Black History Month 2023: A blog on the theme of Saluting Our Sisters by Support Worker at Hopewell House, Aneela Shad

For Black History Month 2023, Aneela Shad who is a Mental Health Support Worker at Together's Hopewell House Accommodation Service shares a blog on the theme of Saluting Our Sisters. Aneela shares her own lived experience as a woman of colour describing challenges and struggles she has faced and the benefit she has taken from being inspired by other women and how she came to work in mental health support.

Black History Month 2023: A blog on the theme of Saluting Our Sisters by Support Worker at Hopewell House, Aneela Shad

I am Aneela

I am Aneela, a woman of colour.

I was born in Lahore Pakistan in 1969, spent my early childhood in the alleys of poor suburban Lahore but had plenty of freedom to play. At 8, I moved to Saudi Arabia and stayed there until I was 16. During this time I experienced a completely different controlled culture. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise in terms of my education.

As an 8 year old child I knew nothing about the existence of the English language and attended a class where students were already reading English books. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do.

Within few months I was able to read and write in English and did this whilst also helping my mother look after her two little babies. I came 2nd in annual examinations surprising everyone.

In July 1995, after the completion of my master’s degree in Philosophy from Punjab University, I moved to Northern England from Pakistan on a spouse visa.  Although I could read and write English, I could not speak it. Again, I saw this move as a blessing, as this new culture and environment offered me new horizons to explore.  But it was difficult to take up those opportunities as a married woman.

On one hand I had to make my in-laws happy by running a 4 bedroom house with demanding and emotionally charged people living in it and on the other hand I had a need to satisfy my cravings for learning to adjust to this new environment.

So I set myself targets: To learn Spoken English, to learn to drive and to learn maths and computer skills. I passed my GCSE English with A* by July 1996 and passed my driving test first time in October 1996 all whilst I was 8 months pregnant. I completed a computer skills course in 1998 and GCSE Maths later whilst looking after my two little babies. I faced huge challenges by my in laws who were not interested in my learning. I suffered emotional abuse along the way but I would let nothing stop me.

My move to London in 2001 was just another step in that journey of curiosity – what next?  Being part of a big multicultural city opened up my heart to all different types of cultures and languages and I started enjoying and celebrating what it offered.  In 2011, I become part of a charity educational organisation in London which was running personal development workshops.  It was mainly lead by women from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and languages which proved to be a very nourishing experience for me as a spiritual being.

That exposure also awakened something deeper in me leading me to go to Churches, Mosques, Temples and other spiritual/ non – spiritual workshops to be part of the wider community.

I met amazing people and women of colour along the way. Some I only met once but that connection was ever lasting – that one dance, where I found myself dancing with a woman of colour, whose name or culture I didn’t know and never asked but being present together in that moment, holding hands, in a Church building with high ceilings – we let our humming voices echo – it was an extraordinary experience. That woman of colour who was leading a workshop which I was attending – facilitated an environment of unconditional positive regard and it was where I discovered the power of inner healing through my own tears – an emotionally liberating experience!

After my divorce in 2017, I was put in a situation where I had to find work to pay my bills. I had no idea how I was going to do that but I knew I would find a way and I did despite some of my ongoing health conditions. I also attended counselling courses and personal therapy to support my own mental health and that of my daughters along the way.

My first job was at McDonald’s, then a museum in Central London and finally I came to Together after realising my own potential, personal values and skills and how I can use them to support people with mental health issues. Together provided me with a platform to shine with my full potential with inquisitiveness to explore more.

Although it wasn’t easy at first and I faced some challenges due to colour of my skin. Two of the residents refused to work with me saying I reminded them of an Asian girl who was not nice to them. I felt I was being judged but I stayed patient and my heart remained open. One resident left a few months later and the other developed a trustworthy relationship with me despite the fears she had.

Who inspired me?

My mother is definitely among them. She was not well educated but was a leader and still lives an independent life at age 77.

For years Oprah Winfrey has been my inspiration. Whenever I read her life story, where she was and where she is now, it gives me the strength to keep going and never give up.

Life is full of experiences – good and bad! What kept me going was my interpretation to those experiences and choosing to live my life with a purpose, love for human beings and for nature and to never compromise on my own set of values no matter what!!

My love for the English language and learning started during that time in Saudi Arabia and that journey has never stopped. I am still fascinated by languages and often try to learn new ones. At present, I can read and write in English, Punjabi, Arabic and Urdu and am learning Turkish.

For me colour is beauty. The world would’ve been very boring if we women were all born in one colour. Nature is colourful and so are we and that’s what I celebrate with you!

I am Aneela Shad, a mental health support worker at Hopewell House in Guilford.