Personal crisis leads Emirati woman to reach out to others

For one woman, the end of her marriage proved the beginning of a new path. It has led her to stability, happiness and an inspiring career as a personal consultant who aims to help clients' self-development.

The end of Aaesha Alzaabi's marriage turned her world upside down.
At the time, she had two young children and was worried about raising them.
The newly single parent had two options - sink or swim.
"I chose the second option," says Ms Alzaabi, 33. "I had to overcome great obstacles because my children were young at that time. Dealing with my inner conflicts topped the list."  
Shortly after her divorce, she pursued a diploma in family and marriage counselling. 
"I started reading more about the psychology of men and women. I learnt a lot about how men think. Of course, I can't reform my relationship, as a matter of fact, it was a good decision we made. We were not suited to each other."
Armed with the art of deep listening and compassion, she began offering voluntary sessions to friends and teachers about family counselling. In 2012, a friend of Ms Alzaabi's attended a Springboard Women's Development Programme in Qatar. The training consultancy advertises itself as the UK's leading personal and work-development company that aims to empower women to "participate more fully in the workplace and as active citizens in their countries".
Springboard's clients include the British ministry of defence, the National Trust, Royal Mail and dozens of the country's universities.
"When I first heard of it, I got inquisitive and started researching further," Ms Alzaabi says. 
She decided to take the Springboard programme last year and, after being accredited by the British Council, became the first Emirati trained to deliver the programme herself.
Traditionally, counselling and therapy are not part of the Emirati culture. People are expected to find support in their own communities, rather than turn to a stranger.
"I came across women who had countless problems and couldn't figure out how to go out of the box," she says. "Some women convince themselves their issues are solved. Shortly after, they are stuck with the same tension.
"When you copy others, you don't stay that way for a long time. What I do is develop people based on their own set of values."
The programme, Ms Alzaabi says, develops women in a practical way, both professionally and personally.
"I came back and founded Key2success consultancy where I pass on what I learnt in Springboard," she says. 
She now trains women, many of them local, to develop their values and principles.
Be yourself, find a passion that makes you happy and listen deeply to your inner voice are the daily teachings she imparts to her students.  
Her consultancy improves women's communication and presentation skills to build confidence in both their workplace and their family. She also offers lessons in consulting, coaching, deep listening, problem solving, group discussion and networking. 
"If you want to achieve your passion, you ought to struggle. I went through hardship and learnt. The moment you struggle to reach your passion, it means you are one step closer to reaching it. If one way doesn't work, you find another route until you hit your target."
It is particularly important in the Emirati culture that women find a good balance between their family, career and personal passions. The Government is encouraging more women to enter the workforce, but the reality for many women is that they cannot consider having a career and family because very few jobs allow for part-time or flexible hours.
This can leave women struggling with decisions about their career.
The British Council launched the Springboard Programme in the Arab world because there were many more opportunities opening up for women, says Mariam Daher, the regional manager.
"The programme deals with the professional and the personal aspects of women's lives. It is tried and tested and has more than 180,000 users globally, of which 10,000 are in the Arab world," she says. "It has been culturalised to suit the needs of Arab women."
The private nature of Emirati culture means that certain issues such as marital problems are often not spoken about and therefore not properly dealt with. Springboard tailored to the Middle East deals with these kinds of issues.
A recent evaluation of Springboard in the Arab world suggests that it gave more than 65 per cent of participants the skills and abilities to achieve their personal and professional goals. The evaluation also showed that the programme supported them in getting a job or promotion.  
As for many school leavers, the thought of picking a university subject that would define the rest of her career was a scary one for Abeer Al Katheeri, 17, a first-year student at Zayed University. One student in five makes the wrong decision.
One of the main problems is parental influence over subject choice, often gearing students towards engineering, architecture, medicine and business.
Abeer had always been interested in studying the human mind and behaviour, but her family was not supportive,
"I had zero idea about what major to choose. Participating in Springboard encouraged me to pursue psychology."
Not all decisions that women need to make in their lives are life changing. Dina Abdulrahman, an Emirati in her early thirties, was confused about whether to stay in her job as a senior purchasing officer, or accept an offer of changing department. "I got many offers to switch departments, I couldn't spot what was stopping me." 
Ms Abdulrahman first heard about Key2success through Twitter. "I had problems with reaching my goals and how to plan strategically," she says. "I registered in the programme it was a starting point of a new goal.
"The trainer doesn't bring a solution from herself, all she does is help you find the lost key in your life. The programme doesn't ask you to start from the beginning, it tells you to start from where you're standing."
Key2success consultancy welcomes women from all levels and all walks of life. 
"It is not about how many hours you spend to improve your professional or personal life, it is about the productivity and how well time is spent," Ms Alzaabi says.
Sometimes people are misunderstood by others because of miscommunication and tone of voice. These tools are vital to deliver a message effectively. 
The message Ms Alzaabi wants to convey through her consultancy and coaching is that a woman should not neglect her own happiness to please others. "Whatever I did, I did it for husband. When I didn't get a response, I felt depressed," she recalls. "Do it for yourself. Love yourself. This is how I started loving and respecting myself - not arrogantly, of course.
"I taught my children to stand up and say their parents are divorced because each chose their happiness. It is not a shame.
"I constantly remind my children to give value to themselves, and never let others underestimate them."
aalhameli@thenational.ae
. Visit www.key2success.ae for more information

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