Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Leah Chowdhry for her regular series for 'iGlobal' to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Leah Chowdhry, a British Indian entrepreneur and activist, has recently become the first British Asian Woman to swim the English Channel. Dedicating most of her life to helping children and raising funds for children's charities, she was named the Women of the Year and Most Inspirational Young Person 2019. She has been honoured with The British Citizenship Medal joining an exclusive group of 400 people throughout the UK for her contribution to the community. She runs an award-winning business, 'Pop up, Party & Play'. Cancer Research Ambassador and a public speaker, Leah, is also currently writing a children's book. She aims to encourage children to be compassionate, develop an 'I can' attitude and dream big.
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Swimming the Channel is a great achievement! Tell us about making history and the reasons that led you to complete this mammoth task, and how you kept your motivation?
I didn't realise at the time that I would be making history by becoming the first British Asian woman to swim the Channel. I was motivated to help cancer survivors and underprivileged children. Both these are issues that are very close to my heart. My father was diagnosed with blood cancer; Chronic Lymphatic Leukaemia 6 years ago, and I wanted to do something to help. I love children, and my first visit to India left me distraught witnessing children's poverty, deprivation, and abuse. My swim raised £100k for Cancer Research and £55k for British Asian Trust, with proceeds going to shelter for children of mothers forced into the sex trade.
You are now publishing a children's book about your swim across The Channel, 'Making a Splash', where all the net proceeds are going to charity. The book aims to help children achieve an 'I Can' attitude and the importance of giving back. Why did you decide to write this book?
I am currently a Cancer Research ambassador; it is so rewarding to be part of an organisation researching and producing lifesaving drugs and treatments. Take my dad's condition, CLL, five years ago; the only treatment was chemo. This could not cure his condition, but it would help slow it down. Now CRUK has found a drug targeting the cancer cells that will be less invasive and very effective. I now want to support the most vulnerable children that suffer from cancer. All profits of my book will be donated to the young people and children division of CRUK. After I swam the Channel, I had a huge amount of unexpected interest from children who were curious about the details of the swim and why I did it. Some then went on to say it motivated them to do charity work to persevere and not give up when they had challenges in life.
This motivated me to share my story in a book and spread the message to a broader audience of children.
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What is the one lesson or words of wisdom you try to live your life by that you would recommend to the next generation?
The famous words of Mother Teresa that I use in my Making a Splash book are, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples". We all have strength, ability or talent that we can use to help others. It doesn't need to be an enormous task if a small gesture of kindness and support for others can make a difference. The best thing is it makes you feel so fulfilled.
How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
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If you could go back and give your teenage self-one bit of advice, what would it be?
If you want happiness and fulfilment, don't focus on what others think of you; focus on what you want to achieve in life.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.