This episode of the Strong Women. Better World podcast spotlights how the sports of boxing, karate, and Japanese jujitsu, help warriors Caroline Lembe (Founder, Siki Lab; Coach, Kwadraat) and Megha Vora (Founder, Women's Self-Defense Center of India) live fearlessly, draw strength, and empower others.
Carole (0:05): Welcome to the Strong Women, Better World podcast series, a global storytelling project, created by strong women using the power of sport, education, and social innovation to create a better world. Each week, we travel to another corner of the earth and we exchange ideas while exploring Title IX's ripple effects around the globe. Hello, hello. I am your host and ref, Carole Ponchon from Lyon, France. And it is my great pleasure to welcome you to the metaphorical ring, as two fearless women spar about their trailblazing journeys in sport. Buckle up and get ready to rumble. In the right corner coming from Belgium is Caroline Lembe, founder of Siki-Lab, the company she created with her sister with the vision of raising the quality of the health care system in Belgium. She left Siki-Lab in 2018 to work as a coach in an organization named Kwadraat to prevent youngsters from dropping out of school and youth crime. She definitely knows what it takes to be at the front lines and bring it to the ring as a boxer and a boxing coach.
Caroline (1:21): Hello, I'm Caroline and I'm so excited to be here. So grateful for being a part of this exchange.
Carole (1:30): And we're also joined in the left corner. By another warrior, Megha Vora. A mom of two Megha is the founder of Woman's Self-defense Center of India, helping women of India to stand up for themselves. Megha is owner of black belts in Goju-ryu Karate and Japanese jiu jitsu. Welcome Megha.
Megha (1:52): Hey, hey. This is Megha here. It is Japanese jiu jitsu and Goju-ryu karate. I'm so happy to be here, thank you for having me, Carole.
Carole (2:02): Ladies, I cannot wait to hear you two unpack your experience and to learn about your pioneering work and how you're standing on the shoulders of other Title IX Titans. The ring is yours. So, off we go for round one!
Caroline (2:21): Nice. So Megha, we have known each other since 2017 and it feels so good to reconnect today. You're an inspiration for so many reasons to me and other people. And I just want to, you know, let people know to understand a little bit about you. So I'm just going to start with two light and fun questions, you know, you can just answer whatever comes first to your mind. Alright?
Megha (2:47): Off we go.
Caroline (2:48): Off we go. Okay. So first question. If you were an animal, what would it be?
Megha (2:56): If I was an animal, I would prefer being a lioness because I think she has all the reins, she does all the working, but she lets the lion feel that he's the king, whereas she's the one controlling everything. So it's, it's an absolute control over yourself and I just love the character of the lioness, so if I was given the choice, I would prefer being a lioness.
Caroline (3:20): I like that a lot. Wow. Okay. Powerful, powerful start. Okay. Next question. What would be your go-to guilty pleasure?
Megha (3:29): Oh, they'll be so many.
Caroline (3:33): If you had to pick just one.
Megha (3:35): My go-to guilty pleasure. Would, I can safely say shopping. I am a shopaholic at heart. I can go and just destress just by window shopping too so I can go and buy groceries and destress, I can go and buy anything and just destress and I love shopping. So my go-to guilty is shopping.
Caroline (3:57): Nice. Okay. Thank you for sharing that with us and warming up our audience with a few insights into who you are. Now, let's get into the core of this episode. So you created your own organization, the Women's Self-defense center of India in 2014, to help women in India live fearlessly. And I really admire you for that. Can you paint for us, give us, you know, a little bit more of a vision, an image of what it means for you to live fearlessly and what the role of self-defense in your vision is?
Megha (4:30): So I'll just like to break it into two parts here. As far as what it means to live fearlessly for me is not to be free of fear. For me being fearless has always been trying to face my fears and come out strong from them. So when I say fearlessly, it, it does not mean not having fear at all. I have faced situations where I've been so scared and I've been so worried and so stressed, but I've always tried to rise up to the occasion, face those fears and then come out stronger. So for me, when, when it comes to saying living fearlessly, it means facing your fears and coming out of it even more stronger. And as far as self-defense is concerned in me being what I am today and having this whole attitude of being fearless and coming out stronger every time is because that it, it gives me so much strength physically, and it gives me an overall confidence level that, that helps me get out of these situations and think of me as a stronger person and a person who can fight through all these things and, and face all these things and come out being fearless. So self-defense has helped me be this person who, who can face the fears and come out stronger.
Caroline (5:55): Beautiful. I think that's beautiful. I do remember also you telling us. Uh, I remember I had this image vividly when you introduced us, uh, yourself at the GSMP inaugurative week of 2017.
Carole (6:12): Ladies, sorry to interrupt. This is the ref speaking and I feel like I must raise a yellow card. You've just mentioned the GSMP, and I bet we need to provide some context to our audience. So the GSMP stands for the Global Sports Mentoring Program. It's a sport diplomacy, women's empowerment initiative, sponsored by the U.S Department of State and implemented by the one and only team at the University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. And actually the three of us are alumni of this program.
Caroline (6:48): And you mentioned that in India, there are women whose voices are silenced from 6,000 years of culture that tells them to be quiet. And I'm also aware that the caste system in India is putting pressure on women, but you know, I'm curious to hear from you. How the GSMP experience that we both had made you think about this global phenomenon. I guess what I'm looking actually for in this question is like, what was your “aha” moment that you had during this experience that you still carry on to the day of today?
Megha (7:21): When I got onto the course, the first time, when I met all you girls, all 16 of you, I realized is it's not just me. I'm not alone. Everybody at their own level has been fighting the same battle that I have been trying to deal with over here. So it really felt stronger knowing that there are other people with you, other girls who think in the same way and who want the same things in life. About the moments that I had in GSMP, I cannot put it in just one moment. It's been so many moments of. More so, I cannot say they were “aha” moments. They've been like, “uh oh” moments, you know? Like I live in a city and like I said, we've been burdened by 6,000 years of culture. In a city, it's not that burdening, it's pretty, modernized. But in spite of that, I've had my days where I was not allowed to speak up, I was not allowed to stand up for myself. And there were so many things that, unknowingly, in spite of being so advanced and so independent in my thoughts, unknowingly, I have been doing so many things wrong and it's when I got onto the program at GSMP is when I realized that there's so many things that in spite of fighting for what I'm actually trying to change, I have been a part of not being able to change that. It was more of, I can say,I was preaching a lot of things to a lot of women about not doing things in a particular way, but unknowingly, I was doing them myself and I couldn't pinpoint it till I got into that program at GSMP.
Caroline (9:04): Beautiful. Okay. That is certainly, what insights. Okay. I know Megha, that you also been through a lot during your life. And I know that behind every fearless warrior or fighter, there's a beautiful, tender heart. And I'd love to learn, you know, once again from you, and I just wonder what has been one major life lessons for you, and would you like to share that with us?
Megha (9:30): The major life lessons? I think all, all the time, all my phases in life that I have gone through, one thing I've learned is you need to accept and acknowledge the things that are going wrong around you, and that are going wrong with you, and you need to make attempts to change that for yourself. You cannot be dispersing the situation and everybody around you, and then sit back and do nothing about it. What I have learned in life is that nobody else stands up for you. You, you have to make that happen for yourself. You, you need to be able to make those choices. Stay strong once you made those choices and see it to the end.
Carole (10:14): And that's the end of round one. We're going to round two with Megha interviewing Caroline.
Megha (10:21): There we go. It's my turn now.
Caroline (10:24): Yes, let's go!
Megha (10:26): So I cannot wait to ask you equally deeper questions, but just like you started, let's just start with a round of some fun questions. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would that be?
Caroline (10:41): Oh, that's such a good question. I love food. You put me on the spot because it's, you know, I just love food so I can’t choose, but if I had to choose one thing. I think. I think I would go for something more nutritious. Maybe like my favorite fruit, I would say watermelon, yeah.
Megha (11:01): Oh, wow. That's, that's a lot of hydration. (Laughs)
Caroline (11:03): (Laughs) Yeah. I think watermelon or just like mangoes or something like that, just, yeah. I need to survive, you know, for the rest of my life. I need to make conscious decision.
Megha (11:17): (Laughs) I like mangoes too. So the next question is, if you had a warning label, what would yours state?
Caroline (11:25): Warning label? Hmm, that's a good question. I would say, “Do not leave this person alone. Do not talk to her.” Or, you know, just because I like talking and laughing, so the opposite. I don't know if it, if I just worded that good.
Megha (11:47): If I had to put something on you, it would be, “Too much voltage, keep away.”
Caroline (11:52): Okay. Okay. Yeah. Okay.
Megha (11:54): You’re so electrifying, you're so full of life. It's so much energy in you.
Caroline (11:59): Accurate. Yeah. So you know me, better than me. So, yeah.
Megha (12:03): There's a danger of getting a high voltage shock. Thank you so much for playing this game with me. Caroline, I am curious. You're so passionate about boxing. Can you start by telling us who has been your biggest ring inspiration and why?
Caroline (12:20): Alright. So biggest ring inspiration. I would say I'll, I'll, I'll give this question a little metaphorical twist. Because I do see the ring as facing challenges or just facing situations in your life, breaking barriers, so if I would go on with that translation, I would say my mom, because not just because she's my mom, but just throughout the way her, her, her style, her boxing style, the way she overcomes a lot of barriers and challenges in her life. She at a very pretty, like much late age, took the decision to go back to school again. And we were at the same period. We were both students and she was a way much more student than me. Breathing her books, eating with her books, sleeping with her books. And I just, I was standing aside to her when I saw the transition, her transitioning into this person going for her goal. So she's a vivid example for me, like what it is to, you know, become the person you want to be. She's really an example of breaking barriers. So I would say my mom.
Megha (13:29): Oh my God, I'm inspired too.
Caroline (13:31): Yeah, thank you. I'll tell her I'm proud of her.
Megha (13:36): Yes, please do that. It says so much about you and I don't know mothers any which way stand up as the strongest person in our lives. That's been the case with my mother as well. I'm curious as well, to hear from your story, growing up as a daughter of Congolese immigrants in Antwerp, Belgium, did you have any barriers to overcome and what led you to lean into your sport and unleash your own fighting spirit?
Caroline (14:04): Yeah. So growing up, I would say my parents came here, that was like the 90s. I'm the only one because I have one brother and a sister and I'm the only one that was born here. So when they came here, we grew up and there were a lot of challenges. Like I would say the things that I vividly remember, like racism growing up in different cultures, not knowing how things would work at the culture that we learned here at school and the Belgian culture that sometimes would clash into the culture that we grew up in, in the Congolese household, and just also finding your identity through it. So it was like, making your own identity, forming your own identity and, and just, you know, being happy and confident in the person that you are. So bringing the best of the both worlds actually into your own identity. I would say those were pretty much things that I remember when growing up as challenges. What did help me with the sports is, you know, creating the, uh, self-discipline for myself, being motivated and just, you know, gaining not only physically the fitness, but also, just mentally by growing up, embracing yourself. I really think that a lot of things in the sports helped me through growing up and I'm still growing up. So that's why I'm still in playing the sport. But I think those were the main reasons why I kept doing this sport.
Megha (15:26): Beautiful, amazing. Last but not the least, Caroline. When we met in 2017, you were living a double life combining your work as a boxer, a boxing trainer at N’Wicha Boxing School and running the Siki-lab with your sister. Can you tell us where you are now and share the biggest challenge you face in your career so far as well as how you overcome it?
Caroline (15:52): Yeah, I would say back then, in 2016, when we started Siki-lab, I made the decision to start something new with my sister and in 2018. I, yeah, I actually made the conscious decision to, you know, to choose something that I wanted to do in where I was going. But I think the biggest challenges until now would be not only choosing myself and just being happy in the person who I am today, but I think losing my dad, which his birthday is by the way. So I am really grateful to, yeah to just be here and then having the moment to, you know, commemorates him. I think losing my father last year was really like a turning point for me because it made me realize a lot of things that were, we all know we're all people and we're here temporary, but it's important to choose and to just stand for really the person you want to be, going for what you want go living life, you should be living because you know, life is short.
I guess I would say that was one of the biggest challenges, challenge till now. Healing, forgiving and just, yeah, let that unfold into the person I am today. Just accept everything that comes to me more easily now. Fluently.
Megha (17:07): Wow, amazing.
Carole (17:11): That's the end of round two. We are now moving to round three with ladies discussing about empowerment.
Megha (17:19): Okay. I'm afraid we're running out of time, but let's have a lightning round before our buzzer sounds. What's your definition of empowerment?
Caroline (17:29): I would say a person that is empowered is a person that knows and has the ability to work upon the power that, and the capabilities that a person has in himself or herself, and also mostly unconsciously spread the same energy around people around them. They're just there to spread light and help people see their own light.
Megha (17:56): That is so true.
Caroline (17:57): And you Megha, what would be your vision on empowerment?
Megha (18:02): What I think of being empowered, it's always been having the freedom to make your own choices. Because what happens is we generally make too many adjustments and we just get on with life and get on with what is coming our way, rather than making our own choices and living it on our own terms. So for me, being empowered has always been that freedom of choice, which in my country is not very appreciated.
Caroline (18:29): I like that. I love that. Yeah. It's indeed about freedom, freedom of, you know, being yourself and just loving yourself also allowing yourself to be who you want to be.
Megha (18:40): Yes, making the mistakes and embracing yourself and feel guilty if you have to and, you know, do all of this, do all of this and, and do it on your terms.
Caroline (18:52): Yes, yes.
Carole (18:55): Ref speaking here. I could not help, but end this friendly fight with a sincere thank you to our audience. And guess what the winner of today's episode is, communities around the globe who are benefiting from greater equality and inclusivity. Thank you ladies for your priceless time and energy. You're the stars here and today, so I leave you with the final word.
Caroline (19:20): It was just such a joy to share these minutes with you, Megha. I wish we could stay longer. Thanks to our audience for tuning in to this episode. We hope you've enjoyed it and feel inspired and feel free to share questions and comments on social media. Remember, you can listen to more episodes where sisters unpack the potential of, of sports to change the world on your favorite podcast platform.