“Unleash Your Inner Beauty” Sephora Event 12.7.14

Approximately 150 people including victims of terrorism enjoyed an evening of mini makeovers, sushi, wine tasting, raffles and a great gift bag. The proceeds raised from the evening benefit the Young Ambassadors Program Spring 2015 which brings together young people ages 14-20 who have either lost a family member in a terrorist attack or been injured themselves. The week long program in NYC gives the participants an opportunity to meet peers from different countries who understand what they have been through and spend a week touring, sharing, healing and empowering each other towards a better future.

Strength to Strength would like to thank SEPHORA for once again opening their doors to us for another great event. This event would not be possible without the work of our dedicated Event Chair, Robyn Polansky, our speaker, Autumn Gilles (please see her speech below) who shared her incredibly moving story of surviving the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks on November 26, 2008, and our entire Host Committee for all their hard work.

THANK YOU to the wonderful companies and individuals that partnered with us to make the evening such a tremendous success. It is due to the generosity of our donors that enable us to continue our important work.

A SPECIAL THANK YOU to...... Oscar Pena Morales, Store Manager of Sephora and his incredible staff Eden Wok, Baker's Dozen, Shlomo Blashka & Royal Wine Corp, & Community Security Service (CSS) Amrita Singh, Avery J. Fashion Consultants, By Invitation Only, Closeout Connection, Designs by Robin, Essential Health, Etcetera, Eternally Haute, Girls Night On, Michal Negrin, Dr. Jonathan Okon, Prime KO, Signature Styles Salon, Sophie's Runway,Secret Skin & Body Care, and Women's Health Magazine.

Speech Delivered by Autumn Gilles, Survivor of Mumbai Terrorist Attack November 26, 2008, Board Member, Strength to Strength:

November 26, 2008 I was enjoying a delicious Indian meal at Marsala Kraft in the Taj Mahal Hotel with 3 colleagues and 2 representatives that we were endeavoring to do business with in India. Towards the end of the meal at 9:40pm gun shots rang out and the start of my 12 and ½ hour saga began.  12 and ½ hours of a 68 hour siege of the city of Mumbai by 10 terrorists.

Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists attacked not only the Taj Mahal Hotel but another large hotel that attracted Westerners, The Oberoi, as well as the main train station (to target Indian Hindis), Leopold Café, and the Chabab house.  As they were moving between targets they also planted bombs in taxis, stole cars and shot randomly where people were gathered.  They even had the audacity to enter a hospital and claim more victims that laid there helplessly.  Nearly 170 people died, over 300 had non-fatal wounds and countless others sustained injuries – people like me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I experienced many close calls and am still at a loss as to how and why I survived.  During those 12 and ½ hours I spent 7 under a couch where I rectified my life and what I believed to be my imminent death as a battle enraged just a few feet away between the Mumbai anti-terror commandos and L-e-T terrorists.  It never seemed to end.  After a few hours of intense gun fighting outside the doors to the room in the Chambers we were in it moved to other areas of the hotel.  My experience and trauma was not over yet. 

After we were ushered out of the Chambers for a second evacuation attempt at around 10 am on the 27th I was shot at while trying to board an evacuation bus.  One of my colleagues grabbed me and pulled me behind a jeep.

When we all got safely to the police station I thought how apropos – I am thankful to be alive and without injury on Thanksgiving Day.  Little did I know how bad of an injury I actually did sustain.  It turns out the easy part was living through the battle from the terrorists, the hard art was just beginning as it was the living and battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Survivor’s Guilt that follows such a traumatic event.

We are here to unleash our inner beauty.  Beauty is indeed beyond skin deep.  So are the injuries such as PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt.  You don’t see my injuries on the outside do you?  I stand before you, a person that lived through a horrific, violent act of terrorism.  I have put on a nice dress and got a make-over.  Am I beautiful?  Am I injured?

You can’t see my injury with this make-over can you?  Don’t let it fool you, I am indeed injured.  If you could see what has happened to my brain, other connected internal systems, and my heart, you’d see a completely different person.

PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt is not widely understood and not accounted for when they count the wounded following an attack.  It is there though.  PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt cuts deeper than a knife.  It does more damage than a bullet.  It penetrates you not just mentally, emotionally and spiritually, it DOES also penetrate you physically.

I, and countless other victims, do not feel normal.  We have lost ourselves, become disconnected with ourselves and the world.  We lose functionality and productivity.  We want to feel, to be, “normal”; to connect again; and to be functional members of society.  It is hard to do with the very limited knowledge and resources available for PTSD and Survivor’s Guilt.

In fact there is very little, to no support depending on where you are from, following a terrorist attack.  Strength to Strength looks to bridge the gap in care and between victims across the globe.  I hope that I am connecting to you and that you help us connect to each other and the resources that will help us heal, reconnect to our new selves and then to society.  

It only takes a moment in time to destroy, but many years to a life time to rebuild.

Thank you for being here tonight and supporting Strength to Strength; for helping us to heal and rebuild; to come back into society and extinguish the darkness of terrorism with the shining light of surviving, connection and love.