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How Maria Conceicao Went From Poverty To Alleviating It

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Maria Conceicao holds eight Guinness World records. She has climbed Everest. She been to the North and the South Poles. She is the Goddess of the Ironman. And she does it all for one reason – to help those desperately in need.


Conceicao grew up in a small village in Portugal called Avanca. She was only two-years-old when she met a refugee woman named Cristina, who became her caretaker. Cristina had six children and made money as a cleaning woman.

In 1979, Conceicao’s mother left their small village for Lisbon to find work. Although Cristina was poor, she didn’t hesitate to look after young Conceicao to help her mother. They both anticipated Conceicao’s mother to return, but she never did.

The truth was, no one knew where Conceicao’s mother was. Authorities attempted to put Conceicao into foster care, which Cristina fought on her own.

Conceicao explains that Cristina was her inspiration. She would go house to house looking for work, but always found the time to help those in need, even though she was in need herself. “Villagers told me later that I would never leave her side, a tiny little white girl clinging her hand tightly. I was very close to Cristina. I guess that she was my best friend,” says Conceicao.

When Conceicao was a child, all she knew was that she wanted to travel and to be free and independent when she grew up. Cristina passed away when she was nine, and she did not attend school past the age of twelve. She recalls people telling her she would amount to little more than a housekeeper, which she accepted due to the lack of career opportunities for women.

“But, I thought, if I have to be a cleaner, then I will be the best cleaner around,” she says.

Conceicao left Portugal when she was 18-years-old to fulfil her dreams of travel. “Pay was very low in Portugal, and I was a great cleaner. So I aimed high in the cleaning world,” she says. She worked very hard at several jobs and soon learned both French and English, allowing her to seek better work in restaurants and cafés.

While in England, she applied for a position with Emirates Airlines as a cabin crew member and landed the job despite not meeting all of criteria. “I tried really hard through the interview process,” she says. “I researched everything possible about the company.” Conceicao even dressed like a member of the cabin crew to really play the part, buying an expensive outfit from Benetton and then returning it the day after the interview.

In April of 2005, her work with Emirates Airlines took her to Bangladesh. There she was witness to the extreme poverty in Dhaka’s slums. Immediately, she felt compelled to do something about it. After offering her assistance, 101 families came forward to accept her help. So she founded a school.

The program was a remarkable success. Along with educating children, it also provided jobs for their parents; training for adults; daycare for the youngest children; shops; and other services. Maria worked endlessly and focused on breaking the cycle of poverty in which these families were embroiled. In 2010, she arranged for a group of children from the area to attend school in the UAE. They have since finished their schooling and are now either gainfully employed or continuing on to university.

But, in 2013, the charity was forced to fold because of the global recession. At that time, 600 children in Dhaka were relying on her. Maria saw the setback as an opportunity to aim even higher. She invented new ways to raise the money to get the children back into school. - she started participating in extreme physical challenges. She had no prior interest in fitness; but it was a surprisingly effective means of raising funds and awareness.

She desperately needed publicity for her charitable work, and she found online stories about treks to the North pole, mountain climbing, and the like raising a lot of money for charity. “So I trekked to the North pole and climbed some mountains.” It helped, she says, but it was always short-lived.

That’s when the idea of breaking world records came into the picture. “I hadn’t really thought of world records but started running when someone suggested that I should run a marathon on all seven continents to get more global recognition for the cause. It was only after I started planning this that I realized that I could apply for world records for this type of challenge.”

She has since earned eight Guinness World Records thus far for Endurance Sports with challenges including:

6 Full Ironmans in 6 Continents in 56 days (2017)

7 Marathons 7 continents in 10 days 2015

7 Ultra Marathons in 7 Continents in 6 weeks 2014

7 Ultra Marathons in 7 Consecutive days

5 Full Marathons in 5 States in 5 Consecutive Days 2014

5 Half Marathons in 5 States in 5 Consecutive 2014

Climbed Mount Elbrus Aconcagua Kilimanjaro Vinson 2010 - 2018

7 Walked Marathons in 7 days Across 7 Emirates 2010

Conceicao says that achieving her first’s World Record felt like a miracle. And, for most people, that’s what it would take to accomplish it. She ran an Ultra marathon on all 7 continents in six weeks. “The final ultra marathon was in South Africa and crossing that finish line just felt unreal. This little village girl from a poor background doing this crazy challenge.”

She is also the first and only Portuguese woman to do the Last Degree to the North Pole (2011, 2018) and to summit Everest (2013). She also swam across the English Channel (2016) for seven hours.

She had never participated in sports before and said she was definitely not considered athletic. She incurred several injuries throughout the challenge and said mental strength was what got her through in the end. Plus, she says, I am sure that Cristina was watching over me.

One of the greatest challenges Conceicao has faced in her athletic endeavors is that her training is always fast-tracked because of her lack of athletic experience. “With that comes the risk of injury and getting an injury while preparing for a challenge puts it all in jeopardy. But what I have learned is that any sort of physical training, the quality of training is more important than quantity.” Since discovering this, Conceicao says she has learned to train better, “always finding good coaches with specific knowledge for the type of challenge to help me along the way.”

Conceicao has received numerous awards for her work, which, she says, still surprises her. In the early days she used to stay away from media and publicity as much as possible. “I didn’t need publicity for fundraising at the time and so just wanted to get on with my work in Bangladesh.” So, when she would receive news that she was to receive an award for her charity work, she could hardly believe it. “The fact that people were even noticing what I was doing amazed me.” The honors she has received include:

Barbie Role Model Award Portugal (2017)

GQ Portugal Women of the Year (2016)

Cosmopolitan Female Role Model (2015)

Cidadao Nobre Portugal (2015)

Louvor Nobre Casa da Cidadania (2014)

Humanitarian Women of the Year by Inspiriting Women Belgium (2014)

Inspiring Change Award International Gulf Organization (2014)

Sustainability Leadership Award (2013)

The Special Mention for Child Welfare by Petrochem (2012)

Most Inspiring Women of the GCC by Kraft (2010A

Voted Alhan Hot 100 Entrepreneur in UAE (2010)

Emirates Women of the Year (2009)

Emirates Humanitarian Women of the Year (2009)

Most Exceptional and Innovative European Women of the Year (2007)

These days, Conceicao is working towards completing the seven summits. “That’s climbing the highest mountain on each continent,” she explains. “I have two more to go.” As for her charitable work, the project in Bangladesh is almost completed as the primary goal was to “educate a generation from a slum community up to grade twelve. We are seeing some great results with our students on full university scholarships all over the world. Conceicao says she believes in constantly challenging herself, whether it through helping others or taking on a physical challenge to raise funds for that work.

These days, Conceicao is working towards completing the seven summits. “That’s climbing the highest mountain on each continent,” she explains. “I have two more to go.” As for her charitable work, the project in Bangladesh is almost completed as the primary goal was to “educate a generation from a slum community up to grade twelve. We are seeing some great results with our students on full university scholarships all over the world. Conceicao says she believes in constantly challenging herself, whether it through helping others or taking on a physical challenge to raise funds for that work.

She says it has always been a challenge “to be taken seriously in countries or societies where woman are not supposed to be strong or taken seriously as leaders.” In Bangladesh, she says, you really have to “prove yourself, prove that you are right. You have to be a woman of action, and I think it’s the same in the rest of the world. Action is what gets things done.”

Many of the physical challenges she undertakes are male dominated, like mountain climbing. So, that means dealing with a lot of oversized egos, she explains. “I have really been put-down and bullied so much by men who for example claim that I slow down the team, that I shouldn’t be there, but you know what – I may climb mountains at a slower pace initially because I’m 5’2 in a team on 6’ plus guys, carrying the same heavy backpacks, but I have endurance, stamina, and mental strength.” So, she says, a few days later when they are struggling and she is strong (as well as supportive of and encouraging to them) they get very quiet, very quickly.

This certainly isn’t how Conceicao imagined her life. None of this was planned. But, she says, “I just keep pushing higher, to do more, and I’m still young. So have a long way to go.”

As for the future, Conceicao says she will always work to help others because “this is what gives me my drive and purpose.” She is starting to do more and more public speaking now, telling her story to order to inspire and motivate others to reach their goals. “I’m still shy and introverted. So public speaking isn’t a natural career move, but I have found that people like to hear my story, and I am surprised at the amazing feedback that I get, that I inspire people. I really had no idea that I could have this effect just by speaking to people to I have to do more of it to see where it can take me.”

Through all of the physical challenges and the charitable work, Conceicao says the primary thing she has learned is that by helping others, she has also helped herself. “When I first went to Bangdlesh and saw children living in poverty, I decided to help them. I didn’t have any big plans for a charity it just grew and grew.” She soon saw that she could make a big difference in their lives. “By that point, I had a vision and decided to transform their lives, lift them out of poverty forever through education.” But in the process, she says, it is really her life that has transformed more than anything. “I never would have achieved the things I have accomplished.”

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Health

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.


As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.


Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."

https://www.drvalerie.com/