While most of my posts have to do with local, Cincinnati-based people, I was very compelled by the story of Clementine Bihiga, an inspirational author and speaker. I think that you will be too. While the first part of her story is very painful to read, it is important for us to learn from it. And how that little girl who witnessed far more than any human being should ever have to see and experience in their lifetime, found her inner strength, channeled it and is using it to inspire others is nothing short of incredible. Thank you to Clementine, for your openness in sharing and helping others.
The true story of Clementine told in her own words…
Sometimes as humans, we are so quick to give up.
Its easy to see ourselves as victims instead of victors.
As losers instead of conquerors.
As invalids instead of masterpieces.
As hopeless instead of hopeful.
How many times have we been turned down and decided to stop?
How often do we take rejection as a sign that it’s not meant to be?
Seek others’ approval before running after our dreams?
Feel defeat because things are not going our way?
As a refugee, I started facing rejection at a very young age. For starters, I fled my country when I was eight years old and had to fend for myself when my parents disappeared for a period of two weeks. When I eventually reunited with our parents, my naive self, thought I was going back home to Rwanda.
That didn’t happen.
In these camps, malaria, cholera, typhoid, etc. claimed over half of the refugees there. We would wake up every day and find ourselves surrounded by dead bodies. At this point, l felt like life wasn’t worth living. This was too much for my little 8-year-old brain and body to handle.
Fear was my best friend.
One day I went to Lake Kivu to fetch water and wash a shirt my mother had bought me. I had to lay on a “log” as an anchor so that I could swim towards the shirt (I couldn’t swim) and when I made the small leap so that I could grab my shirt, the log turned and I saw that it was actually a dead body.
There was not enough room to bury bodies during the genocide, bodies were being thrown in the lake. We used this water for drinking, cooking, washing clothes, dishes and bathing.
Life wasn’t fair. I wanted to give up.
When my family eventually got to the U.S.A., I was bullied in high school for being “different.” Every day, I would want to quit going to school because I had suffered so much. It felt like life was not giving me a break.
At the age of 29, I lost a daughter when I was 27 weeks pregnant. No one could explain why I lost her. I was told it’s like getting into a car accident. I felt lost and angry and many more emotions. After this, I really wanted to give up.
I looked around for an answer. What was my purpose in this life? Why did I feel like I was being targeted? I told God to fix everything. To fix the hatred that’s going on in this world, the heartache, the hunger, the diseases, I wanted God to do something…until I realized HE already had.
God created me! I am a masterpiece! He made me and gave me my unique capabilities so I can be a light to the darkness that’s going on in this world. He gave me a life, and a story I could share with the world to inspire and motivate people to be the best they can be, to make an impact in other people’s lives.
After this realization, I knew what I had to do! I made the decision not so see myself as a victim but a victor, not as hopeless but hopeful, not as a loser but a conqueror, not an invalid but a masterpiece!
Being hopeful meant that I knew that whatever comes my way, I would be able to go through it and come out a stronger person. It meant that I could go through hard times and know that they are temporary. When tough times came, I found myself being excited to meet the new and improved “Clementine” once it was all over. This is how I chose to live like a conqueror!
I sat down in front of my computer and wrote a book in English, my fourth language. I prayed my book would be in the hands of those who needed motivation, inspiration, a second chance and a light in the darkness. Happily Broken:Discovering Happiness Through Pain and Suffering is a testimony that we can choose our pain to either break us or to inspire others. The fact that I’m from a war torn country, lived in refugee camps and settlements, was discriminated against and bullied and that I had to bury my child didn’t mean that my life was over. I understand that I life, its not what we go through, but it’s what we create, what we conquer and what we aim to achieve. I chose to make an impact by sharing my story, a story of hope, resilience, overcoming adversity and dancing while at it! Yes, I love to dance. My talks often start with dancing….to show audiences that life is a beautiful dance!
To me, happiness is when I’m doing what I love, which is motivational public speaking and making an impact in the lives of others. In my talks, I inspire and motivate others to be GRATEFUL, AUTHENTIC, RESILIENT and IMPACT-FUL. Recently, I inspired a group of college students at Anna Maria College to start a campus wide movement to support a refugee school in the slums of Kenya through my fund, the Clarette Refugee Fund established in honor of my daughter! Remember, If an 8 year old refugee girl can do it, so can you!
It is the most wonderful gift when you find a way of mixing your skills with your passion into a career that gives your days purpose. Susan Ingmire has been doing that so well for many years. She is someone who I have admired for a long time, and had an opportunity to get to know more about her recently.
Susan is president of an organization called Ignite Philanthropy Advisors, a philanthropic consulting firm that assists individuals, families, organizations and foundations in achieving their unique grantmaking goals. In 2015, Ignite facilitate 438 grant payments totaling more than $9 million; and 295 of the beneficiary organizations are in Ohio.
For her, it is more than a career. It is her calling. From a young girl it was instilled upon her the value in being there for others. Her parents taught her about humanity and responsibility. They encouraged her to reach for dreams and to pursue goals, always being kinds to others along the way.
Susan was the first in her family to graduate college. In fact, she also earned a master’s degree in speech pathology. And she was the first to travel overseas. The opportunity came when she was 30 years old and a practicing speech pathologist, and saw an announcement in the paper for Rotary Foundation Fellow applications. She interviewed, was accepted, sold her car, and flew to England where she spent the next 10 months as an ‘ambassador of peace’ studying at the University of London and speaking to Rotary Clubs.
“That experience rocked my world,” Susan told me. “It changed me in so many ways. It opened my eyes to the bigger world and gave me the confidence to travel on my own. It also made me realize that I wanted to do something bigger than speech pathology.”
Susan moved to Cincinnati in 1991 and worked for Fifth Third Bank, ArtsWave, and Interact for Health/InterAct for Change. She began Ignite Philanthropy Advisors in 2009.
Lisa: What does philanthropy mean to you?
Susan: For me, it is way to find meaning and bring family together. It is active engagement in making the world better and repairing it. Everyone can be a philanthropist. While money is an important piece, it is also about giving of your time and passion and talents. My job as an advisor is to help people activate their wealth in a way that makes the world better and makes them better.
Lisa: Do you remember your first volunteer experience?
Susan: My first experience beyond church was when I was a big sister in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. That was a fantastic experience. I helped someone from a high risk family. I learned a lot about compassion, empathy and poverty; and what it meant to live in a multi-generational poverty home and the barriers those families face. I also learned about patience and to give of yourself – the more you give, the more you receive. I received a lot of love from my mentee. I think I helped change the trajectory of her life and that means a lot to me.
Lisa: What life lessons did you learn from your parents?
Susan: The number one thing I learned from my mother is unconditional love, how important it is to be open with people you care about, and to stand by them through thick and thin. She turns 85 in June. From my dad, I learned to always try hard and never give up. My parents sacrificed and at the time I didn’t realize it. Now I appreciate all they did to help me go to college. To do that, I had two jobs and a work study job. I am forever grateful that I had the drive and determination to pursue higher education and had parents who did what they could for me.
This post is written by intern Brittney Bash, a student at Cincinnati Country Day School.
“Be who you are, because that’s what you have. Impact other’s lives the most by being honest and true” – Lisa Bodollo
Lisa Bodollo would describe herself as nutty, crazy, creative, and passionate. With a job in the performing arts, one indeed needs to possess each of these traits. . She’s previously worked at Mercy High School after obtaining undergraduate degree in Education from Bowling Green State University and her Master’s Degree in Directing and Theater Production from Central Washington University. Along with Cincinnati Country Day, Lisa also teaches and directs productions at Mount Saint Joseph University.
Both of her parents are from Hungary and some of her favorite childhood memories are from when she would visit her grandparents there. Nowadays the Bodollo family is spread out across the globe, but Lisa is still thankful for the strong bond they share. She was also the first Bodollo to get a college degree.
Lisa pushes her students every day to do everything they can to the best of their ability and to always give 100 percent. “Dare to be remarkable, because what are your other options? You do not dare to be mediocre, to be lower than others,” she will say. “Some people can reach a certain level and be fine with their achievements, but you should always aim a little higher. People don’t realize their own capabilities and therefore often do not realize all of the incredible things they can do!”
She believes in producing good shows of which people can look back on and be proud. She aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding the theater arts by encouraging others to “just try it” and by never putting people in a situation where they would be embarrassed. One of her goals is to also make theater classes less of a dumping ground for students who need an extra arts credit and more of a place where students can learn more about themselves and discover talents they never knew they had.
Lisa spends a large amount of her time giving back to the community outside of Cincinnati Country Day School. She currently serves as a committee member on the CCM Prep Department Board and the MSJ Arts Grant counsel. In the summer months, Lisa enjoys directing for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and running her Theatreworks Summer Drama Camps for kids through the Northern Kentucky University Music Prep Department, Mount St. Joseph University and Madcap Puppets. She works a lot to try and create scholarships so kids don’t have to pay. She believes that the arts should never be denied to someone because they can not afford it try and often times those are the kids who need it the most.
Lisa is a big advocate for respect, both for others and also for oneself. One act of kindness that she recalls fondly is when she was in Over the Rhine and saw an older woman who was struggling with groceries. Lisa pulled over her car and helped the woman carry the groceries to her apartment. “She trusted me.” Lisa said. “And in a today’s world where all you often hear about is people being hurt and taken advantage of, that trust meant a lot. It showed me that there is still goodness in the world.”
Lisa continues to inspire and lead everyday by blessing those around her with her beautiful personality and spunk. If she could give one piece of advice, it would be this; “Dare to be the best you can be, and most importantly, dare to be true to yourself.”
Carol Sanger has been a lifelong champion for non-human (and human) animals. Her compassion has saved and enriched the lives of hundreds – if not thousands – of dogs and cats; and causes she has supported have been a lifeline for vulnerable people who cannot afford the necessary expenses of medical pet care.
Even during her long career as vice president of external affairs for Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s), she focused the company’s philanthropy on animal welfare issues. However, it was upon her retirement in 2005 that she was able to devote so much energy toward volunteer efforts.
I got to know Carol when I was contracted to do public relations for United Coalition for Animals (UCAN). For five years Carol served as its board president and led its $400,000 fundraising campaign to build the region’s first low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Later she helped establish (and served as its board chair for two years) the nonprofit Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit veterinarian wellness clinic for pet caregivers with financial challenges. Now she is board chair for the League for Animal Welfare, and excited about that rescue group’s recent growth. The League just opened a mobile vet clinic that travels to rural communities where 90% of residents are supported with government assistance.
Of course, when you talk about Carol’s volunteer work, you have to include her work with Westie (West Highland Terrier) rescues. She and another woman, Sue Durkin, took over the rescue arm of the Westie Club of Indiana in 2002, developing it into a nonprofit, Westie Rescue Indiana, that serves three states and has cumulatively placed over 600 dogs since then. (They are in the process of dissolving it and merging it into Great Lakes Westie Rescue.)
Lisa: How did you love for Westies evolve?
Carol: We got our first Westie actually by accident in 1988. I went to a pet store with my brother Kenny to get booties for one of our Shih tzu’s. The store didn’t have booties but they did have a little, adorable white dog marked down for a quick sale. While I was reading a book they gave me on West Highland Terriers, Kenny was holding her. She came home with us and we named her Kippy. We were hooked and went to a breeder to get a puppy that we named Ditto. We thought all Westies would be mellow like Kippy but Ditto was very different and very busy.
Lisa: Tell us about your first pet.
Carol: I was probably in the 4th grade when my first pet was a little black cat that my uncle, who was a builder, found in one of the houses he was building. There were actually three kittens but that little black one was my favorite. It was the runt of the litter and the others were picking on it. Animals bring out your maternal instinct. I always swore since then that I would always have a black cat. Later I had a black cat who was with me 13 years. And I have a black cat now.
Lisa: Why is this volunteer work so important to you?
Carol: Several reasons. Being able to rescue and to watch those animals who have suffered some trauma to learn to trust again is like watching a flower bloom. Slowly it opens and there is a beautiful creature that feels safe for the first time in its life.
Also, on the other side, pets are really like surrogate kids for so many people. What society needs to recognize is the importance of pets in people’s lives. Animals are so important for seniors and those who don’t have much other reason to get out of bed. Pets make these people feel loved and appreciated. Helping people keep their pets is not a luxury, it is essential. It is a huge emotional connection to life and living for many.
Lisa: What meaning have pets brought to your life?
Carol: Kenny and I currently have 12 dogs, nine cats, three goats and a miniature donkey. I can’t imagine life without them. They are part of our family.
Carolyn Dickerson and I first through a volunteer leadership role I had with the American Marketing Association a few years ago.
Little did I know at the time how her presence in my life would impact me personally and professionally. We quickly became friends. If your life has been lucky enough to have crossed paths with hers, you more than likely have grown as a result also.
Carolyn is brilliant when it comes to business leadership and marketing. Always studying to remain up-to-date on technology advances, she has successfully managed projects ranging from $100K to $2.5M; and conducted presentations and trainings in sales and social media; and consulted with many organizations to help them to be more productive and successful.
What really sets Carolyn apart is her rare and genuinely caring nature, and how she flawlessly knows how to bring out the best in those around her. Carolyn so naturally motivates people by focusing on their strengths. She goes out of her way to help others find their inner spark, when sometimes they can’t find it themselves. And she is always looking for opportunities to give back.
If ever I find myself having self-doubts, I can count on her to tell me to ‘quit it’ as she will go on to remind me of my accomplishments and my abilities.
Carolyn is one of five children born in rural Kentucky. “When you grow up in a very poor family, your parents give you what they can. Mine didn’t have money to give, but they gave me my values,” she said.
“I have known my purpose since I was a small child. I was raised to serve thanks to my mother,” Carolyn went on to tell me. Her mother was a petite woman, with a frame no taller than 4 feet 9 inches. But Carolyn’s mother had immeasurable wisdom. “She was an aide at St. Elizabeth Hospital working in the psychiatric ward before the medical profession understood what Alzheimer’s and dementia were. One day she came home and I saw a large bruise on her back as she took off her uniform. When I asked what happened, she said someone was upset and threw her up against a wall before some could pull him off of her. When I asked why she did what she did for a living, she told me, ‘Honey, someone has to care!’
“This is why I am who I am and my younger sister is a nurse, my nephew is a certified nursing assistance and the family legacy goes on! Her legacy is that she taught that caring is important.
My dad always taught us to dream big because he wanted a better life for us than he had. He always encouraged us to get an education. He told us, ‘To Show THEM what you are made of! You can do anything if you want to do it bad enough. Dream big!'”
What Carolyn’s parents gave her is something far more valuable than money. Carolyn is someone I admire so much in the way she leads and manages. She demonstrates every day that organizations, teams, and people are the most successful when they encouraged to see the big picture and the finer points of their strengths. But also I admire Carolyn as a human being who models integrity and compassion.
And I am glad to be able to call her my friend!