Dr. Rebecca Thomley is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Orion Associates, a management organization providing management services to related and unrelated, for-profit and non-profit companies primarily in the social services field. Dr. Thomley is one of the founders of Headwaters Relief Organization, which promotes volunteerism and provides disaster relief to communities and those affected by natural disasters.
Welcome, Dr. Thomley. This is such an incredible initiative of empowerment and representation for girls, can you tell us what sparked the doll idea and how you see it empowering young girls?
While working in Nepal on a trafficking campaign, I noticed that little girls, if they had dolls, they were similar to traditional “Barbie” dolls. They were blond and blue eyed and exemplified Western stereotypes of beauty. It made me feel sad. I recognized the beauty of the young women in this country was being lost in very simple ways, even in a toy.
As a clinician, I am very aware of the impact even a doll can have. Dolls that look like the child that is given them help children negotiate their racial identity. The dolls can help them develop a healthy self-image. They can help them be more imaginative about their future aspirations. It is important to affirm with a child that the way they look is normal and beautiful and that they can be successful in whatever they want to do. In addition, dolls can help children relate to people that look different than they do. That difference in eye color, hair, or skin should be embraced and not diminished. We are all beautiful. No one should feel less because of the color of their hair or the color of their skin. At a time when we are faced with so many challenges related to embracing diversity, what could be more important than giving a child the gift of recognizing the beauty of who they are? Empowering young girls through encouraging them to embrace themselves may seem fairly basic, but it is key to healthy self-esteem.
Headwaters has this as part of its corporate statement – We value and support the diversity of all individuals. We respect and welcome people of different ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, races, classes, physical abilities, mental abilities, nationalities, sexual preferences, and expressions.
Can you tell us more about what other initiatives you and your colleagues are working on currently?
We are engaged in several related initiatives at this time. In Nepal we continue to work with trafficking through educating communities and giving them the tools to help them create change. Our campaign is educational in nature, designed to be utilized by educators and community leaders. Where it differs from most work with trafficking is that it has a focus on changing community beliefs. Individuals traditionally have been ostracized by their communities if trafficked. This campaign seeks to challenge that belief system.
The dolls are a tool related to an educational campaign for young women. This campaign is directed at encouraging young girls to complete their education. Young girls are often married at a young age or go to work to support their families resulting in them not completing their education. COVID has impacted women and girls significantly in this way. They are unable to complete their education. There is an old African proverb, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation).” Our goal in this campaign is to work with communities to recognize the importance of education for girls and to empower young girls to support one another in striving for a life that allows them to make choices about their future. The dolls are a tool that we utilize in this educational campaign.
In addition to this, we have been working nationally and internationally with education for families and children dealing with COVID. We have provided educational and emotional support through the use of coloring books. We have responded in all 50 states and the District of Colombia as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. We also worked with this campaign in Colombia.
We are currently responding to the psychosocial needs of the Afghanistan evacuees. We continue our work in Greece and Jordan with refugees as well.
We are also developing a new campaign focused on compassion fatigue with the emphasis on caregivers.
You have worked all over the world in disaster zones and no doubt have seen some terribly tragic things. How about telling us about something positive – in your experience, is the human spirit something that triumphs over adversity and leads to events of true courage and dedication?
I have had the opportunity to travel and respond to disasters all over the world. This in itself is a gift. I am fortunate to have been able to witness first-hand the resiliency of the human spirit, to witness tremendous compassion and dedication when confronted with unbelievable circumstances, and to see the courage that arises out of incredible challenges. I think of these moments as “soul moments.” In these moments all else ceases to exist. It doesn’t matter who you are, the color of your skin, your background, your economic status, or your level of education. All that matters in that moment is that human connection, people striving to support one another in times of desperate need.
What do you believe the public can do to assist in your efforts to make this world a better place for many?
There are so many ways that the public can assist us by volunteering locally, nationally, or internationally. We are always responding, and in quiet times when we aren’t engaged in a direct response, there is much to do to prepare for future responses. We focus on commitment to community and attempt to inspire passion to serve others. We want all of our volunteers, regardless of skills, experience, or background to feel valued and motivated to serve others.
We are also an organization where 100% of funds donated must goes to those we serve. We must fundraise for all of our activities, so donations are always greatly appreciated.
How do you manage to split your work life balance? You appear to be an incredibly busy person, so how do you make time for yourself and family too?
I think of balance differently. How often are we really in balance? In my mind life is far more like a teeter-totter. How often are you completely balanced with that other person? I’d rather think about balance in terms of focus. In every action, or communication, can I give my full attention to the person I am with? To what I am doing? If not, I need to address my behavior, responses, and distractions and decide on a course to modify them and regain my focus. You may have many things going on in your life and at times maybe there is an imbalance, but when you give 100% of yourself in your interactions, you have balance.
If you could wave a magic wand and get anything you wanted, what would you wish for?
Hmm! Wave a magic wand and get anything I would ask for…That’s a hard question. I immediately think of wishing for the health and happiness of those near and dear to me, and that is truly a wish. However, I think given this opportunity I would wish for people to have the experience of providing support to one another in times of need. Volunteering, committing to your community and one another is life changing.
You’ve said your most important role model was your mother. Tell us about this relationship and what was it your mother did that empowered you to become the woman you are today.
There are so many things I could say about my mother. Trying would almost be a disservice to her. She is brilliant, creative, fun loving, and adventurous. She was entrepreneurial in a time when women were not. She was fearless in trying new things. She believed failure was in not attempting something, rather than not succeeding at something we attempted. She taught us to learn from every situation, good or bad.
What advice would you give to other women out there who want to rise above the glass ceiling, own their own business and become a force to be reckoned with?
I would advise them to do something that they are passionate about. Unless you have a passion for the work, you will not survive difficult times. Surround yourself with people that think differently than you do. People from different backgrounds, education, and experiences. You can only learn from them. It is through our differences that we become stronger.
Do not be afraid to share your struggles, your mistakes, and your questions with others. In opening yourself and your work to input, you will succeed in what is most important. New perspectives will help you set your goals and direction. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you will. Take the time to learn from them and to appreciate what they taught you and grow.
What is the most useless talent you have?
I am an incredible hoola-hooper, and I can also jump a mean pogo stick
Do you sing in the shower? What songs?
Yikes! I do not sing in the shower.
If you were to write an autobiography, what would the title be?
“No Need To Plan. It Will Happen If It’s Meant to Be”
If you could be a superhero, what would your superpower be and your superhero name?
My superpower is: I make Prosecco disappear! Karma is my superhero name. What goes around comes around.
What was the last thing you dressed up as for fancy dress?
The last time I dressed up was as a Norwegian Woman Viking. Similar to what you might see on Norsemen.
You are a new addition to a crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
I don’t have a favorite color, and I would want to be whatever color I felt like was needed in that moment.
About Headwaters Relief Organization
Headwaters Relief Organization is a non-profit disaster relief collaboration of volunteers that supports the needs of families and communities after disasters. Headwaters provides public health, psychosocial and medical support as well as disaster debris clean up and rebuilding in partnership with other organizations.
Headwaters seeks to inspire passion to serve others. We forge connections between those who are being served, the Headwaters team and the community. We work to ensure that every volunteer, regardless of age, background, skills or experience, feels valued and motivated to continue to serve others. Our volunteers learn to recognize, respect and value differences. In doing this work, Headwaters’ volunteers build stronger communities and a better world for all.