If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that I’m a firm believer that we can do whatever it is we dream of, big or small, with a little determination and faith in ourselves.
I’ve decided to write a series of inspiring stories of people across the globe, overcoming various hardships and difficulties and achieving incredible things. These people have inspired me to no end and I hope they can inspire you too.
First up in my Inspiring Stories series is Maria Conceicao.
Maria visited my office a few years ago and told one of the most inspiring stories, from her difficult upbringing to becoming the holder of 8 Guinness World Records, and all for a cause she is incredibly passionate about.
Maria was born in Portugal. When she was just a toddler, her mother took ill with Alzheimer’s. An African immigrant cleaner, named Maria Christina Matos, offered to look after Maria until her mother was better, but unfortunately Maria’s mother did not get better. Maria Christina took the child in as her own, even though she had another 6 children of her own to feed. She fought with the government and social services to be allowed to keep Maria. As you can imagine, back then it was unheard of for a black woman to adopt a white child.
Years later, Maria was working for Emirates Airline as cabin crew when she had a layover in Bangladesh. There she saw poverty she had never witnessed before in the slums of Dhaka and it had a great impact on her.
Fast forward one month later and Maria had sold all her clothes, and items from her apartment that were not essential. She asked her friends and colleagues to donate anything they could, withdrew her savings and returned to Dhaka to do what she could to help the people of Dhaka. Maria believed she had to help because we are all the same when we arrive on this planet and the only thing separating us is the opportunities we have stumbled upon.
Soon after her visit to Dhaka, the Maria Christina Foundation was formed.
While she was raising a small amount of funds from asking just about anybody and everybody she met for donations, Maria wanted to make a bigger impression and gain attention from all corners of the world in order to raise even more funds for the Foundation. In 2010, she submitted Mount Kilimanjaro, but unfortunately did not raise as much funds as she had hoped. So, she aimed higher. And what’s higher than Kilimanjaro? Everest!
In 2013, Maria Conceicao became the first Portuguese woman and third Portuguese person to summit Mount Everest. She had no climbing experience prior to this, and many thought she was crazy to attempt it. She trained with experts, refusing to give up and believing every step of the way that she could do it. And she did.
Maria has gone on to win numerous international awards and is the holder of 8 Guinness World Records. She has trekked to both the North and South Poles, ran a marathon in each of the 7 Emirates of the UAE in 7 days, and countless other marathons across every continent. She did all this without any background in sports. She admits, her daily exercise prior to completing all these marathons was walking from first class to economy selling Duty Free!
All of the above, she does for the Maria Christina Foundation. The funds raised from her marathons and climbs have gone towards vaccinating children, building a library, a school for 600 children, first aid centre, food distribution centre, just to name a few. She has helped hundreds of children through the Foundation.
She has helped changed the mentality of the parents to allow students to travel to Dubai to get further education, as if they stayed in Dhaka education wouldn’t be an option and they would be sent to work. These kids received full scholarships when they arrived in Dubai.
She has also gained employment for several young Bangladeshi men in Dubai as office assistants and baggage handlers in the airport. She offers up her apartment, clothes and possessions to anyone in need.
When visiting our office Maria said when she dreams up these adventures, she doesn’t just aim to complete them, she tells herself she will be the best at completing them. While it’s hard to imagine ourselves being the best at something, Maria’s inspiring stories show that with positive thinking and determination, you really can change the world.
If you would like the learn more about Maria Conceicao, you can purchase her book – A Woman On Top Of The World – here. You can also learn more about the Maria Christina Foundation and how you can help by visiting their website.