Kristine Surla

I’m thrilled to introduce our next Rising Woman, Kristine Surla. We met during an amazing course that we both participated in called MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) in Los Angeles in 2015. I have watched her blossom and share so much of her amazingness through the work she’s doing that I just had to have her share her story with us. 

Who are you & what is your story?

Hi everyone, first I’d like to share my GRATITUDE for Mimi for creating this series for us to share about our journeys to inspire and uplift each other.   

Greetings – I am Kristine Reyes Surla.  My journey in life has been one full of challenges and triumphs, lessons in life that have led me to where I am now.

I was born in the Philippines to parents who, although probably loved each other, also led very chaotic and often destructive tendencies towards each other.  It was certainly a life full of passion and excitement, but one fraught with violence and instability.  One of my first memories is my father and mother fighting with furniture flying & torn about the house and a lot of rage and violent tendencies in play.  At 6 years old, I witnessed what seemed like 30 armed men with semiautomatic weapons barge into the house that my mom was renting after separating from my dad.  They surrounded the house and was looking for my mom.   You see, my father was in the government and had access to what seemed like an army of men looking for my mom, and through brute force trying to intimidate her.  It is a memory etched into my brain, one that left me feeling unsafe & unsure of the world I was living in.  That same year, my mom left the Philippines and moved to the USA where her mom & grandmother already lived.  She took me and my two young brothers to escape from the tyranny and oppression she felt in Manila.  From that point onwards, we moved almost every year. I found myself in a different school almost every year and we moved back & forth from Manila to SoCal to Florida like it was nothing.

Upon reaching high school, I then asked my mom to consider staying in the same place so that I could graduate from one high school in order to work towards getting into a good college.  So finally after moving every 1-2 years throughout my life, we settled into Carlsbad, CA.  I finished high school in ONE school -HURRAY!  And was fortunate to graduate Valedictorian, Editor in Chief, Student Council member and got into every school I applied to which led me to Stanford. At Stanford, I became a Public Service Scholar and much of my life outside the classroom was immersed at the Haas Center for Public Service.  Service Leadership became an important part of my core values and empowering and inspiring youth through education became a passion.  I interned for the CA Department of Education through Stanford in Government my Sophomore year, worked as an Upward Bound Coordinator, mentor, & counselor and also interned for GLOBE in Washington D.C. ( Global Learning & Observations to Benefit the Environment) which created international teaching programs and curriculums throughout the world focused on the environment and was an intergovernmental agency under NASA, NOAA, the EPA, the State Department, & Education Department. (It was also a “pet project” of then Vice President Al Gore). I concurrently studied at Stanford in Washington with a full time internship by day, classes at night and as a working student, I found a job working at a local store nearby.  I then interned for a Congresswoman from California (Rep. Lynn Woolsey) during the summer wherein my focus became research re: Parental & Family Leave & Childcare issues. I also was a Fellow and received a grant from Stegner’s Children & Society Curriculum. As a Senior, my Honors Theses in the Science, Technology, & Society Department focused on the “Use of Technology in Education” with a focus on elementary schools while serving as a Public Service Scholar.  Life as a student at Stanford was AMAZING! I enjoyed every minute of my time at “the Farm.”  But apart from my academic and public service related projects, I also studied abroad in Paris at the ESCP (Ecole Superieur de Commerce a Paris) wherein I applied for &  received an independent study project grant which I used to study the “built environment” of Paris by using photography as the medium. I had never really taken a photography class, so I jumped in with a camera and learned by doing primarily as I delved into the how the built environment of Paris affected societal norms.

After graduating with a Masters in Sociology with a focus on Social Stratification and Organizational Behavior from Stanford, I ended up backpacking around Europe and eventually stayed in Paris for much longer than anticipated focusing on art and living the “starving artists” life.  You see I had always been drawn to the creative field, but never truly formally studied it — I just did it on the side.  When student loans from Stanford started to kick in, I moved back to the US and after the holidays moved to New York City with no job yet, but with a firm resolve to start my “career” in New York.  

My life was amazing and dynamic, but also full of unexpected challenges — you see, after working for a year for PBS in the non-profit world, I eventually ended up working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center for a prestigious financial firm, which launched my “hands on” learning in the business world.  I was there on 9/11, witnessed & experienced the craziness and am a survivor of 9/11.  In that tragedy, I found purpose in the work I was doing in a world that I never really thought I’d join (given my public service and education focused proclivities in school).  Yet working for OppenheimerFunds during and after 9/11 instilled within me the knowing that businesses can truly make a difference in the world if and when there is a focus on how one can impact the community and the world in a way that empowers others.(i.e. the spark and connection of my passion for Social Enterprises, businesses that do well by doing good).  I experienced the goodness of the leaders of the organization, but also the triumph of the human spirit in action after such a horrific tragedy.   I focused on crisis communications and primarily “ghost” wrote the letters of the CEO to our shareholders, the public and our constituents.  I wrote from my heart a message of hope, of strength and of rebuilding. 

Fast forward several years and joining the International Team for Oppenheimer to expand the company in both London & Hong Kong, I finally bid adieu and farewell to NYC after rebuilding and being part of a great organization and team of people.  I will always cherish the mentorship and learning I received and gained from my experience with such an upstanding firm led by honorable and good leaders.  So I moved to Hong Kong, then Bali for a short stint, then Manila where I focused on volunteer service, teaching at a University focused on Entrepreneurship and dove into research re: healing modalities, social enterprise, and the goal of bringing handcrafted goods from my motherland to share the beauty and craftsmanship of the Philippines with an international focus.  I had my first “Pop Up” in Hong Kong bringing Artisan and Handcrafted goods from the Philippines with a focus on Triple Bottom Line and Fair Trade principles in 2006.  But I was too early to market and the concept & principles of Social Entrepreneurship was still not well known. And I found myself explaining and educating what a Social Enterprise was.

During the time I lived in Hong Kong, I met someone in Thailand after attending a Women’s Conference through the Association of Women in Development (AWID).  This friendship slowly developed even further after I moved to the Philippines from Hong Kong. This man eventually proposed to me after a whirlwind 5 months of courtship and I became engaged.  That engagement, in many ways, changed the trajectory of my life and we ended up moving back to the USA and got married in Santa Barbara.  Los Angeles became home.  Fast forward almost 10 years and that marriage ended in divorce.  

I had lost myself and my path while I was in that marriage. My dreams of making a difference in both my motherland and in this life became living an unfulfilled life wherein I never truly felt loved, supported or seen. I worked for jobs that didn’t inspire my spirit and I felt stuck and unfulfilled.

It has been a long journey of coming back to my truth, to my path, to what my soul has longed for and envisioned.  After asking for a divorce and starting to live authentically, regaining my voice and my vision for my life, I was able to finally launch Artisan Made International, a social enterprise that partners and collaborates with other social enterprises and organizations to bring about positive change through conscious fashion and the empowerment of Artisans throughout the world. I launched with my first curated collection of handmade, Artisan Made, hand woven, hand created and beautiful pieces while partnering with several social enterprises from the Philippines: launching Artisan Made Philippines in October 2016.  The launch event was amazing & inspiring, blending conscious high fashion (with an Eco Fashion Show with real “Role Models” on the runway), Speakers Panel with the CoFounder of one of our partner Social Enterprise organizations, Anthill, and the Executive Director of Gawad Kalinga USA on the panel with video messages from the amazing “Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur” and phenomenal President of “Rags2Riches”. The evening culminated with a Kamayan Feast introducing Filipino food made by Chef Yana from the New York Times featured Salo Series.  It was a great launch and a beautiful way to share Artisan Made Philippines with Los Angeles.

What do you do?

In addition to the above, last year during my birthday in 2017, my passion for photography was reignited and I currently consider myself a “Visual Storyteller” – a photographer who captures magic moments and people’s magic through my lens.  It has been a beautiful journey of discovering and embracing this gift of sight and visual storytelling which in many ways has always been a passion of mine, but never truly formally studied. I am a self taught photographer and it truly has been a beautiful and inspiring journey of discovery.  I currently have 3 Photography Series’ that I’m creating:

“Goddesses & Heroes” – which focuses on divine feminine & divine Masculine and the interplay of both through a series of photoshoots — the most recent photoshoot focused on Divine Feminine Rising – Goddesses Shining Bright (January 2018 – @DivineFeminineRising888 on Instagram)

The next one coming up is called Goddesses ONE with Nature (March 2018) and it will serve as a template for the beginning of a new focus on creating Goddess Retreats & Workshops.

“Age Is Just A Number” – #AgeIsJustANumberSeries – which focuses on featuring individuals living their best life at any age. On Instagram @KsurlaPhoto #AgeIsJustANumberSeries

In addition to the above Series’, I also work with clients from product, lifestyle, fashion, editorial and my favorite Portrait shoots where I get to work closely with individuals to bring out their true essence as people.  

I’m also developing a series of workshops and Retreats under a new brand called: “Divine Feminine Rising” 888 which will encompass several modalities in empowering women to truly embrace the Goddess within. This has come about through the realization that I am Being called forth to lead, teach, inspire and empower others in this journey & to raise the consciousness of our planet through love.

In addition to Visual Storytelling, as I had mentioned before, I am the Creative Director and Founder of Artisan Made International which I launched with a first Capsule Collection under the moniker: Artisan Made Philippines at the end of 2016.  Instagram: @ArtisanMadePH

Artisan Made collaborates with Social Enterprises to create and curate a capsule collection of the best social enterprise products from the Philippines.  Through events, pop ups, online, and Mindful Retreats & Journeys (coming soon) Artisan Made International aims to uplift & connect the work of hands and hearts to a broader international audience with a focus on Triple Bottom Line principles.

Currently I am also serving as a Senior/Coach to a committed group of leaders in a 4 month Leadership Training Program through MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) here in Los Angeles which focuses on leaders creating leaders that will affect positive change in the world by living authentically and on purpose. Staffing started in Mid November 2017 with Basic 149, then December with Advanced 149, and now The Legacy/Leadership Program #LP149 continues until April 22nd.

But apart from all of the above, I am also a full time mom to a beautiful little boy who has become the greatest teacher in my life.  Becoming a mother has been both the most rewarding and also most challenging journey that I have undertaken. I feel so thankful and blessed that Drake Kross chose me to be his mom in this lifetime. Motherhood is a life changer and one which I am so grateful to experience.  It hasn’t been an easy road to be a single mom, but I am blessed with such an amazing little soul as my son.

What have you overcome to get where you are today?

(see above) And apart from what I’ve already shared, I think a big part of what I’ve overcome is the feeling of not believing in myself and my worth as a woman, as a leader, as an innovator.  Today I stand tall and proud of all I’ve accomplished in my life and I continue this journey of discovery re: the gifts I am blessed to share with others in this world.

Did you ever feel like giving up? When you felt like giving up, what did you do?

There were many moments where I cried with tears of pain, distraught, confused as to the path I was to take, but in each instance I found the opportunity to grow and to become a stronger and even better version of myself.  Each tragedy has led to a realization of my inner strength and resolve, my resiliency and my heart leading the way out of the darkness.

What are some of the tools and resources you have used to work through and overcome those struggles? (books, counselors, workshops, programs, coaches, etc.)

In addition to a wonderful foundation of education and inspiration that I found through Stanford, I also studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and did postgraduate work at NYU for Strategic Marketing and Communications to add to my tool belt. But most recently (i.e. 2 years ago) I took the Basic, Advanced & Leadership Course at MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training) which led me to rediscover my voice, get clear on my vision, stand in my power, and transform my life to what it has become today.  The community, friendships formed and the tribe of like minded soul brothers and sisters whom I’ve met through this program have been instrumental in the trajectory that I’ve taken for my life over the past 2 years.

What are your gifts and how did you discover them?

(once again, see first question where I go into detail re: my life experiences) But to answer succinctly, I believe my gifts in this world are to teach, inspire, empower, develop, create, and be a catalyst for true transformation and raising the vibrational consciousness of our planet through all that I do, lead & create with LOVE.

Who/What keeps you uplifted and on your path?

The inner knowing and guidance from God, the Universe, a higher power and consciousness that continually leads my path in this lifetime.

Tell us about your tribe and the importance of having one.

My tribe consists of Warriors of Light and Love – soul brothers and sisters devoted to living the best life we can possibly live and inspire others to truly make a difference and share the gifts we each have in this world through love, community, and friendship.

What do you want other women to know who are feeling lost, and/or experiencing their own tragedy and/or struggles?

To be Courageous

To live from your heart space

To know that everything that happens in our lives is an opportunity for growth, for development, for each of us to find strength within.

What is some advice you would give to women who are healing?

Take your time. Enjoy the journey. Learn the lessons the pain has brought and take heart that this too shall pass. You are brave. You are strong. You are LOVE. So much love & gratitude for the opportunity to share a little bit about my life lessons. ❤️

You can find Kristine at one of her outlets here:

As a little update, focusing on bringing Wholeness and Wellness to our planet, Kristine just launched to build a community of Goddesses and Warriors of love transforming the world together by first transforming ourselves. She brings her focus on the divine feminine and the retreats, workshops etc under this umbrella. 

She is also bringing the “Goddesses & Heroes and Role Models Photography Series” to Life with the LIVES of spotlighting Role Models, Goddesses & Heroes in our world on Instagram here:

@krs_loves & @sur_la_creative @divinefemininerising888

Kristine, I am amazed at all of the things you have done and are doing to continue to rise the women of the world. Thank you for being part of this cause and for sharing your story here.