Interview by Lisbeth Moneton
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your incredible story full of challenges, love, passion and courage in setting up your charity organization LittleBigHelp in the slums of Kolkata, India.
FF: You are born and raised in Denmark and today you live between India and Denmark so, where is HOME for you?
Lisbeth: I get that question quite often and I feel home is everywhere I feel a warm welcome either from the country or the people. My mum said to a friend the other day ”Lisbeth can live anywhere” and that is true. A place can easily become home for me.
Funny enough, right now, I’m listening to some music and a song started playing 'Home is where the heart is ... been traveling a lifetime to find my way home”. Home is more of an inner feeling than a certain place or country for me.
FF: I have read your wonderful book Hvad svarer du når livet kalder? In English it's: What do you answer when life calls? It is breathtaking story, I highly recommend it to everyone. Can you please tell us about your life before the idea to create LittleBigHelp and what lead you to India?
Lisbeth: Thanks, I’m happy you enjoyed the book. My life before going to India in 2006 was focused on my career. At the time, I was living in Denmark and working in London as the Sales Director for a 5-star hotel. I also worked as a holistic life coach and had, and still have, my own company. I traveled each week to either London or other cities spending a lot of time in airports and meetings.
At the time, I started to long for a different life but I didn't yet know the journey I was going to embark on. If somebody would have told me, I would have laughed. It was also a time when my friends started to have babies and of course a part of me was thinking maybe I should as well – but life took me in a very different direction, which I’m deeply grateful for.
FF: Can you tell us in more detail about the journey from working to creating LittleBigHelp? Was there a defining moment that made you take the leap?
Lisbeth: Yes, I will share a chapter from my book.
Chapter: “Now book your ticket!” Martin worked as a coach and speaker in Copenhagen specializing in job satisfaction and motivation. We met on the coaching training in London in 2005. As the only two Danish people on the course, we quickly became good friends and developed the kind of friendship where we could be very direct with each other.
After I met the girls from the orphanage, I often spoke with Martin about my dream to move to India. I presented him with many different plans about how I could get things to work out, such as volunteering at the orphanage while earning money and coaching clients by Skype. But it was just talk. Even though my ideas were good ones, they did nothing to remove the obstacles that lay in the way of leaving.
One evening in August, I sat on the sofa at Martin’s home in Vesterbro (a neighbourhood in Denmark) and presented him with yet another plan. Usually he supported my ideas but this evening he responded very differently. What had been vague talk about dreams and possibilities suddenly became serious. With two sentences he turned the conversation in another direction. “I am tired of seeing the light in your eyes go out when you stop talking about India,” he said. “Now book your ticket!”
His words made me angry. Martin knew how much I wanted to go, but he also knew why I couldn’t just book a ticket. It was not the same as the last two times I had been there. This time it was going to be a one-way trip.
When Martin and I coached each other, we had an agreement to say things straight, to openly share our own opinions and articulate, as we saw it, the other’s blocks. So that was what he did. He said that he thought I was only finding excuses not to go because I had unresolved issues with my family and certain ideals about what I should live up to. It seemed like the sensible choice to stay in Denmark but, as Martin saw it, my heart and energy were not in it.
I got angry and irritated, which made him even harder on me. He knew that he had touched a sore spot. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop the conversation - mostly because, deep down, I knew he was right.
As stubborn as we both were, we ended up yelling at each other for a few hours. My arguments were largely about my work for Radisson Edwardian. I had contracts to renegotiate with clients and I wanted to see them through before I went anywhere.
Martin didn’t buy the argument. He began challenging me - “Do it, Lisbeth,” he said, “move to India.”
By provoking me so much, Martin awoke feelings that meant I could no longer make the decision based only on logic and common sense. We sat on his black leather sofa for a few hours and he asked me over and over again why I couldn’t just book a ticket.
Finally, he irritated me so much, that I had had enough, “I’ll show him,” I thought. “Of course I can just book the ticket now, but I left my wallet at home, so it will have to wait until later.”
Martin looked directly at me. Without saying a word, he got up and left the room. When he came back, he had his computer and credit card in his hands. He threw both of them on my lap. Panic came over me, I was caught now and there was no turning back. It was not difficult to find a departure date and a flight for India but it took me almost an hour to press the ‘pay’ button. Part of me wanted to buy the ticket, another part was afraid of what it would mean and what would happen to my life when the payment was accepted and the ticket was mine. Everything would change with a little click on the computer. I stared at the screen. It had been four turbulent years since the voice at the Hilton turned up and now once again I was going away. But I couldn't keep letting my fear have control over me. I would lose more by not going. Finally, I pressed the button. Martin smiled and declared: “Now you have a one-way ticket to India!”
On the drive home from Martin's place that night I was completely unsettled, and I couldn’t sleep properly for days. My head swam with thoughts. One minute I was excited and relieved to have finally made the decision and couldn’t wait to leave. The next minute I was unhappy and worried about everything I was going to leave behind. One day, I was driving my car on the outskirts of Copenhagen when I was overwhelmed with emotions, I pulled over to the side of the road and wept uncontrollably.
“What have I done?” I thought. “Why does it have to be like this? Why can’t I just be normal and stay at home in Denmark?”
FF: Tell us about setting up an organization like LittleBigHelp in a country like India?
Lisbeth: Oh my god, where to begin ... 😊
I almost wrote a whole book about it. The first feeling that comes up is that it’s REALLY hard! India is a crazy country in every way and everybody who has been there would say the same haha. India is never just ”a walk in the park” even if you are there as a tourist staying in 5-star hotel. I always say in India you can’t 'hide' ... you will always be challenged in some way or another.
For me India is like a mother and she either takes you into her arms or spits you out! That is why people either hate or love India! You will never hear a person say, 'It was ok'. Either the person will have a strong reaction and hate it or fall in love … for me is was the latter. To work in India you need a HUGE amount of patience (which, I don’t have haha) but, I learned to have because otherwise you will go crazy.
Everything takes TIME and there is a lot of bureaucracy. And then, you need a good local team with people who are effective and honest. Plus, a good amount of faith and karma!
FF: You have different protection and educational projects within the organization? Could you please tell us about them?
Lisbeth: Yes, LittleBigHelp works to create better opportunities for vulnerable children and women in West Bengal, India. We work to secure basic rights for children like education and security, along with women’s empowerment through skill development. We cannot help everybody but, we believe that everybody can be helped.
Through 22 different projects, LittleBigHelp provides direct support to more than 1,100 vulnerable women and children, and indirectly to more than 1,300 vulnerable families.
We run school preparation courses in 9 different slums for about 350 children who would otherwise not be in school. At the same time, we work with locals living in the slums to create awareness of their human rights so, they can access their entitlements.
We run 2 homes for a total of 55 extremely vulnerable children. Here, the children can start a new life away from the streets with care, comfort, nutrition and education. Furthermore, they are given a structured everyday life with sports, music, drawing, meditation and games. The team along with our counsellors provide ongoing guidance and counselling to the children to help them cope with past trauma.
Our skills training projects are aimed at empowering marginalized women socially and financially. Through the projects, the women receive vocational training to equip them with skills to create a source of income.
We provide computer training to 550 youth who live in poor tribal villages to promote education and increase their chances of finding better-paid jobs in the future.
Lastly, we support another NGO, called Bikash, by running their Centre for Special Education. Here, approx. 180 children with special needs get a chance to learn and develop.
FF: How and where do you find the finances?
Lisbeth: From the beginning I have been very blessed with a strong network and I have always felt very supported by family and friends. The first substantial amount of money I raised was at my first Charity Event back in 2010. I had seen in American movies that people went to ”fundraising dinners” so, I thought Why don’t we do that in Denmark? I raised 125,000 DKK, approx. 17,000 € and it was an amazing evening.
Last year, we raised 2.6 million DKK, approx. 348,000 €. Besides the annual gala, we have corporate partners and different companies that support us with an annual amount. Then, we have private individuals who donate, and smaller events throughout the year.
FF: Where do you find the children in your children’s home? And how do you select those who need most care?
Lisbeth: Among our 22 projects we have two homes where the children stay full time until they are 18 years old - we have 21 girls stay in one home and 35 boys stay in the other. It is a different story and circumstance for each child but, common to all of them is that they come from places or families that are very dangerous, where they are not protected or get their basic needs met.
FF: Tell us about the current problems children in India encounter? How many homeless children live in Kolkata? in India? How do they generally get through the day?
Lisbeth: For the poor, every day is a struggle. They fight with issues like child labor, slavery, social exclusion, and lack of education. Due to a lack of education a lot of children get into illegal activities and drug addiction. To numb their fear, hunger and pain they use sniffing glue. It’s a very cheap drug to take that is highly addictive. It appears like the 'sniffing glue' becomes a 'good friend' but a friend that destroys their brain.
For girls, child sexual abuse and trafficking are huge issues with statistics showing 1 woman is raped every 13 minutes and 6 women are gang-raped every day – and these are only the reported cases! Imagine how many more cases go unreported.
It’s difficult to know exactly how many children live on the street as there are no official numbers on this. Estimations say about 400,000 children in India are 'street children' who are complete orphans or are disconnected from their families. More than 18 million children are estimated to work on the street. These children face abuse, exploitation, homelessness, hunger, health issues, etc.
FF: You have created educational programs for women to give them the possibility to earn their own money and becoming financially independent from their families. What kind of education do you propose? How is this seen amongst the men?
Lisbeth: Our most popular programs are beautician and tailoring courses. We have also offered other courses over the years like street food cooking courses and jewelry making. It’s important for LittleBigHelp to ensure that the courses we offer are in high demand so, that the women have strong chances of earning money once they complete the course.
For many women, it's a struggle to convince their families that they should be allowed to attend the free training. Due to the patriarchal culture, the women must often get the permission of their husband, father, or in-laws before joining the training. In these families, it is believed that house chores and childcare are a woman's primary task and she may not be allowed to earn money or leave the house to earn money.
We, therefore, focus a lot on home visits to the women’s families to ensure that their families support them in their education and will continue to support them. The skills training projects are super successful. About 85% of all the trained women are now earning money and are full of confidence. They believe they are valuable and can create a difference for their children’s future.
FF: You encountered big disappointment from a working partner in India. How did that affect you and how did you react to it? And what did you learn from it?
Lisbeth: It was a very intense time for me and to be honest I was in deep shock and disappointment. For the first time in my life, I experienced personal fraud. I got death threats and had to be very careful. Somehow, I kept going and I did not lose my passion and motivation. I learned so much from this situation and I knew I just had to go through it - it could not have been avoided. I learned not to trust blindly in people and to be detailed before starting a partnership.
FF: What were some of the toughest moments or decisions you’ve had to make on your journey? And how did you tackle them?
Lisbeth: When I realized that the people I was working with were not honest with me, that was one of the toughest times on this journey. I was both scared and sad. I have a lot of inner strength and when things get hard, I can access that strength. Somehow, I managed to make a plan of how we were going to get out of the situation and make it better.
My dad is quite good at tackling difficult situations with rationality and that’s one thing I learned from him even though, I’m a lot more emotional. It’s difficult to solve or tackle a problem if you are stuck in your emotions.
FF: What were your biggest doubts and fears when starting your organization and how did you overcome them?
Lisbeth: When I’m clear about my intention and purpose I don’t have big fears and doubts. I overcome my doubts and fear by staying true to my intention and trust I will be supported by existence.
FF: What are some core beliefs that have helped you in tough times?
Lisbeth: I trust existence will support me if what I’m doing is aligned with my purpose in life
FF: What is the most important think you have learned about yourself in the process of building LittleBigHelp?
Lisbeth: That I’m very courageous, that I can trust myself and my intuition and that I have immense support around me.
FF: What were some of the happiest moments on this journey?
Lisbeth: There a so many! I feel I first have to define what a happy moment is for me. A happy moment is where there is flow, joy, and laughter. Flow for me is very important and flow happens when everything is aligned to a purpose so that ultimately, whatever you do in life will be easy and joyful.
I love when we take the children from the homes we run on small trips either to the beach or other places. It’s so much fun and it touches me to see the children so free, playing, and just having fun!
FF: What inspires you to continue?
Lisbeth: The children, undoubtedly! Seeing them getting a better and safer life through our projects always gives me energy and encourages me to continue.
FF: Who are the women and men that stood behind you?
Lisbeth: My friends, family, my amazing team and everybody that is supporting LittleBigHelp.
FF: At what moment did you feel you had made it….that you had an organization that worked:
Lisbeth: Good question - I never got this one before. The first time I heard people talking about LittleBigHelp and of course, I could write a million stories about the impact we had made in so many lives.
FF: What do you attribute your success to?
Lisbeth: I have learned so much from my parents. My dad taught me business skills and my mother compassion and caring for others.
FF: You also found great pleasure in practicing meditation, yoga, and doing silent retreats. What did you discover about yourself in this process?
Lisbeth: Everything 😊
What I will mention here is that I found out that I am a lot more sensitive than I thought. I always used to see myself as a very extroverted person but, actually I’m also a big introvert which I discovered about myself through the path of meditation and yoga.
FF: How did your career affect your family life?
Lisbeth: Not quite sure how to answer this question because I don’t have my own family 😊 And if your next question would be: 'If the reason I don’t have a family, husband, and kids is because of my journey with LittleBigHelp?' My answer would be no.
I never really made the decision. I trusted it would happen if it was meant to be and it did not. I feel you can be a mother in many different ways and you don’t need to give birth to a child of your own. I feel my organization LittleBigHelp is my child, now 10 years old. The children in the projects are not mine as they have their own mother even if she is not present in their life. I’m their friend and there is an important difference. I’m very happy with my life and my freedom is one of my most important values.
FF: What’s the next step or what are you most excited about right now?
Lisbeth: Right now, I’m excited about the summer in Denmark. Swimming in the sea and eating Danish strawberries. Because of COVID-19, everything is different and all my plans have changed so, I am trying to stay, as much as possible, in the present moment. When the time comes and we can travel again, I’ll be super excited to go back to India!!
FF: Looking back on this journey, would you do it all over again?
Lisbeth: Yes, I would 😊 100 % percent!
Some rapid fire questions:
FF: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Lisbeth: I made a smoothie bowl. First I blend the berries and bananas, then I add my homemade muesli roasted with different nuts and hemp seeds in coconut oil and honey ... Yummy!
FF: How do you prepare yourself for the day?
Lisbeth: I start preparing my day the evening before, making sure I get enough sleep. I like to get around 7 hours. The day before, I will have prepared my morning and my intention. When I wake up, I may do some yoga or go for a walk. I've never had a routine lifestyle because I have many different work tasks and travel a lot - living my life in both Denmark and India.
What is consistent is, I always review my day, what I will have to eat and include some time to breathe in-between meetings. I like to wake up slowly, listen to soft music and make a nice Indian chai with lots of spices.
FF: What are some of your favourite things to do on a day off?
Lisbeth: I love to go to a spa and enjoy having time for myself. I like to go for walks in nature. Meditate and do yoga. Taking a nice nap and watch a good movie.
FF: As a child, what was your dream job?
Lisbeth: I did not think too much about it. I was busy being a child. I did not have a dream job I was thinking about.
FF: What is your education? And did it match your childhood dreams?
Lisbeth: I have different educations. First, I worked as a tour guide in Spain and Bulgaria. After that, I studied “Tourism and Marketing” and started working in the hotel industry. While I was working in hotels, I took a BA in Communication. Later, I studied to become a 'life coach' and attended the Osho Therapy Training. Eventually, I became a yoga teacher and studied yoga in India and Thailand.
FF: If you should describe your life with just one word, what would that be?
FF: Do you have a motto or a saying that guides you?
Lisbeth: A few by Osho:
'Live in your heart. Love is all there is'
'Life begins where fear ends'
'Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul'
FF: Who is the most inspiring woman for you?
Lisbeth: I can’t mention one, but for me a woman is inspiring if she lives true to herself and her own heart and purpose in life. I’m always inspired by authenticity, generosity, honesty, and kindness, more than any achievement in life.
FF: What is bringing you the most joy in your life right now?
Lisbeth: Being at peace with my self and taking good care of me. At the moment, I’m not in a relationship and it's very good for me to be focusing on my own needs and nourishing myself. I easily get lost in the needs of the other person so, I’m enjoying a little “honeymoon” with myself.
FF: What is your absolute favourite book (except for your own)?
Lisbeth: One book that will always stand out for me is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it in a time of my life where I needed that message very much. I don’t think it will have the same impact if I read it today.
FF: What are three things you are grateful for?
Lisbeth: My family, Osho (my spiritual teacher) and my mental and physical well-being
FF: What is your best piece of advice for people who want to live out their dreams?
Lisbeth: Stay true to your dream and don’t let other people interfere. I see people changing their dreams and purpose because of the feedback they get from other people. Then they lose their energy in their dream and purpose. Also, always keep moving towards your dream even if it takes longer than you expected … keep the faith in your heart!
FF: Is there anything you would like to share before we close that we didn’t touch on?
Lisbeth: I feel we covered a lot and I don’t feel anything is missing!
FF: You do some incredible work for others, so is there anything we can do to help you?
Lisbeth: I’m always happy if people follow our work on social media:
We are always looking for funding and if you wish to support, it would be amazing.
Here is the link for online donations: https://littlebighelp.com/memberships-and-donations/.
If you have any good ideas I would love to hear back from you.
My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much Lisbeth for sharing your amazing story. I am sure it will serve as inspiration for other women who dream of changing their lives and making a difference. And for everybody, who just needs the little kick that you got from your friend Martin …. JUST GO DO IT!
We wish you all the best with LittleBigHelp.