We have been interviewed for I Am That Girl. Check it out! Ugly Ducklings Inc is becoming more popular :) Continue reading
Find out all about #NaturalDay and mark your calendars to join this challenge! Continue reading
Hi Ugly Ducklings! And Happy 2015! We dearly hope you enjoyed the holidays and are now ready to have fun, enjoy, and be surprised by wonderful things that this year will bring. We have a great announcement that we’ll make very soon, and for now, we just wanted to give you a heads up.
Check Twitter and Facebook
Don’t lose sight of the ducklings on social networks because they will be explaining the first big thing that we have prepared for you for this new year. HOWEVER, since you’re reading this, we’ll tell you the secret (but shhhh!!):
- We’ll launch our new t-shirt designs very soon
- We will hold our second charity raffle!
- We have prize packs you won’t believe (and they all contain something signed by actress Jennifer Morrison)
- We will also have some more goodies and producks you can get to help us support Mental Fitness Inc.
- We’ll be working alongside Sanah Jivani again for this upcoming Natural Day!!
You can tweet at the ducklings here, and like us on Facebook, too! Besides that, we are looking forward to starting our new series of blog posts with topics that will inspire, encourage, and help others to become who they really want to be. Can’t really tell you more than that!! Just keep your eyes open for what’s coming!
December 5 is International Volunteer Day. A day to tell the world about the impact of volunteering by showing all of the wonderful actions of volunteers all around the world. We, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, want to contribute to this by sharing the stories of two big-hearted volunteers with you.
Via an organization she supports called Sanctuary for Kids, she heard about Volunteer Nepal. This organization is involved with Nepal Orphan’s Home that aims to improve the lives of children in Nepal and provide them with a quality of life that so many people take for granted. Laura has arrived in Kathmandu not more than 1,5 weeks ago, and when I talked to her she was busy settling in and finding her way in the foreign country.
Laura tells me that she has always wanted to volunteer:
“I like the idea of maybe being able to give something back to people that aren’t as lucky as me.”
For Laura, the volunteering experience is about giving something back, as well as a unique chance to see more of the world:
During my stay I’ll be helping children with homework, teaching at a local school and I will also be doing some sightseeing.”
Laura will be staying in Nepal for four weeks. We wish her all the best and can’t wait to hear her stories when she gets back home!
Alison is a 20-year-old Bachelor’s Degree student and day care employee from Illinois, USA. She grew up with volunteering as it is something that is passed on to her by her family. Via her church, she came into contact with CALMS, an American-based organization working to spread the gospel in Central America.
The organization works alongside the community members and together with them they set up Bible studies and youth groups, provide necessary school supplies, medical and dental care, and construct new schools and other facilities that the community needs. Alison stresses the importance of working alongside a community:
“We don’t step in to do all the work. We work alongside the community members to show them how to do these things, so the community can be self-sustained. If we show them how it’s done, then they can continue the work after we leave.”
During the eight weeks Alison partook in the volunteer project, she taught English to elementary and secondary students at a Lutheran school, set up a high school/college Bible study and organized all kinds of outings and events for the students there. Some other work she did was in nearby communities where she would bring food and water, and spent time with the people there.
“Most of the things that stand out to me about this trip aren’t specific instances. Instead, I remember a LOT of warm hugs, so many crazy tickle fights, kids’ faces lighting up with excitement about learning, and the lasting connections I made with people there. Guatemala became my second home, and the people there feel like my family. My heart is there with them, and I need to return as soon as I can.”
Alison highly recommends becoming a volunteer:
“whether it’s giving back locally, nationally, or internationally, you really do have the ability to help people. You can change the world for one person at a time. Volunteering is the most fulfilling thing I do, and you will come away with a full heart.”
A bit of advice to people who want to volunteer in another country
“Living in Guatemala for those 8 weeks was a challenge, honestly. I didn’t speak the language very well, and I didn’t know very much about the culture. The most important thing I learned was to put myself out there and not be afraid to look stupid.
There are things you won’t know, and you need to accept that. Make a real effort to learn the language and interact with people as much as you can. If you don’t know a word or even if you say the wrong word, the people there will help you. They may laugh at you (they’ll probably laugh at you), but they’ll help you, and they will appreciate the fact that you’re trying to connect with them.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself and be goofy. Make people laugh. Make them smile. Show them that you are just like them. We are all humans. We all have feelings, thoughts, emotions, and opinions. We are so much more alike than we think, and by connecting with people and forming new friendships, that will become extremely clear.”
We would like to thank both Laura and Alison so much for sharing their stories with us. It inspired us, and we hope it inspires you too!
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you consider volunteering. On the other hand, it can be such a rewarding experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We would love to hear about your volunteering experiences in the comments below!
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant
Ever considered applying for volunteer work, but not sure yet about the what, how and where? Hopefully this guide to volunteering can answer some of the burning questions you might have as we, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, celebrate International Volunteer Day.
Read on to find out more about volunteering and find out how two volunteers experience(d) their volunteer work abroad
Volunteering, what is it exactly?
Simply said, volunteering is giving your time to help out without expecting a payment in return.
Volunteer work can take on many forms and can take place in your own community or even abroad. Volunteering opportunities really vary from being a dog walker, to building schools in developing countries, and everything in between, and beyond.
Why would I want to become a volunteer?
It might sound like an overly utilized cliché, but as a volunteer you can really contribute to society. Even the smallest involvement can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Other aspects to realize is that it can help you forward as well, as you are able to develop new skills, practice your talents, improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, make new friends, and even increase your employability chances (yes, volunteering really does look good on your CV!).
Yes, I apply for a volunteering project!
There are millions of volunteering activities to choose from. It’s therefore good to think about what you’re interested in and what your skills are before applying.
- Are you a people-person?
- An animal lover?
- A sporty type?
- Do you want to help out in your local community?
- Or would you rather go abroad?
All of these are questions you have to ask yourself before applying for volunteering work.
What’s the next step?
The next step will be to search online for more information about the projects you’re interested in. Maybe you know someone who did volunteering work before? Ask him or her about their experiences, and you’ll be surprised how happy they are to share their stories with you.
Another important thing to take into account is how you will manage your time.
- How long would you like to commit to volunteer work?
- A week, one month, a year?
- Would you like to volunteer part- or fulltime?
Never try to over-commit yourself. Remember that you probably have other commitments too, like friends and family, work, hobbies…
Other questions to think about are for example what skills are needed for a specific project. Do you already have these skills or are you willing to obtain them during your time as a volunteer? Would you need any training? How much will the trip cost, as well as health insurance, and living?
Of course, you’re not alone in this. There are many organizations that can help you sort out all the things you need. Therefore, I’ve set out some resources that can help you to find volunteering work that is right for you:
List of volunteering organizations and websites
National volunteering work
International volunteering work
And there’s more!
I have two inspiring volunteering stories to share with you ugly ducklings. One of them is Laura’s experience. She is currently volunteering in Nepal. And did you see the picture at the top? That’s my friend Allison, who did some work in Guatemala.
Come back and check our next blog post to get even more motivated about this wonderful work.
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant
Many of you know that Ugly Ducklings Inc works closely with a nonprofit organization called Mental Fitness Inc. This is work that we are very proud of and very passionate about. But… what is “mental fitness”?
We’ve asked Robyn Hussa Farrell to guest-interview with us this week to discuss Mental Fitness Inc, and building resiliency in children, youth and adults, among other things.
Welcome, Robyn. Thank you so much for being here with us!
Thank you Erin and Marie and all!
We’ve interviewed Robyn before, but for any new readers, could you tell us who you are and what you do for Mental Fitness Inc?
I’m the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness. I created the organization almost 9 years ago when I produced a rock musical in New York City that led to many of my friends and loved ones entering treatment for eating disorders. Mental Fitness brings evidence-based arts and media programs into schools to build resiliency in kids of all ages.
How do you define ‘mental fitness’? What is so important about it when it comes to Mental Health?
We are so obsessed with physical fitness, that we wanted to create a way to look at health that includes mental wellness, too. Interestingly we are one of the only wealthy nations in the world who DOESN’T have measures that include social, emotional and psychological well being for our kids. It is time to change that!
The website talks a lot about the “Seven Pillars of Mental Fitness”… can you tell us more about what they are?
We have been collaborating with researchers for the last decade and found several protective factors that increase resiliency and help to build mental fitness. These include mindfulness, stress-management, nourishing the body and mind, media literacy, community connections, body image and self-esteem. We’ve written about them on the new b:resilient website here.
We brought together all of the prevention-focused research in one place and created a mental fitness map which helps kids and adults improve seven key areas of fitness. We know that if a person focuses on each of these areas, they will improve overall health measures! The seven categories include:
- self-esteem and internal validation
- body image
- media literacy and critical thinking
- stress management
- connecting with community through volunteering and role models
- nourishing body and mind by understanding facts about Intuitive Eating and other evidence based prevention models
The way we teach about mental fitness is through evidence-based programs. So, for example, for the Body Image category, we help schools connect with the evidence-based programs that exist in that area including Dr. Becker and Stice’s “Body Project” or Kathy Kater’s “Healthy Bodies” programs.
Where can we find more information about Mental Fitness Inc and each protective category?
There is a handout here with lots of information.
What is next for Mental Fitness Inc?
Online learning tools at b:resilient so that more educators and professionals have access to this amazing prevention research!
Thank you so much for being here with us today! We’ll post your bio below, but what is the best way for our readers to support MFI and find you?
Robyn Hussa Farrell is the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness, Inc., the non-profit we support here at UglyDucklings Inc. Marie and I have been in touch with her for almost two years now, and she is a constant inspiration to us. Robyn works incredibly hard to ensure that children grow up with a healthy mental fitness; something that is very important and inspiring work. We are so happy and proud to be a part of such an amazing organization that really is changing the lives of children in America. You can check out our other pieces about Mental Fitness Inc and our interview with Robyn to learn more… additionally, be sure to check back in the new year as we will be having a HUGE charity raffle to raise support for Mental Fitness Inc.
I diagnosed myself when I was fifteen;
seven years later, a psychiatrist did it.
In February 2012, I was confronted with a family secret: My grandfather had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital for six months when my Dad was a teenager due to a mental breakdown and psychosis. While my grandfather was there, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Whether that was type I or type II, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does.
I confronted my Dad about why I was never told of this, especially because of my continuous depressions through my life. He tried to play it off, like it was no big deal. (I’m not looking to make my Dad seem like a bad guy because he certainly is not; he just doesn’t seem to be proud of his – my – family’s history – except for the good things of course.)
Well, that night I made a decision to go to my doctor and demand to get a referral for a psych evaluation. I’d been going to him at least once a year since I was 15, telling him that I needed help and he’d just kept sending me to psychologists who failed to recognize any signs. But this time, I wasn’t going to listen to him; this time he was going to listen to me!
Three weeks later, I went and told my doctor to give me that referral… He finally did. After seven years, I was finally going to get the help that I knew I needed. Since my first serious depression, I’d known that it wasn’t “just” a depression. I knew it was more than that, but no one would listen to a “hormonal” 15 year old.
Six months later I went to the psychiatrist and filled out a questionnaire that would determine if I had an actual mental illness and if so, which one. After I’d filled it out, I went in for the consult and I told him why I’d sought for psychiatric help as opposed to psychological and we made an appointment for another consult a month later.
August ended and September 21st came; I finally got there and sat down in the waiting room. Of course, the doctor was late. Typical, isn’t it? When you’re about to be late and you rush to get there, whoever you’re meeting is late. It didn’t take long for him to pull me in and give me my diagnosis. “Hi Camilla. So… There’s no doubt about it. You have Bipolar Disorder type II.”
No doubt. No doubt? After seven years, at least seven depression consults with my doctor, three psychologists and countless counsellors, it took one test and one conversation with a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis. A diagnosis that I had known I would receive. For seven years I had dealt with the downside of this illness and no one had been there to really help me.
Less two months after I got my diagnosis, I went through another downward spiral, with the snap of two fingers. All I remember is waking up one morning and not being able to get up. I, physically, couldn’t. I lied there, listening to my alarm going off until my Mom came in half an hour later and asked me why I wasn’t up yet. I just looked into the air and said, “It’s gone bad again.” And so, another battle started, but this time we knew why and how to help it.
I ended up dropping out of school –third try on getting an education– to concentrate on getting better and staying better. With a diagnosis it wasn’t hard to have the system work with me instead of against me. They set me up in a mindfulness-ish class that had a couple of painting hours a week, which were the only reason I went. I wasted seven months there until I could get into a program for people who aren’t fit for work or school.
During those months, I did my best to experience as many things that would give me joy as possible. I went to Paris to meet one of my two best friends for the first time. Two months later I went to the Monte Carlo TV Festival with my other best friend – my best friend for longer than forever, as her and I say. And that same Summer I was lucky enough to not get renewed at that mindfulness-ish class, so that I could have a month vacation before starting the program. This break gave me two weeks in Skagen; this annual trip was exactly what I needed! A week of having fun with a friend and the next with my Dad and sister – later joined by my sister’s mother – where I spent most days relaxing in the sun. Perfect.
And finally August came and the program started.
This program has three subjects: music, art and theatre. And since August 2013, I have been an amateur actress. This place is safe. If you’re energized and overjoyed, you use that energy to do theatre work. If you’re tired or sad – or both – there’s a place upstairs with a couch, where you can lie down if you need to. It’s a place where you have support your co-workers, the guidance counsellors and the ones who are in charge of each subject. There’s room for you there. Continue reading
We wanted to show you this, because it raises awareness about adoption from a less-typical perspective. Share your thoughts in the comments below! Do you have an adoption story? If you do, send it our way. Email us at [email protected]
I always find that there is a side of adoption that doesn’t seem to get talked about quite as much as the rest. Adopted children are often asked to share their stories. Their adoptive parents are also generally given an open forum for talking about their motivations for adopting. But I always find the birth family isn’t often acknowledged, specifically in the media and our culture.
If and when a birth mother is given a significant story line in either fiction or non-fiction, it usually is talking about the circumstances that caused her to give-up her babies or young children, or what caused her babies or young children to be taken from her.
I love adoption. I think it is an amazing and beautiful thing.
And I truly believe that without adoption, I wouldn’t be alive.
She found us
I wasn’t adopted, but my mom had a baby when she was fifteen years old and gave her up for adoption. The statistics of couples that stay together while raising an infant born during their adolescence definitely point to me not being here if my mother hadn’t made that choice.
I didn’t know my mother and father had had this baby when I was younger. I didn’t know about the baby until she, as an adult, searched for her birth parents and found them together with two young children. I was eleven.
To say my life changed would be an understatement… but every single change was for the better. My sister is an incredibly strong and smart individual and we are very close. She is definitely my hero and I am so proud to have her as a sister.
It’s been so long now, we are just sisters; we were pretty much just sisters from the start. She is as much a part of our family as I am, and she is a part of me.
It’s also been so long now that we don’t have to tell the story that we didn’t always know each other to everyone we meet. The people who have been in our lives from the time we met already know… and the new people in our lives only know who we are now and what our relationship is now.
Occasionally, the story comes up in conversation and we do tell people who have never known us in any other context. The reactions range anywhere from endearing…
- “That is so sweet. It is so nice to see you two having such a marvellous relationship now.”
… to hurtful
- “Oh… so she’s not your real sister?”
And there is the occasional disbelief, but probably not in the sense you’re thinking:
- “Pft, whatever. Adopted. Yeah right. By a family that looks exactly like you.”
It’s true. We do look alike. I have a photo of my mother, my sister and I at the same age, side-by-side… there’s no doubt we’re all related.
When people accuse her of not being my “real” sister… that’s the one that gets to me the most. She is my sister. Not only is she 100% biologically my sister… she is my sister in every other sense of the word. I’ve had her in my life for more years now than not. We are close friends. We talk every day. She constantly inspires me and helps me. I don’t know how I would have gotten through high school without her.
She is my sister. She is a part of me.
And yeah… I’m the bio family. I’m the family that’s not often talked about when the discussion of adoption comes up – certainly not biological siblings. But we do exist. Whether we’re 100% blood siblings or half siblings, we are “real” siblings and we are affected by the adoption too.
Sun, sea, beach, relaxation, hotels, airplanes, sightseeing… All things you think about when it comes to tourism, right? But this industry involves so much more than that.
Tourism is all about people -from all layers of society- destinations, experiences, environments and even governments. It has social, cultural, economic and political value. To emphasize the importance of this industry in all of the previous mentioned facets, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) introduced World Tourism Day in 1980.
The date, every year on 27th September, was chosen since it indicates the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere. On this day, we celebrate tourism, and maybe even more importantly, we address the eight Millennium Development Goals set up by the United Nations:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Global partnership for development
We leave our footprints with everything we do. Tourism in general leaves an enormous footprint on planet Earth and can have drastic consequences. ‘Sustainability’ is a word often related to tourism, as we want “to develop tourism in the most sustainable way possible”. But what does the word ‘sustainability’ actually mean? It’s a vague concept, but simply put it means that tourism needs to take full account of the economic, political, cultural, social and environmental impacts it has. An almost undoable task, made harder even by people and government’s personal interests and corruption.
But I’m not here to only point out the negative aspects of the industry. Tourism is two-faced. World Tourism Day is also a day of celebration. The WTD blogger competition for example showcases some of the success stories of this incredible industry. From voluntourism to community development and from community based tourism to rewarding traveling experiences, it’s all there.
My life and tourism
I have a rather long history when it comes to the concept of ‘tourism.’ About 16 years ago, when I was six, I started playing ‘travel agency.’ What I did was getting all the travel brochures my parents had collected over the years and an old computer keyboard out and I got creative with crayons and paper.
My parents and friends had to browse through the travel brochures, I would ‘check’ availability for them and ‘book’ their hotel and flight ticket. I even gave them some extra information about the destination they were traveling too (all made up with that crazy imagination of mine) and print their flight tickets (writing down some random letters and numbers on a piece of paper).
Later on, I became really interested in meeting people from abroad and learning about other cultures. That’s why I started to look for pen pals online and joined the travel website Virtual Tourist (‘’Meeting the People Behind the Places’’).
What happens at second 41?
If every 40 seconds one person takes their own life, who picks up the pieces at second 41? How to react the exact moment after this happens?
So here’s the thing. Sunday, the morning of August 31st 2014, I woke up with a lot of things on my mind. First and foremost was the fact that it was my little sister Nicole’s birthday. Six and a half years ago, on February 12th, 2008, she took her own life at just 23 years old. And there are so many things I could say.
- She was too young
- She had her whole life ahead of her
- She didn’t know what she’d be missing
- She had to have known how much everyone loved her
- She surely knew how her family would feel if she was gone
The thing is… when Nicole decided to take her life, she wasn’t thinking about her age. She took her life because she felt she didn’t have her whole life ahead of her. She couldn’t picture the future long enough to realize that she was going to miss out on some of the most fun and best times ever. She had no idea how much she was truly loved. And most importantly, she wasn’t thinking about anyone but herself when she made the decision to end it all.
Suicide is NOT selfish
When I hear talk about suicide, one of the most common things people tend to discuss is strictly their personal opinions on how they feel about suicide. Too often, those affected by suicide aren’t in the right frame of mind to decide to get involved and take an active stance against it. This is where one of my many points comes into play.
When you ask someone their opinion on suicide, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I bet they’ll tell you they think suicide is selfish. But is suicide actually selfish? Just look at the definition.
When you first start reading it, you might think “Yeah, actually it is.” But then you keep going and you ask yourself “Personal profit?” And then we have the words egocentric, egotistic, egomaniacal. Do any of those words sound like they describe someone who’s about to take their own life? I honestly don’t think so.
I could go on and on, but those are a handful of words that I would associate with the act of suicide. Having been through the things I’ve been through, I doubt “selfish” is a word I will ever associate with it. I used the word in my video, but in relation to those of us who are trying to prevent it.
I remember that night Nicole called me. I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. All I was getting was screaming and crying, and words here and there that sounded like “it hurts” and “want to die” and more screaming and crying.
She had tried to cut her wrist open. When we took her to the hospital, there’s only one distinct conversation I remember having with her. They were stitching up her wrist and while I held her other hand we had a little talk. I told her I loved her, that I was there for her.
I held her hand while she cried and told me how much it hurt. But she wasn’t talking about her wrist. She was talking about her heart. And her mind. She was telling me how much it hurt to be alive. In that brief moment, I made a decision that some days, I find myself questioning and regretting. I said: “It’s a selfish thing to ask… but please don’t go. It’s selfish of me to want you to stay. But please stay”. But then I said: “It’s okay. If the pain is too much and you can’t hold on… it’s okay if you have to go. I love you. I would miss you. But I will never be selfish enough to ask you to stay in a place where you feel like you don’t belong.”
My therapist told me that I did an amazing thing, because I gave her the freedom to choose, and that it took courage to do it. Some days, I question my decision, and in the end it doesn’t make suicide okay.
So what do you do at second 41?
Just as it goes with any death. With any loss. The number one feeling is grief. But with suicide, the rolling wave of emotions a survivor feels is endless.
It’s different for every single person. There are those who feel like they failed the person who took their own life. And then there are those who feel like failures.
You find yourself constantly lost in thought and the number one thing on everyone’s mind is “What did I miss? What could I have done differently?”
The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing you can do differently. There’s nothing more you can do except to let them know how much you care. How much they mean to you. How much the entire world will lose, if they’re gone.
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t convince them they have a reason to stay.
It’s not because they aren’t strong enough.
It’s not because they’re selfish.
It’s simply because the pain is too great.
At second 41, all you can feel is confusion. Second 42… panic. Second 43… denial. Second 44… pain.
And every second that ticks by, a new emotion will take you over, right down to your soul. But when it’s all said and done and the realization sets in, try to remember what the person would want you to do.
They’ll want you to pick up the pieces and try to understand they didn’t mean to hurt you. They just didn’t know how else to make their own pain go away. So, you see? Suicide isn’t about being selfish. It’s not about hurting others or thinking about one’s self. It’s about freedom of choice and the need to make the pain go away.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you think someone you know/love is considering suicide, let them know they have choices. Let them know they are free to choose. But also make sure (VERY sure) you let them know they will never be alone. Let them know how much you care. You CAN save a life. Let them know you’re there for them and how much they matter.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to stand on the side of second 41.
(Ugly Ducklings Inc team member, and author of this Ugly Duckling Story)