Wisdom Stories Ep.34: Fiona Miranda

WS_58 Over 58_#34

Cultural expectations surrounding the elderly are being challenged today, and with good reason!

While it was the norm to slow down and retreat into a quieter life post-retirement, more men and women are finding purpose and joy in doing the opposite.

WisdomCircle honours such men and women by shining light on their journey through an inspiring series called “Wisdom Stories”. These people have successfully smashed stereotypes, and their stories remind us that life should be lived to the fullest, no matter what age or stage.

My journey has been very Organic. I am a Microbiologist by training having earned a doctorate in Microbial Genetics in the US after which I returned to India and served as faculty in the Dept. of Microbiology at St. Xaviers College Mumbai. I took time off to bring up my kids after which I joined an NGO Akanksha as a volunteer teacher being disillusioned with the way the privileged in India value education. This led me to be exposed to more NGOs. Further due to much travel in my singing career – another passion, I withdrew from active teaching and started fundraising for an NGO SNEHA at the request of its founder, a dear friend. I loved the work they were doing.  At the same time, I started teaching sex education in my kid’s school (a training I had picked up in the US) and SNEHA also serviced a vertical in Sexual Reproductive Health. I was so passionate about talking to youth about this, and it aligned perfectly with my interests.

I subsequently joined hands with the NGO Seeds of Awareness, which does Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Facilitation, and taught for 12 years (currently still do, but more TOTs and sit on their board). My husband, Luis, and I slowly started supporting more NGOs mainly in health and education and thus got acquainted with what they do, not only at the board level but also at the grassroots.

On a “holiday with a difference” I learnt about the NGO 17000ft Foundation that worked in government schools in Ladakh and now Sikkim. I volunteered with them along with my family and then got involved more deeply as I was impressed with what they do and the way they do it in extremely harsh conditions and terrains and also partner with the government thus making the project scalable. I have been on their board since 2013 and take an active role in the running of the NGO, especially in the Volunteering arm where 80% of its volunteers come from mine and Luis’s network. This NGO enabled me to start the first-ever sex education program in Ladakh through the government which snowballed into providing this program across India.

In the past five years, I have also been playing the role of a mentor in the NGO Take Charge. It mentors young catholic youth between the ages of 17-25 towards exposure and broadening their perspectives to both their potential and possibilities other than the tried and tested careers.

Music has been a huge part of my life and am actively involved with the group Paranjoti Academy Chorus for the past 20 years performing all over the world and singing in 22 languages including both Indian and foreign languages as well as fundraising for them.

We interviewed Fiona Miranda, one of the honourees of 58 Over 58, a collaborative endeavour spearheaded by WisdomCircle and INK. The mission is to spotlight the narratives of 58 remarkable individuals annually, individuals who are meaningfully engaged in their post-retirement phase.

What was a key moment that defined your current path?

My kids. I was 42 when I started teaching sex education in schools. It was my kids whom I spoke to about the same a couple of years prior and saw how needed it was and how beautifully they accepted it without any shame, shyness or hesitation to know more about it and ask very relevant questions that helped clear the cobwebs in their heads. That is when I realised that reaching out to kids their age or those going through puberty and adolescence would benefit tremendously and there was much need for it. There was no looking back since.

 How would you define your purpose? And why did you choose it?

I consider myself lucky to be where I am and have what I have and just want to give back in any form without remuneration or recognition. Pure service. I am lucky to have my husband, Luis share the same thinking and together the support we give each other has played a huge role in fulfilling my purpose.

What is your flex today? How is it different from a decade or two ago?

The first to introduce government-driven sex education in Ladakh and to be part of the team to set up the first formal course in  Comprehensive Sex Education and Facilitation (certified by TISS) in India. A couple of decades ago I never thought it would reach this far … as it was not planned. I was working purely on the basis of service and giving back but learning a lot in the process.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Have faith in yourself and be open to opportunity as you can never predict how life will lead you. Also, concentrate on building your network.

Do you have anyone in mind whom you look up to and could seek guidance from to plan your post-retirement journey?

My husband Luis is the first person that comes to mind, my kids who are my cheerleaders and my peers who are younger than me. There is still so much to learn.

What are the current gaps in the post-retirement eco-system? Where is the pressing need for attention?

I have just entered or qualified to be in the “58 over 58” group but being involved with NGOs I see how much they would gain with advice or mentorship from those who are experienced. Both the NGO sector and the retired sector has not much access to each other.

What would your advice be to WisdomCircle, to help plug these gaps?

We all have gained so much in the past 40 years that you can’t let it just end abruptly. Sharing unconditionally through service would be mine.

 3 words that describe your life right now.

Happy, lucky, fulfilled and still learning.

Read more Wisdom Stories on WisdomCircle

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