What I Know About... Helping Others
I never actually set out to pursue a career in the charity sector. Coming from a traditional Iranian family, education and having a profession are hugely important, so I duly pursued a career in accountancy, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Being only 23, my qualification alone was seen as a massive achievement, and it was certainly an interesting role. But it was never quite enough. I was so outgoing. I wanted more creative input into my role, whatever that was. Luckily, I sort of stumbled into the charity sector and I never looked back.
“To begin with, I became Ambassador to Pratham, India’s largest educational NGO reaching over 33 million under-privileged children. I loved working with the children and applying my business background to help steer the charity. In my next role, with an incredibly ambitious art project called Elephant Parade London 2010, I found myself working with artists and fashion designers for the first time and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. So START which applies art to heal and educate children in the poorest areas of the Middle East, seemed the perfect combination of the things that I loved.
“My initial meeting with the founders in September 2010 was insightful and their enthusiasm and commitment towards serving the needs of disadvantaged children through art was inspiring. It’s such a wonderful concept. It educates and empowers under-privileged children by giving them a voice through the simple expression of art - a form of communication which breaks down barriers of language, culture, age and gender. START also encourages artists and corporations to become volunteers in the fields of humanitarian aid and education by helping in the workshops. The work we do has demonstrated the generosity and compassion of people in the community and it’s been wonderful to see so many artists, companies and individuals dedicate time and resources to support our mission. “Ramadan naturally creates empathy for those who are less fortunate, encouraging actions of generosity and charity, so recently, we’ve received a huge number of requests from people wanting to volunteer in our projects in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and the UAE. Their invaluable contribution is integral to our success and the children welcome the volunteers and international artists with passion and respect. It’s lovely to see how both sides benefit and the bond between an artist and a child can be truly special.
“The biggest thing we give the children is confidence. They develop the ability to think differently and creatively about life. It’s not about trying to make them artists but about helping them to integrate and see the world around them differently.
“Some of the children we work with face severe mental and physical disabilities. Some come from very sad backgrounds stained with war and conflict. In the UAE, START hosts workshops for children with special needs including autism and Down’s syndrome. The programme helps augment their critical thinking, problem solving and cognitive development. Our scholarships give motivated and talented children the opportunity to study higher education in the arts, as well as providing tangible role models the other children can look up to.
“At the START Royal Gala dinner at Art Dubai this year, Narmeen, a young refugee who lives in Jordan, stood up and read out her speech after receiving a scholarship award. Her speech touched everyone in that room. It was a wonderful feeling, knowing we have enabled her to follow her dream to become an architect and help shape the future skyline of Jordan.
“I am very lucky to love my role as much as I do. Visiting places like refugee camps and slums does impact on you and it can be hard to stay optimistic. But it also grounds you. On days when you feel a bit miserable, it really puts things in perspective. Despite their difficulties, you never see the children we work with sitting feeling sorry for themselves. They never feel like giving up, so neither do I.“Working with such a wonderful team, hopeful and courageous children and creative artists only drives my motivation to achieve more. We have become a family and that makes me really proud.”