How Healthcare Activist Andrea Coleman Let Go of the Guilt that Held Her Back

The Riders for Health cofounder finally chose to love herself.

Andrea Coleman

By Kildine de Saint Hilaire and Andrea Coleman

“I am English. Very English. We were taught, as we grew up, that showing your feelings drew disapproval. You must be strong, put on a brave face, show no weakness. The environment was tough for earlier generations. Not enough food, horrible cold, world wars, families separated and people working unreasonably hard during the industrial revolution. It was the way, those earlier generations thought: to make the young tough, resilient and they will survive. Provision of health care then was poor and mental health was treated by the expression ‘pull yourself together’.”

Andrea Coleman is a woman who inspires both admiration and motivation. Her achievements reveal her strengths, and her personality encourages kindness. Her journey has led her to develop Riders for Health, the organization she co-founded with her husband Barry Coleman in 1996. Andrea grew up believing that motorcycles were synonymous with the possibility of escaping. She embraced the motorcycle world to leave the place that she was in. “It was my route to freedom”, she explains when reflecting on her upbringing. Her first husband was a motorcyclist who had an accident while competing. After the accident, Andrea explains she was lost and did not know how to grieve, “I thought how to deal with grief was to be very busy and create something else.”

Andrea put all her effort and means into the creation of Riders for Health, an organisation that uses vehicles to deliver healthcare within multiple African countries. It defies a persisting status quo: the neglect of the use of vehicles in the field of development. With Riders for Health, vehicles are the pillar element. They bridge the distance between rural communities and health care. To say that building an organisation is a challenge is an understatement. It becomes a life mission that takes a lot out of those involved. “The last thing that I was doing was listening to myself,” explains Andrea, who suffered from anxiety and exhaustion. The more out of tune she was with her inner-self, the more Andrea was pushing her mind and body to exhaustion. Burnout has become the great epidemic of our generation, one that can have extreme consequences on individuals and their surroundings. Always pushing more and further can only last for a certain time and to a certain extent.”

“During The Wellbeing Project I realised I have been holding my breath for my whole life. Learning to love and treasure breathing has changed my life.”

As a participant in The Wellbeing Project’s Inner Development Program, Andrea decided to learn how to confront and deal with her internal angst. First, Andrea approached the language of wellbeing. Second, she delved into a research and understanding of the meaning behind the dialect of wellbeing. By giving herself the time to reflect on these concepts and how to adapt them to her life, she gained confidence and a significant change of attitude towards others. Andrea took part in a journey of self-exploration starting from within that came to have an extensive reach towards her outside world.

“I had no idea if I would be accepted onto the program and I had no idea what it would mean or if it would or could be helpful. But I knew I had to find some way to manage the pain I was experiencing. With my English background I found it hard to accept the idea of loving myself but I found out how to love the gifts I have been given, to know that caring for myself is not something to be ashamed of and to feel the same sympathy for myself as I would for others. I was taught the mechanism to find peace in looking at the sky at night, in the trees around me and to rest into the knowledge that there are people who love me. And I am worth being loved.”

Regarding her learnings, Andrea comments she discovered, “how to relate to people in a way I didn’t know how to before.” In addition, she has learned to let herself do things she enjoys and that make her happy. The emotion of guilt is no longer part of the equation. Andrea gives her personal take on wellbeing as a process that enabled her to feel capable and acquire a balance between responsibility and self-care.

“I hope I will always be open to accepting new ways of being as a result of my experience and I hope that I can continue to help others to be open to it too.“

Since her experience with The Wellbeing Project, Andrea has developed a new project: Two Wheels For Life. The organisation aims to develop and fundraise for Riders for Health and focus on motorcycles to ensure that life-saving healthcare reaches those in need. Wellbeing is a constant learning for Andrea. It offers her alignment and confidence while she remains the ambitious change-maker she is at her core.

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