Dubai: As countries across the world debate the impact of the pandemic on the day-to-day lives of women, it’s not all about businesses slowdowns, job cuts or coping with income losses. As some women in the UAE will tell you, it’s also about juggling multiple roles amid increasing demands placed on them as workhorses, mothers and caregivers. But who better than such women to demonstrate how resilience can win the day, and how adversities can turn into opportunities. A look at some survival ‘she’crets amid COVID-19 times:
A creative’s new calling
Lara Matossian, Founder, SciFest Dubai and freelance performer, Armenian, 42
Dubai-based Lara Matassion wears many hats. “I story-tell, mime, act and create shows. I do this in schools, malls and at events of varying scales. I am also the founder and CEO of SciFest Dubai,” says the 42 year old creativem, who is also a well-known public speaker and trainer who works with both children and adults.
But as she candidly points out, “There was a pause in activities in all the areas I work in. We’ve been celebrating science through the arts since 2014 and in the 2020 edition of the annual festival, we took content into schools in January with workshops, talks, plays, storytelling sessions, stargazing and more. But now, the only way to stay engaged is to take the content online.”
She says since the COVID-19 outbreak, she has been working on an online storytelling platform. “Though it doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction, it’s exciting for me. I can now structure the day the way I want it to be. I can delve into the endless world of stories. I can create for long hours without distraction. I am free to take as long as I need to learn something new. I can reach a wider audience,” she says.
“Of course, it is balanced with the understanding that since all activities came to a stop, there has been no income, so I read with hope about the National Creative Relief Programme and I applied. It is a much needed helping hand for all of us creatives who have lost our means of making an income since March.”
Reflections of a recruiter
Deeksha Gandotra, Managing Director, Versatile Consultancy, Indian, 28
As a recruiter, Deeksha Gandotra says the COVID-19 scenario has been a testing time for the entire world, with everyone trying their best to stay afloat.
“It’s a no brainer recruitment has also been heavily affected. Many people have lost their jobs. As a global recruitment platform, we recruit for all sectors. Our survival came from recruiting for the healthcare sector in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. We are optimistic things will bounce back and the job market will open up again very soon,” she says.
She said, “I am beginning to think working from home saves a lot of expenses which we didn’t realise earlier. We have expanded our reach to more countries through video conferencing platforms which I am sure would add more value to our business. We also realised in our line of business that team productivity is much higher in the work-from-home environment.”
According to her, “Single working women who were self-supporting and doing phenomenally well in different spheres of life have also not been spared by the pandemic. They were supporting themselves, their families and had achieved a lot in all spheres of life. Some of them are now home bound now.” But with businesses resuming work, things should start looking up.
She says personally, she has found time to pursue her passions: astrology, astronomy and baking. “This has given me a lot of satisfaction. I have learned to enjoy the small things in life which did not matter before all this happened. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Women have always been pillars of strength for the society which has been proven over centuries. I am sure we will see this through as well.”
In love with love, life
Theresa P Du Toit, International Destination Wedding Celebrant, South African, 66
For this Dubai-based destination wedding celebrant, who is in love with love and life, the ban on weddings in March by the UAE authorities as a precautionary measure against COVID-19 came as a huge blow. As the South African expat says, “The wedding season came to abrupt end and so did my income.”
But she says she had a choice: “I could either buy into the fear-mongering and come down a spiral or change my mind-set and take control of my life again.”
Exercising the second choice was easy for someone like her. “I began to look at the situation as an opportunity for endless possibilities. I had nothing to lose. And you know what, that is what is paying off now.”
She says she is currently setting up an online dropshipping store. “The idea is to sells fabulous wedding dresses to suit all budgets. This dovetails perfectly with my wedding celebrancy business.
“I’ve come to love the unknown because it has many wonderful surprises. The lockdown has actually been good to me as I see it as a chance to explore my inner me and endless possibilities,” she adds.
A two-time widow, she says she has managed to work through her devastating loss and trauma, and is now “totally healed, restored and loving life”. In fact, it was the loss of her two husbands that gave birth to the wedding celebrant in her.
Prepping for a post-pandemic future
Raya Bidshahri, Founder/CEO, Awecademy, author and futurist, Iranian, 25
Raya Bidshahri is used to a high level of success. As a gifted child, the Dubai-based prodigy was identified with “existential intelligence” and was way ahead of her years. Described as a techno-optimist, popular science communicator and an advocate of critical thinking, the 25-year-old Iranian’s perspective on the pandemic is showing many people the way.
“While times like this can be difficult, personally, as an entrepreneur, I believe that they also allow me to build resilience, agility and adaptability. It’s important to identify what the new needs of the world are during such unprecedented times, and look towards fulfilling them,” says Bidhsahri who runs a futuristic online learning platform Aweacademy.
“At my organisation, we’re actively looking at how we can help prepare young minds for a post-pandemic world through education. We’re pivoting all of our educational programmes and summer camps to be online while still interactive, inspiring and social. We’re focusing our curriculum on areas such as the remote workforce, systems thinking, civic responsibility, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and other areas that can help young minds thrive during a time of accelerating change,” she says.
According to her, different organisations and people will need to pivot and adapt in different ways. “Ultimately, I believe that this is proof that we always need to stay adaptable and ready to embrace uncertainty. After all, we live in a world where the only constant is change,” she adds.
Who says toddlers can’t learn remotely?
Savvy Kisani, nursery chain proprietor, artist and designer, Indian, 56
This Indian expat runs a chain of nurseries in Dubai, but while she waits for their temporary closure in the wake of the pandemic to be lifted, she is already on to new things. For one, Savvy Kisani is introducing the concept of distance learning to toddlers. “The future belongs to e-learning and the earlier, we begin, the better. It has been a very encouraging start,” she says.
An artist and designer who also runs a studio, Kisani is using the pause time to make reusable masks with her autistic son. “I decided to come out with these DIY masks which are fun to wear and environmentally sustainable. My son Krishna is good at art and craft and he is thoroughly enjoying our new collaboration. His inputs have been very valuable. Working with him on a project like this gives me immense satisfaction.”
But Kisani says it’s not easy to juggle the many tasks at hand. “On the one hand, I have to brainstorm to keep the business alive and manage the staff. It is not easy during these COVID-19 times. On the other, with everyone operating from home, you are constantly catering to a string of demands. It can get exhausting. But keeping calm and adopting a holistic approach helps. One just needs to find ways to balance things out –whether it is through meditation or prayer,” she adds.