An interview with Dhara Mehta. Founder of The Kids Company.
Tell us something about yourself.
It was 2008, I was a postgraduate, and worked as a media manager in a multinational media house I had a promising career ahead. That’s when I bagged one more qualification, one that needs no college or formal degree, ‘Motherhood!’ From a corporate working woman, I became a stay-at-home, hands-on-mommy, very content with my new responsibility. Little did I know then that the sabbatical taken to enjoy motherhood would eventually turn out to be my final goodbye to the corporate world!
Motherhood for me has been, and still is, an overwhelming experience: I was completely in awe of the wonderful surprises my little K would have for me every day. ‘Get a helper for your son’ was the most clichéd piece of advice given by most of my ‘well-wishers’. However, I decided to go against it. With each passing day, I was convinced of not getting back to the ever-demanding corporate world. However, the question ‘Where am I heading professionally?’ kept haunting me.
‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work’ – fortunately for me it looked wonderful!
How did you come up with the idea of ‘The Kids Company‘?
As my son grew from an infant to a toddler, he and I would often spend our noon’s playing board games or creating ‘robots’ with blocks, or solving jigsaw puzzles! That’s when I picked up a very important insight: ‘play is the work of childhood, and the highest form of education’. This thought that ignited a spark in me: to reach out to pre-primary kids with a service, which would bridge the gap between play and learning. It sounded vague to many but I believed in my dream.
I decided to learn everything about child development and care and took up a formal one year course. So strong was my passion for the subject that I topped my batch with a distinction and became a qualified Early Childhood Care and Education Provider. Theory and practical knowledge both complement each other when it comes to learning something new. To gain practical knowledge, when my son turned three, I took up a job in a day-care-activity-center for kids with only one condition from my side, that my son shall accompany me there after his school. These were systematic and planned steps to help me reach my goal.
The formal course and practical experience both reinforced my belief that early childhood education should be filled with lots of enjoyment and play, allowing children to live their childhood to the fullest and not miss out on the most important ingredients of growing up. Working upon this insight, ‘The Kids Company’ was born in 2013.
So what is the USP of The Kids Company?
‘The Kids Company’ is an intelligence building activity centre offering its fun filled and intellectually stimulating program to children between 3 – 7 years of age. We specialize in academic enrichment, brain games, building logical intelligence, instilling creative thinking and teaching through play.
Our program is designed to enable learning through a surprise mix of curated educational games, I.Q. sessions, puzzles, mazes, crosswords and many more brain tickling activities. The activities are aimed at improving the child’s skills related to logical thinking, problem solving, self – management, communication and inter personal skills.
What were the challenges that you faced in your Entrepreneurial journey?
Shifting gears, and industries from being a media professional to an entrepreneur in the education industry, starting my own venture, and raising a child in a nuclear set up needed a lot of self conviction. My journey so far has been fulfilling and an enriching, along with some challenges.
I started The Kids Company from my house by dedicating a room for the same. It wasn’t as easy and convenient as it sounds. To have a workspace at home, and with a growing toddler around all the time was taxing and challenging. Setting professional standards and overcoming clients’ (parents’) perception, who would misinterpret it as ‘just another tuition class’ was a herculean task. I’ve made a clear demarcation between my personal and professional space though they co exist in the same premises.
Another challenge was switching between professional and personal roles.A strict routine is needed to strike a balance between professional and personal commitments. Work starts when I kiss bye to my son and my husband at 8:30 am. I have an action packed day, juggling emails, planning sessions, filling up on groceries and all the chores, till 3:00 pm when I make it a point to pick my son from school. It’s child and mom connect time and once he’s settled I shift focus to my second baby! Typically, I wind up my work by around 7 pm and am in mommy mode till I tuck my son in bed!
Also, there are a lot of uncertainties associated when you start your own venture. Initially I got anxious and nervous, but I guess motherhood’s made me stronger, and more open to accept surprises that come along! There have been days when my house help took an unplanned leave, or K’s school declared a half-day, and once my husband ended up with a fracture playing soccer! Nonetheless, my work continued seamlessly.
How would you sum up your journey so far?
It has been an enriching and a satisfying journey so far. The Kids Company has also bagged some awards along the way which has always kept my motivation high and mood upbeat. At the RIVOKIDS Parents and Kids Choice Awards 2015, The Kids Company bagged the best activity centre (pan India) second runner up award. In 2016, we were honored to receive BABYCHAKRA Mom’s Choice Service Certificate in the category activity classes.
Sigining off with the thought, that inspired me in my journey: ‘Organize your life around your dreams – and watch them come true.’
An Interview with Film Maker and author Raquel Ureña
Raquel Ureña is a film maker and the Founder of NYC Latin Media. She has produced over 8 films and has authored ‘Prepárate para conquistar’ which is available on Amazon.
Raquel, Thank you for talking with us. How and when did you start your journey of film making?
Thank you for having me. I was a television producer and host for over 20 years, and it became so easy for me that it was not challenging anymore. Moreover, I was getting bored of it. I lost the excitement of being on camera and producing. I saw an opportunity to challenge myself in film.
You come from a Television background. How easy or difficult was the transition into film making?
Coming from a television background made producing films easier because there are many similarities in the film and Television industry. Having said that, film making is a whole other world. There are many more steps that are involved before your production is ready for the public. The gratification in film takes a lot more time.
You have produced over 8 films. Which is your most memorable one?
The most memorable film that I have produced is Amorfoda Una Chapiadora en NY because it was the first that I wrote so it is my baby. You always have a peculiar attachment with your first work.
Young talents have a problem in getting their first break. How are you helping young actors in this regard?
We are helping them start their demo reel and showing them the process that they must go through in order to start their career in film because some people know that they want to be actors but have no idea what they have to do to break in.
Tell us more about NYC Latin Media. What are the challenges that you have faced during this pandemic?
When the pandemic started, we were 3 days into filming our film Ahora o Nunca La Ultima oportunidad and we had to stop production because we didn’t want to put our actors in danger. It was very difficult because to get to the filming phase there is a lot of pre-production and the last thing you want to do is change the schedule that you have spent months preparing. So, stopping production was no easy thing to do.
What suggestions would you give to anyone who wants to get into film making?
I would say don’t be afraid of the hard work that has to be put in because the reward of seeing your finished film is priceless plus you never know if this is the next hit in the industry.
An Interview with Veteran Actor & Dancer Deborah Lee Fong
Panamanian/American actor, Deborah Lee Fong is known for her critically acclaimed performances. An entrepreneur at heart, she has over 30 years of experience in Acting & Dancing and has played lead roles in several movies. In this interview, she shares details about her career and her future plans.
Deborah, Thank you for talking with us. You have over 30 years of experience in Acting and Dancing. Tell us more about your tryst with Dancing and Acting?
I suppose it started with my first trip to Broadway, as a child, to see Oliver. I was intrigued by the production, the music and of course the company of actors who made me believe I was in a different place and time. In my heart of hearts I knew I wanted to be a part of that world.
My career has taken lots of twists and turns, and careers; life does that to you. I am fortunate and grateful to be where I am in my life. It has been a dance woven between familial commitments, maturity, and patience. You start out pursuing your passion and along the way, there are entanglements, not necessarily negative, just events that take you on a different journey.
I was introduced to the theatre through dance and drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse children’s program where I attended classes every Saturday from elementary school up until high school. I also modeled for the ILGWU for several years and had tremendous fun walking the runway with my mom.
When it came time for high school, I auditioned for the High School of Performing Arts on 46h Street in Manhattan and was accepted. High School was an incredible time – studio every day, meeting talented young people from all the boroughs. (I grew up in Queens so Queens was home, the other boroughs not so much, lol) We were teens, with all the angst and traumas of teen years and we were also neck-deep in absorbing the details and discipline necessary to nurture our interests.
It is a time I look back upon with great wonder and affection for the patience and wisdom I received from many of my studio and academic teachers. Nothing is ever perfect, and there were difficult episodes in high school and during my teenage years, in hindsight, PA was one of the best decisions of my life. The lessons learned there have served me well throughout my entire life. And, many of the friends I made in high school are still close friends today.
Upon graduating from high school, I had my eyes set on one particular school and they put me on their waiting list. I declined offers from two other very fine schools, and waited for the letter saying I was off the waiting list and on the accepted list. However, it was not to be. I was kind of stuck. At the time I received the disappointing news, I was in Mexico City visiting my father who had relocated t from San Francisco. So, I figured I might as well try university life in Mexico, I was there and it made sense to me. I was accepted into the United States International University – lived with my dad and my stepmother and siblings and started my college life. It was all academics, I did well but I missed the creative process, the daily explorations of self and creativity. It just so happened that my university had a School of Performing Arts (kismet) division in San Diego (USIU SPA). I auditioned and was accepted.
Apart from skill, your field of work requires perseverance. These days, how easy or difficult it is for young actors to get a break?
Talent abounds and perseverance is still a critical factor in pursuit of crafting your skills and having the opportunity to practice them. Focusing on a result, like “the break” can be frustrating and self defeating.
You recently appeared as Agnes in the production of “Secret Santa”. Tell us more about this experience.
Agnes is everyone’s office mom. Kind, sensitive, and just a little overprotective of her office mates. She is the person who calms bruised egos and builds you back up! I really enjoyed Agnes.
Urbanworld Film Festival is one of the largest competitive film festivals. How was your experience in the recently held Urbanworld Film Festival?
It was really terrific and very satisfying. Outstanding talent sharing time and space, what can possibly be better than that?
You have played critically acclaimed roles in several films. Which is your most memorable role so far?
Several years ago I participated in an evening of readings and I had the honor of reading letters from survivors of the Greenwood Massacre. I carry that experience in my heart and soul.
What suggestion would you give to young aspiring actors?
Advice is a tricky thing. What I want to share is that while my journey as an actor did not follow a straight course, I know that my heart never let go of the need to be creative. I found different outlets for that creativity and developed some new skills along the way. I think it’s important to remain flexible, receptive to new opportunities and trust your instincts.
Karema McGhee, Founder of Luxinous talks about her Mission to Remove the Stigma Associated with the act of Smudging
Karema McGhee, the founder of Luxinous has been a healer and alternative medicine practitioner for over two decades. She is currently in the process of relaunching her brand. The relaunch of her brand Luxinous is scheduled for June 1st. The entire relaunch process is in tune with her mission to change the way the world views smudge tools, healing arts and herbs.
Karema, Thank you so much for this Interview. Kindly tell us when and how did you associate yourself with smudging.
Thank you for having me. I’ve been a healer, alternative medicine practitioner for over 20 years. Some of my mentors, teachers, and friends have been some of the most sort after healers, herbalist, lightworkers, and freedom fighters I am proud to know. I found my way to smudging back in 2002, before becoming associated with the shrine of ptah in Brooklyn. New York.
Smudging has been traditionally practiced by some Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Tell us more about the current state of smudging.
I recall walking into the shrine and the priests were doing what we call the opening of the way. The smell was coming out of the shrine into the sidewalks of urban Brooklyn, I recall walking into the shrine impressed by the feeling of ritual. Mesmerized by the act of cleansing. I wanted to learn each chat, each movement, the dance, and most importantly the look of freedom and power as the sounds were leaving their bodies permeating the atmosphere. It was captivating. I was in. I was hooked. It was sage.
How is Luxinous impacting the lives of people who become a part of it?
My objective with Luxinous is to remove many of the stigmas, the dogma, the separatism and myths associated with the act of smudging.
To teach the facts that almost every indigenous people from every nation, from every religious association and denomination, has some form of smudging built into its ritual, religious, and cultural practices. Even those who are opposed to smudging because of religious reasons don’t realize that they already have a form of smudging built into their cultural fabric.
In order to live a fulfilled life, you need to set aside prejudices. How do smudging help in realizing our true potential?
The natives of the Americas are famous for white Sage & Sweetgrass, the native Peruvians for Palo Santo. I can go on and on.
The current state of saging, smudging, and the like is disheartening at times, as many want to own it, and not share it with the world. It’s as if we believe that if we shared our sacred arts with others, they will run off with it and we will never get the credit we deserved. We are afraid for our ritual to be common.
What is the your mission and how do you see Luxinous achieving that mission?
For me, my mission is to bring fair trade to the indigenous, to provide responsibly sourced healing tools to as many who want it. To bring unity, understanding, education and awareness, and to normalize ritual.
I believe that mother nature wants us to share with each other our regional wisdom. To heal one another. None of us own mother nature, but she gives of herself to us, for us, and as long as we approach the Goddess with an offering, with truth, respect, kindness, and fairness, we as a Human collective can further heal and began to see that we have more in common than we ever thought.
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