‘Some battles are easier to fight, and some are harder. Over the years, you learn you can’t win them all.’
Aasya Dadabhoy was one of the first few people we met on our trips to Singapore before moving here from the United Kingdom (UK). My son, then 3 years of age, took an instant liking to her. Later I learnt she has been a mentor, tutor and counsellor for children with learning difficulties and psychological difficulties, as well as a support system for individuals with backgrounds that can give anyone a reality check.
When we ask Aasya about some of the cases she has worked with, she admits getting goose bumps talking about them. “After a few weeks of volunteering, they gave me a 12-year-old boy who suffered from really low self-esteem, such that he would sit next to me and I wouldn’t be able to hear his voice when he read or spoke. After 6 months working with him on a 1-to-1 basis 3 times a week, his confidence had grown so much so that he became the conductor for an Indonesian Orchestra; after which the social worker started taking me seriously!”
Born and raised in Karachi, Aasya moved to UK in 1988 as a newlywed at the age of 20. The culture shock she received deterred her from plans for further education, and soon after, she had her first born, Hina, followed by Maria a few years later. Hina has a Masters in Psychology and is a Research Assistant at the Anna Freud Centre in UK, and Maria is studying Medicine at King’s College London, UK.
With her first priority being her daughters’ key developmental stages, Aasya got busy raising her family. Once her daughters started schooling, she volunteered at an estate school, eventually becoming a paid staff, delivering literacy programs for small groups of students, and running 1-to-1 sessions with children with learning disabilities. As she spent more time working with children from underprivileged backgrounds, her passion for it grew.
When FUCHSIA asked Aasya about the challenges she faced, she replied, “When a child comes to you, you don’t know where to begin … but you get so much motivation from the rewarding moments, when you take on such immense challenges and see results.” With a big smile on her face, she reminisces the joy she felt when an 11-year-old girl finally spoke to her after 7 thirty-minute sessions of just sitting and staring.
The appreciation and encouragement she received from peers, colleagues and bosses made the challenges even more worth her while. “They kept sending me for all these courses on speech and language, autism and literacy strategies and different workshops being introduced by the government. The more I learnt, the more exciting and rewarding the work became, and I never looked back!”
Aasya worked predominantly in mainstream schools, with children who bordered on autism, had low self-confidence, low self-esteem or were lagging behind their same-age peers in reading and language skills. Her objective was to instil in them a confidence and develop them to the age-appropriate levels they should be at. While as a professional, she wanted to help every single child, she soon learnt to set realistic goals. One of the toughest lessons she learnt was to not let the work become about her; it had to be about the needs of the child, and having to work within what is available, and at the child’s pace.
After 10 years of working in UK, Aasya moved to Singapore with her husband and 16- and 11-year-old daughters in 2005. Knowing she had to keep herself occupied to get over the trials and tribulations of settling in a new place, Aasya took on voluntary work as a mentor and tutor to children in Darul Mawa, a home for Singaporean Muslim orphans, as she pursued a Diploma in Counselling. In 2010, she joined Pertapis Centre for Women and Girls (PCWG) as a volunteer counsellor/support worker.
One day, a 7-year-old child was brought in to Darul Mawa by his mother who was in her final stages of cancer. She passed away soon after. Having gone through so much at a tender age, this boy showed no empathy and was extremely disengaged. Unable to decipher his drawings in art therapy sessions, Aasya discovered from a psychologist that he was becoming attached to her, and beginning to relate to her as a mother figure.
“My mother suffered a fall and was unwell so I had to travel back home; I told this boy about it. For somebody who was so disconnected, he showed signs of concern and asked loads of questions as to how my mother is, who is looking after her, who will take care of her when I return? This was a milestone and everyone was shocked that this boy was showing emotion which he had suppressed for so long.”