Monday, 22 May 2017

The boss who did good and now feels great

…because there is true meaning in giving a helping hand.

Prompted by selflessness and a great desire to do something good, one of my bosses, Kathryn Kantounia, enrolled herself in a life-changing project which has had indelible repercussions for some people in the community of Kabwe, a city in Zambia, where she went to do some charity work.

When she decided to pursue her purpose, she was aware of the logistics involved, in terms of the financial aspect, how to get there, what to do and more or less how to do it. As you can imagine, the logistics and protocols can be tiring, but as the smart woman she is, she took the right steps. Everything was on point, all well-thought out. What she did not know was how her plan was going to impact her and more importantly, the people she met and lived with for nearly two weeks.
What she felt was, in her own words, “an experience I will cherish forever”. This is a remarkable statement coming from someone who professionally belongs to a big corporation. Let’s see how and why?

Zamda – Ireland, a Table quiz and an Art auction

In order to make these charity projects official, we need to do them through a charity organisation. Kathryn did it through Zamda – Ireland whose director, Pat Fanning, is her friend. However, having this connection did not have anything to do with the fact she still needed to raise funds to make a contribution to the whole project. A project that deserves every single euro raised.

Kat’s  (as we call her) brother, Nicko, came up with the idea of organising a Charity Table Quiz, titled ‘The clash of the leads – aka Games of Thrones – which was a success and I had the pleasure of hosting. The event took place in Adelphi and after laughing, joking and having a great time, we raised over €1000.  The second event to raise funds was an Art Auction called “Artists for Zambia” organised by one of my beloved colleagues, artist Luciana Marin (Luli). The event took place in Kennedy's pub and we raised just over €1600.

Overall, between the two events and other scattered contributions, The Boss raised over 4000 – a significant amount considering the way in which it was used and how it affected people lives. In particular, a very special boy, someone whose face lit up when…something happened!

Here comes the boss with two suitcases: One with some clothes, and the other one with a bundle of good intentions, determination and a great disposition to do well. And so she did…

After a long flight, Kathryn, who traveled with a group of people, arrived at her destination, to a place which would become, in her own words “an emotional rollercoaster”. From the next ten days, they would participate in tasks, a journey which consists of getting up early in the morning to emerge themselves in different activities such as: working the land, building up a water pipe, teaching, helping with anything that is needed in the community. They also enjoyed social activities like sports and other trivial interactions that helped to create a bonding among themselves. Basically, they became part of the community. They became one of the locals and this sense of belonging made their stay a very rewarding one.

When she was telling me about some of the experiences she lived and some of the great things they did, I could see a sincere spark in her eyes from joy, but at times her eyes welled up with tears. I find it remarkable and touching when she told me that those people lived with barely anything and they still manage to smile and be happy. That’s the power of human resilience.

It is heartbreaking to know that “Some of the children come from the streets of Kabwe and another area called Lusaka; they have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, been rejected by their families and forced onto the streets to beg, steal or prostitute themselves in an effort to stay alive. Apart from the heartbreak, rejection, and fear these vulnerable children experience, they encounter cruelty and abuse on the streets…” As we can picture it, these children’s circumstances are deplorable...

  However, HOPE is not lost…

The boy, the wheelchair and the big smile – what a beautiful story!

The Boss was – and still is – happy to know how the funds raised are put to use.

This is the story of Edward…

Edward cannot walk. Edward’s hopes seemed to be shattered because he needed a wheelchair. He needed something to move from here to there, and did not have the resources to afford “that thing” that would make a huge contribution to his life. To put it in simple words, Edward needed a wheelchair, and this is when Kat, thanks to everybody who sponsored her, could make a great contribution to Edward’s life.

He hadn’t left his house for a long time because he can’t walk. For a long time, he had not seen the sunshine or been outside his house to allow the breeze of fresh air to touch his gorgeous face to light up his lovely eyes. Kat’s funds were enough to get a wheelchair and Edward’s smile returned to his face.

This beautiful, moving story is the epitome of contentment we feel when we do good for others. It enables us to feel great because it shows how impactful our actions, dictated by compassion, can be.
Kathryn told me that when Edward was put in the wheelchair and brought outside, his smile was one of the biggest and brightest smiles she has ever seen!

You can also give a helping hand and have your own testimony. There is someone waiting for you...

All donations go directly to this great cause

I think we all should follow Kathryn example. Remember we can be charitable with anything we can: clothes, time, resources of any kind, or anything you might feel and think it’s going to make a change. However, we don’t necessarily need to make a trip, but if you would like to do so, you can contact Zamda – Ireland and they will help you to officialise your efforts.

And remember: When we do good we feel great!


Monday, 15 May 2017

Do not apologise for who you are

One of the advantages of being a blogger, or having a strong social media presence, is that you can convey messages that can touch and influence people.

I usually get feedback about some of the blogs I have written or comments I have made on my social media. There is a blog I published a little while ago called "The price of being yourself" and only last week two people asked me "Marlon how do you do it, how can you be so positive about yourself?"

Since I consider myself a good judge of character, I try to answer the question based on their individuals' personality traits. 

Having said that...

I have a general message, but I don't want to be on here "lecturing" people the way they should live their lives. However, I would like to honor my good intentions by saying these four things...

  • We live once. We have only one life so it is important we try to make it meaningful, relevant, fruitful and beautiful.
  • If we don't love ourselves, who else is going to love us? We should always try to remember that we are the only one who has the ability to emotionally look after ourselves. 
  • Let's not pay attention to whoever doesn't like us or love us. Life is too busy to try to please everybody. 
And more importantly...
  • Let's embrace who we are. By doing so, we will realise we can be comfortable in our own skin. Let's not give excuses for our existence. We are who we are and once we are not causing harm to anyway in any way, we do not need to apologise for who we are.
I hope this is a nice message and I hope didn't sound like Oprah Winfrey with a Spanish accent.


Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The George - Dublin's Oldest Gay Bar

The George opened in May 1985

It is by far one of the oldest and the most iconic establishment in Dublin’s gay scene. Its doors have been open to welcome not only the regular’s, but also people from all over the country and abroad. Its stage has been the cradle for so many acts and shows. From the weekly local drag acts to international ones. It has also been the platform for uncountable singing and dancing competitions & other events which are part of the premises catalogue of entertainment.

Its walls have plenty of stories to tell, and oh my god, if those walls could talk! Everyone you know might have a story to tell, that happened in there… So it is fair to say that there’s no place like The George and I’m pretty sure everyone has a special place in their hearts and super memories over the thirty years of its existence.

Located on South Great George’s Street, Dublin City Centre, it first opened its doors in 1985. In a  time very different than today’s, in a time when the thought of having a referendum to legalise gay marriage would have been just a very remote dream. Back then homosexuality was illegal and in retrospect, I personally think opening a gay bar was a brave move to make considering the circumstances.

The venue was a small place which is nowadays the area popularly known as ‘Jurassic Park’. Thirty years have gone by and yet the place is still up and running, even though it has faced some difficulties -  in the early days with regular police raids - which I have heard. It also managed to survive the recession.

Eight years later of its opening, homosexality was legalised & Irish attitude towards homosexuality started to gradually change. The same year, 1993/4, The George underwent its first expansion as a venue and these changes represented a promising future for the small Irish gay community.

And here comes Shirley Temple Bar, Space’N’Veda & Davina Devine

Already relatively well-established, they decided to introduce some entertainment to attract more people, and it was then when in 1997 the first ever Bingo show was created and is still a great attraction with the wonderful Shirley Temple Bar. We can only imagine the excitement due to the novelty of such show. Sunday bingo started on a stage made of a piece of wood held up by the stairs where Shirley first played with her balls.

In 1998, the second major renovation took place, and The George was extended to the size it is today. In 2000 the very first Space’N’Veda show was introduced and it still up and running with the very creative and amazing Veda who can sing and who has been re-inventing herself for the last two decades. I’d like to mention Veda is someone who can always count on my admiration. I think she is a great performer with a witty sense of humor. I just love her!

In 2009 another great performer became part of the catalogue, the fabulous Davina Devine. She is currently leaving her mark every Thursday with her Thirsty’s shows. She truly knows how to entertain her followers. I’d like to mention, Davina is a great make-up artist and I personally think sometimes she looks like Lady Ga-Ga.

It seems to be  there’s always a historical milestone in the gay community every time The George has to celebrate its important anniversaries. In its 25th the Civil Partnership was introduced and for its 30th the Same-sex Marriage Referendum took place. So the celebration is more meaningful, therefore, in those occasions, the Irish sky becomes a rainbow.

It is amazing to see what started as a small place on the corner of George’s street became a relevant establishment and a place of history for many gay guys.

Business, Sponsorship & another Wig and Make-up

Two years ago, when researching for this article, when I spoke to Manager Sophie McDonald, and asked the question why the place still open after thirty years? she emphatically outlined the loyalty of the customers, old and new ones. Even though, there are more new gay nights on the scene,  people still keep going back, showing their strong loyalty to the place. It is important to mention that the competition has prompted management to find new ways to offer customers a wide range of alternatives throughout the week. There is something different for every taste. So, yes, The George is very versatile.

They employ just over thirty staff and have a turnout of 3.500 to 4.000  customers per week.

Actively involved to support anything related to the gay community, The George is a proud sponsor of The Emerald Warriors, The Gay Theater Festival, Gay Pride, The Gay Men’s Health Project, just to name a few. It also helps fundraise for The Phoenix Tigers, The Dublin Front Runners, Wet and Wild Sports Group, among others.

Aware of needing a new wig and a retouching of make-up, recently the premises underwent a small revamp, they changed the floors, retouched the bar areas and gave the bathrooms and modern look - from customers requests. The front area was also retouched & it is proudly displaying the gay flag. The whole place is looking fabulous!

Moving along with the modern days, it has a nice, colorful website where we can find all the relevant information in relation to all the events happening throughout the week and month. It has a good social media presence to interact with its loyal and casual customers: Facebook Twitter  YouTube Google+ and Instagram @thegeorgedublin

Now considered Dublin’s Older Gay Bar, one of The George’s main aims is to provide a safe environment where we can socialize, have a dance, sing and why not? like me, find the man of your dreams. I met my partner of thirteen years in there. Which is the reason why The George will always have a remarkable place in my heart.

We might have different gay nights on every week, new places may be opening and closing down, however The George is and will always be the quintessential place of Dublin’s gay community, because it has been and still is every gay man introduction to the scene. It is like bread the butter. It is as essential in our lives as it is condoms and lube. The George is The George.

I first published this article on Gobsmackedmedia online magazine