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New calling

Think Local

The group of Year 10 girls sit motionless, quiet, transfixed. For an entire 45 minutes they are engrossed in the story being told with uninhibited candour by the tall, attractive, confident women before them - a deeply personal story of pain, isolation and despair that resolved into hope, purpose and triumph. Geena Leigh was dealt some pretty miserable cards early in life. Born into a broken and impoverished family in New Zealand, she was sexually abused by her father, rendered homeless at 15, became addicted to drugs and alcohol and was eventually lured into prostitution which became her loveless, meaningless, inescapable purgatory for the next 20 odd years.

After coming too close to the edge one night, she decided it was time to stop and redefine her life. Over the next few years she acquired several university degrees and worked her way through an unfamiliar corporate world to build a successful management career.

And she wrote a book. Call Me Sasha is her tell-all memoir, published by Allen & Unwin in 2014. But just when her corporate career was about to have a growth spurt, she made another life-changing decision and walked away.

"I just got this big pay rise and [the hours were] pretty flexible - I could come and go, but there was just little joy in the job," Geena explains.

Through her book she had been getting occasional speaking opportunities with various community groups and she "really was enjoying how it was impacting the audience."

This led to a lightbulb moment. "The reason I wrote the book was really for young women." she says. "And then I thought, 'You know what? Why don't I go straight for the schools?”

She sought out other speakers and was invited by one to come along and watch him in action. After a post-talk discussion with staff at the school, she was asked if she'd like to try a presentation. She did, it went well and she hasn't looked back. "I feel realty on purpose, it's fulfilling, and it's phenomenal. Now I feel like maybe the reason I've been through so many challenging situations is to be here for others."

And how does she feel about being so open in front of a group of teenagers?

"Every time I do talk about it, it's not easy, however I know it's doing someone good somewhere... I hid who I was for so long, so it's empowering for me to be authentic. This is who I am."

Geena's message is one of perseverance and positive self-talk. She stresses the importance having goals and building a strong sense of identity and independence.

"Friends will either have your back or hold you back, she reveals."When you have self-worth, self-esteem and self-respect you're equipped to make better life decisions."

Now in a comfortable home in Manly Vale, with two adoring cats and a job she is passionate about, you can't help but admire Geena Leigh for her courage and fortitude against all odds.

Call her amazing.


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