The Quiet Mentor
Syeda Zakia Ahsan
One of the most debilitating consequences of modern life is stress, a state of mind that leaves no one untouched. Families especially, are feeling the pressures of stress due to numerous factors - economic insecurity, divorce, drug addiction of children and sometimes, parents, breakdown in communication and so on. All this leads to enormous misery for families and the community as a whole. Family counselling has never been more important and the presence of a professional, understanding counsellor can make a world of difference. Syeda Zakia Ahsan who has been living in the UK for over ten years, realised that her many years of teaching children and natural desire to help people made her an ideal candidate to be such a counsellor. She has been mentoring young individuals in various communities in the UK for the last four years. Being a school teacher in the UK for ten years, no doubt, gave her an added advantage to know the minds of young people.
Zakia says that while mentoring can be emotionally trying as it is easy to get attached to the troubled person and that is something a professional mentor is not allowed to indulge in, the results in terms of how it affects people's lives, is often a reward by itself. Zakia mentions a young girl she had once mentored; the girl was a cannabis addict and had lost direction in life. "I did not get her off drugs, it was done by a project worker" says Zakia. "I taught her how to read and write because she was dyslexic. I mentored her for a year. I also trained her as a business woman and helped her to get funding to start her own business. She is now able to speak in conferences and has her own catering business."
At present Zakia is a freelance consultant, and community centres who work with dysfunctional families recruit her for mentoring. She trained at the Family Intervention Project for three years before practicing.
"I now run training programmes for parents from all walks of life," says Zakia. "It's a 13 week training programme that was started by Marilyne Steels in USA and is widely accepted in the UK."
While counselling is recognised as an important tool for mental health of society in western countries, in countries like Bangladesh it is not such a popular idea.
"I don't think people are aware of the fact that counselling can do so much for our society,” says Zakia. "I have found mothers and parents in general not very much aware of the importance of mental health well being in children."
Zakia believes that parenting programmes such as 'Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities' can do a lot for the well being of youth in Bangladesh. "I wish NGOs, and corporate bodies can sponsor such programmes in different sectors successfully."
A natural consequence of Zakia's desire to help people in distress has been her involvement in the Foundation of Hope (FoH) which she helped to establish, a charity to help poor people in Bangladesh through small grants used for different purposes. FoH financially assists women of marriageable age so they get a good start in life, provides grants for widows, meritorious students wishing to pursue higher education such as to get law degrees, helps people to rebuild homesteads, install tube wells for safe drinking water and gives monetary assistant to poor villagers to buy cattle.
FoH also provides financial assistance to help the poor cope with problems of health, which is essentially seeking medical assistance and purchasing medicines for treatment of malnutrition and a host of water-borne and other diseases as well as removing cataracts and handling kidney- and gall bladder-related ailments.
Bangladesh being prone to natural disasters, the organisation regularly helps cyclone victims with rebuilding their homes and providing seeds for fresh planting.
For Zakia personally, reaching out to people has always been the underlying goal in all her endeavours. She is one of those rare individuals who believe helping those less fortunate than oneself is a commitment for any conscientious human being.
AASHA MEHREEN AMIN