Women often find themselves juggling multiple roles simultaneously throughout their lives. In addition to their careers, they are expected to fulfill many other responsibilities and face the constant scrutiny, judgment, and criticism that come with it. Any shortcomings in any of these roles are squarely blamed on their supposed preoccupation with other obligations.
However, it is very rare to find ordinary women hailed for doing their jobs under trying circumstances both at home and work in spite of the fact that more and more organisations are now taking the welfare of their employees quite seriously.
They call her 'Super Sohaila'
Sohaila Mohamed Ahmed Nasr (45) is a mother of three who works as a Senior Executive handling Government Relations at Eros Group. Despite facing numerous challenges in her life, she has shown remarkable resilience and determination behind her calm demeanour. Her eldest son, Malek (15), was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of three. This presented her with unique responsibilities and demands, requiring her to provide specialised care and support for Malek.
Sohaila also experienced a terrible accident while 8-months pregnant with her second child, Mohammed. Despite the physical and emotional hardships resulting from the accident, she managed to maintain an indomitable spirit. Another blow was her father's death, and them mother's illness.
While raising her children from their home in Sharjah, Sohaila displayed outstanding dedication to her professional duties at Eros House in Al Barsha, Dubai. Her commitment to work had not gone unnoticed. Sohaila's story was found inspirational when Eros bagged Taqdeer Award for ensuring exceptional working standards for their employees. Her colleagues see her as a Superwoman who endured a lot.
Landing in UAE
Born to an Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father, she arrived in the UAE 40 years ago, along with her brother and two sisters. Her earliest memory of the UAE is about seeing some ‘big bridges’ on the way home from the airport. The children were jumping about and laughing happily with excitement in the car. “Because we never had seen such big bridges in Egypt,” Sohaila says with a smile.
“I was only five years old then. So practically my whole life has been spent here in the UAE,” she said. Sohaila has only vague memories of childhood in Egypt even though she went to a nursery school there.
Sohaila’s father Mohamed Ahmed Nasr was working at Al Habtoor Motors at that time. The family settled down in Sharjah. It was not a densely populated area as it is now, she remembers. “It was empty, like a desert. There was a lot of space in between houses,” she said.
“I studied in Al Israa school, in Sharjah’s Bu Tina area. There were only 3 or 4 buildings in that area at that time. We walked to the school because it was close to our home. We used to play in the sandy area while going to school and coming back,” Sohaila said.
Home in the UAE
Sohaila is completely at home in the UAE. “I hold an Egyptian passport. Before that, I had a Palestinian one. I go to Egypt for one week or ten days on vacation, but I’d come back more happy, because this is my country,” she smiles.
“I’ve lived my entire life here. I’ve got my education here. Got married here. Had kids here. I am working here. I have friends here,” she said.
If you see him now, you can’t make out that he is autistic. I mean from the way he talks and all - people will know the difference only if I tell them. He can now take care of his stuff.
“I can’t imagine living in another country. People from all over the world wish to come and live in Dubai. They feel safe. In another country, I don’t think I can leave three kids in the flat and feel secure. The environment outside the home also matters - like how the kids are treating their parents. I want my kids to grow up respecting the elders and the family,” Sohaila is clear on why she loves it here.
After high school, Sohaila pursued law and graduated from Al Mansoura University, Egypt in 2002. However, she had become disillusioned with the legal profession by that time.
After studies, she came back to UAE and started looking for a job. She worked in another firm for one year and then joined Eros.
“At Eros, I worked as a coordinator at the service centre for around 8 years. But when I had an accident and had to take care of the kids, it became difficult. The company wanted to help me and I was transferred to HR,” she said.
She had a way with children, but it was not easy juggling roles, she remembers.
“In the early years, we had a babysitter to care for my child while I was away. I used to make calls from the office to ensure everything is okay. It was essential for me to strike a balance between my job and the well-being of my children,” she said.
Proud mum, above all
Sohaila is proud of the progress Malek has made.
“If you see him now, you can’t make out that he is autistic. I mean from the way he talks and all - people will know the difference only if I tell them. He can now take care of his stuff. I still give him food to make sure he gets everything in the right quantity. That is all,” she said.
I’ve lived my entire life here. I’ve got my education here. Got married here. Had kids here. I am working here. I have friends here
But it was not easy. They consulted specialists, visited centers, and sought the support of dedicated teachers. Fortunately, there were special schools available even at that time. They enrolled Malek in a newly opened school where he studied for two to three years. And there was a cost involved - personally, professionally, and economically. The support of her organisation was crucial.
“When Malek was diagnosed with autism, I was completely shocked and shattered. We had no idea what it meant because it was not a widely known condition 10-12 years ago. I kept asking myself, 'How can my child be autistic? What does it mean?' I had so many questions, but I started reading and learning more about it. I knew it wouldn't be easy to manage, but my mind said I could teach him how to deal with it,” she said.
Her patience and tireless efforts have borne fruit.
“He's learned a lot and now knows how to treat people. And he enjoys talking to people who treat him well. However, he can still have trouble expressing himself. But that's just a part of his autism," Sohaila said.
Kassim Talib, Government Relations Manager at Eros Group, who is also Sohaila’s boss, agrees.
“I've noticed a big difference between what he was once and what he is now. This is all because of how well Sohaila managed it, with the support of our owner. The fees [of these institutions] are very high, over Dh 30,000 a year,” Kassim said.
“Despite the tragedies she had, you will find her smiling in the morning and evening, and she has worked hard on improving herself,” said Kassim.
Special, not different
What is her advice to families with autistic children? Sohaila feels it is important that families who face such problems should come forward and seek help.
"Let them have a happy, normal life. Don't treat him differently." This was the first piece of advice she received from his doctor. And she followed it ever since.
“If his siblings are reprimanded for doing something wrong, he should be too. But if he does something good, we should appreciate him. This is what I have been doing and it has been quite successful,” Sohaila says.
And she is quite happy that everything has turned out the way it is.
“When I see all three of them taking care of each other, it sometimes makes me emotional. I look at them and suddenly realise they have grown taller than me. I watch them playing with each other, going out together, and it's amazing. When I see them all together, happy and caring for each other, it makes me very happy,” Sohaila said.
Read on: How Dubai changed these lives
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This is the sixth of a seven-part series highlighting how Dubai has changed the lives of citizens and expatriates. These are all employees of companies that won Taqdeer Award.