EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH: Q&A WITH FATEMEH ESLAMI November 28, 2018 by Azadeh Akbari Fatemeh Eslami joined OMID six years ago as a Social Worker and has been working with OMID since then. It only took her three months to be promoted and become a Social Work Supervisor. In 2014, she was appointed as the Head of the Social Work Department and also took on the responsibility of supervising the OMID Shelter. Two positions which she still occupies. She works closely with all members of OMID’s clinical staff on daily basis. Fatemeh holds a degree in Social Work from the Allameh Tabataba’i University. We spoke to Fatemeh to find out more about her career journey, what it’s like to work with trauma survivors and her outlook on how we can better support survivors as a global society. AA: Thanks, Fatemeh for taking the time out of busy schedule to speak to us. Can you tell us more about yourself in regards to your career journey and how you came about to working with OMID? FE: I am 29. I have a degree in Social Work from the Allameh Tabataba’i University. I chose this subject with much love and passion. From the beginning, I knew what I wanted to do because social welfare and equality had always been something I deeply cared about and by studying in this field would get me closer to the values that were important to me. I was introduced to OMID by one of my fellow classmates at our university who was working with OMID at the time. I remember back then, I had just finished studying and I was looking for work and when I found out my friend was working with OMID, I asked her to refer me as a candidate. From my first encounter with OMID during the interview process, I fell in love with OMID’s environment and the type of work the charity did and it became a dream for me to work there. This dream eventually came true and six years ago I started working at OMID as a Social Worker. Within three months, I was promoted to Social Work Supervisor. For the past four years, I have been working with OMID as Head of the Social Work Department and Shelter Supervisor. AA: What does a typical day at OMID look like for you? FE: An typical day at OMID always starts with the women and girls at OMID for me. In reality, before I even enter the OMID building my work has already begun. When I wake up, I start my morning with messages from the OMID Shelter, the social work team, work emails, any messages from the girls some of which require specialist follow-ups. The first thing I do when I arrive at OMID is to have breakfast with the girls. Even if I don’t have the appetite to have breakfast, I ensure that I spend the first thirty minutes with the girls. I ensure this routine every day. This way I get to socialize with the girls and also monitor the situation, find out how they are. If someone is not feeling well or doesn’t seem happy, I speak to them to find out the reasons for it and ensure she is supported and follow up on anything that needs doing. As the Shelter Supervisor and Head of the Social Work Department at OMID, if any of the girls are late or absent from their classes, it is my priority to find out the reasons within the first two hours of the official start time and follow up. This is because usually, the girls OMID supports come from dysfunctional families and unsafe environments so our priority is to ensure their safety first. If the reason of absence or lateness is due to encountering a serious issue or adversity, and intervention is needed, we ensure that is actioned. The rest of my day is taken up by meetings with social workers, group consultation about the girls, and individual sessions with the girls. The sessions with the girls may entail medical, social, or family, need assessments, ensuring safety and healthy relationships outside and inside of OMID. My working day is very much filled with all matters relating to the girls. Sometimes, this working day goes beyond standard work hours, with respect to the nature of our work, because issues relating human beings do not have set hours. Of course, there is a professional boundary and a standard we uphold. However, many of the issues we deal with and the nature of working with trauma is unpredictable. For example, sometimes the girls’ may be facing an issue after work hours, whereby they can reach us on the crisis line for support. Since my role requires me to be involved in interventions, if a crisis arises, naturally I am in involved in all aspects including anything that comes up after-hours. AA: What is your favorite and least favorite part of your role at OMID? FE: My favorite part of my role at OMID is the daily face to face close contact I have with the girls. These interactions are wide-ranging and the most important and exciting part of my role. I absolutely love and cherish these interactions and it gives me great pleasure, drive, and energy to excel in my role. AA: What is your least favorite part of your role at OMID? My least favorite part of my role would have to be during those bittersweet times when I have to make tough decisions as the shelter supervisor that are difficult but effective and the right decisions within the framework and rules we have. AA: How you maintain a work-life balance? FE: I am always working towards expanding my knowledge and improving myself to ensure that I am going in the right direction. When it comes to work-life balance, I would say there are three different elements that I use to ensure harmony. The first one is setting clear, firm and healthy boundaries in my professional and personal relationships and continuously working to maintain them. The second would have to be maintaining self-care and finally, working with my supervisor on assessing, monitoring and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. AA: Can you tell us more about treatment phases the environment that OMID creates in order for survivors to heal from trauma? FE: In regards to reaching the healing phase, in the cases of complex trauma particularly, there are a number of fundamental factors are need to first create an environment and framework in order for healing to take place and for individuals to be able to learn the tools needed to heal from within. It is imperative for those frameworks and structures are built on foundations of connection, trust, safety, empowerment, support and most importantly, hope. This is exactly what we are creating at OMID and these are the key factors that are needed in a treatment environment to enable survivors to adopt emotional regulation skills, feel empowered, gain belief in themselves and, and feel a sense of self-fulfillment within to achieve their goals and become self-reliant. In such environments, survivors learn to better understand and accept the bitter experiences they have had in the past and ultimately create change now and develop coping mechanisms. They learn their own existing survival tactics they have used in dealing with their experiences and to improve on these tactics and adopt healthy mechanisms of coping. All of these elements and tools are effective in the healing process. AA: What is your advice for anyone who has had a loved one experience abuse and trauma? FE: The first thing family and friends can do in supporting survivors is to believe them, try to understand and empathize with them. It is very helpful to gain knowledge about how to best support them in order to understand their triggers and avoid re-traumatizing them. By giving them a sense of safety and focusing on their strengths, and through small steps they can help them get the support they need to get out of the trauma spiral towards recovery. If you want to help a loved one, it is very important to remember that you also need to support yourself with access to a professional team who can provide specialist help. AA: How can we as a global society remove the stigma attached to abuse and support survivors? FE: Education and increasing awareness can help our global society better understand how to support survivors. Instead of passing judgment, or blaming them, our global society needs to focus on understanding survivors and learning how to best support them. We have to see them as someone who has survived rather than a victim and place emphasis on their strengths. Last but not least, to break the stigma around abuse, change has to start within ourselves and our own circles. It is only then, that we truly affect change in attitudes towards violence and abuse in our in our society as a whole. AA: What advice would you give to prospective volunteers and OMID angels wanting to work with OMID in Tehran? FE: Most of the people who visit the center as OMID Angels are from overseas and generally quite proficient in the English language. Getting involved with OMID Angels is actually something the girls enjoy quite greatly and engage in quite well. Many of the girls are interested in improving their English language skills which is something OMID Angels can get involved in. I also think it would be most helpful for the girls if OMID Angels can create set goals during their time depending on the project and for each project to cater to the needs and interests of the girls in various categories, in line with OMID’s mission to empower women and girls in Iran. For example, it could be as simple as improving English language skills beyond our own classes at OMID. These types of project-based initiatives by OMID Angels could then would provide the girls with an opportunity to work with the OMID Angel as ambassadors of OMID, giving them a sense of empowerment as well as raise awareness about OMID’s work. Our girls are the best ambassadors for OMID to raise awareness as they truly instill OMID’s values and mission of empowering women and girls in Iran. If the volunteers and OMID Angels come into OMID with a set goal and desired outcome, and for the results to be presented after the project. We could then create surveys and brainstorm with the girls at the end of each project to better determine the success and levels of interest for future collaborations with volunteers and OMID Angels. AA: What is the one thing you want our readers to know about you? FE: My role at OMID isn’t a job. It is an important part of my life. I share the same values and goals as OMID and I am committed to its mission to empower marginalized women and girls personally. OMID has truly helped me in my own personal development. The foundation brings to life the process of self-empowerment for me personally on a daily basis. Each day that I spend working at OMID, I feel that I am growing, changing for the better. I don’t feel that I am not the same person I was six years ago. I want everyone to know that I owe my personal development, knowledge, and growth to OMID. OMID environment, my colleagues, the girls we support and the foundation’s mission has resulted in my own growth and development and sense of fulfillment. I am forever grateful to OMID for this gift and everything I do here in this foundation, I am and will continue to do with utmost love. Thank you so much for your time and input and all you do for OMID and women in Iran. Finally, is there anything else you would like to add? Thank you. I think we have covered it all. I just want to say thank you to OMID for giving me this opportunity to be part of this great mission and hope for even more success in empowering women and girls.