile devices to capture patients Vital Signs instead of paper charts. This is a massive change in the NHS as paper based charts have been in existence for many decades and I am proud to be part of the awesome team that has helped to facilitate this change. It has been hard, but, the benefits far outweigh the effort.
- You have also ventured into making Candles. They make great gifts especially for Christmas?
Yes indeed. I started Phoenix Flame and Beauty as a way to raise money for Empower a Woman. I make 100% Soy wax candles and natural beauty products. This business is set up as a direct selling business, where women can buy wholesale and resell to make a profit, where they can have their own small businesses for themselves. They would also benefit from training and support. It is a way for women to have extra income and work around their current commitments, so they can hold candle parties in the evenings, sell at events, through friends, on social media etc. I want it to be a fun business and for women who are passionate about fragrances and beauty to have a business that they do and love. I ensure that the products are of great quality but at an affordable price and so I have priced the candles from £8.99 up to £14.99. This is luxury at its finest, they are genuinely great candles, bath bombs and yes, they are amazing Christmas gifts. I am hoping to expand this business more in 2016 to create a platform for many women to gain some financial freedom.
- What are you most proud of at this juncture of your life?
In the last few years, I have been able to accomplish a few things, however, my biggest accomplishments is completing my book. It was a long hard process and took over 2 years. Being able to share my story in a way that it can inspire other women is amazing. The book is titled “The Love That Set Me Free” it is my story of finding God’s love in the midst of pain and brokenness.
I am really proud of being able to finish the book. This is not my first book project, I have started and stopped so many times, I have a lot of uncompleted work. This made me feel like a failure, to be honest, I never thought I would achieve this. But for God!
- How do you switch off, relax and recharge your batteries?
I love to read. I relax with a good book, a glass of wine and nibbles. I also enjoy meals out with friends and family and spending time away with just my husband. But the way I relax most is taking time out to read my bible, turn on praise music and just enjoy being in the presence of God that is the only thing that really recharges my batteries.
- What special Christmas message would you like to send to our readers and to women seeking help?
Firstly, I want to wish every woman a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This really is a season to rejoice and it is not just about gifts, it is more about the birth of Jesus who came to sacrifice His life for us and so I urge that we remember the real reason for this festive season.
I want to encourage every woman by saying – Your past does not determine your future; you can still do great things with your life regardless of your background. It all starts with you. Believe in yourself and know that anything is possible. You don’t have to do it alone, there is help and support available. Please don’t isolate yourself, speak out.
Also, be sensitive to the needs of others. Be the change that you seek in the world, be the reason that another woman is empowered. There is no act of kindness that is too small or irrelevant. A kind word, A Smile, A hug, A Cup of Coffee, Volunteering etc. there are many ways that you can help another woman succeed. Remember in helping them, you are also helping yourself. Let’s be unified in our actions and purpose, let us be women who build each other up always.
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