Sodabeh Gashtasebi, Senior Advisor on Welfare
Sodabeh is also the Arts & Crafts Workshop Facilitator, and Facilitator of the new LBTQ+ Workshop
Sodabeh qualified as a welfare advisor after completing courses in Advice & Guidance, and Health and Social Care for Adults. She became an advisor with MEWSo in 2014.
Her work is explaining and helping women navigate their way through the mass of confusing and complicated benefits available to them. Many MEWSo clients do not understand how the system works, what they are entitled to, how to fill out the numerous forms, or simply the kind of language that is used on these forms, which often mystifies many native English speakers.
She helps women tackle the many different benefits they can apply for, such as universal credit and housing benefit, but also welfare issues that apply to schools, GP services, council tax, grants and loans and PIP (personal independent payments) specific to disabled people.
Unusually, while Sodabeh's main role is as a welfare advisor, she was once a professional artist. For 15 years she exhibited her paintings in various local galleries and her sculptures of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and William Morris could be found in gift shops at the Natural History Museum, Oxford University Museum and the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum). Eventually, gravitating towards teaching, she took a Diploma in Art and Design to become a qualified teacher of art and crafts.
Discovering through her welfare work how many of MEWSo's clients find it difficult to express themselves, she began to run the Art and Crafts workshops, a crucial way to help some women open up, unlock their love of art, and learn new skills.
Her welfare work has also come to include looking after women who identify as part of the LBTQ+ community, who may experience abuse, discrimination and exclusion or who may feel at risk of harm if they were to come out. As a result MEWSo now campaigns on behalf of LBTQ+ women and is creating new workshops where they can share their stories, express their views and gain self-confidence.
If you need advice about a welfare issue, are interested in learning to create your own art and crafts, or you need help as a member of the LBTQ+ community, call Sodabeh on 07579 801 365 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Celebrate Pride when the LGBTQ+ community invites everyone to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which happened in New York at the end of June 1969. It sparked a world-wide movement for recognition and started the fightback against homophobic abuse and discrimination. More importantly, Pride is a chance to celebrate and recognise the massive impact LGBTQ+ people have had all over the world, historically and present day. View the many different categories in which UK's LGBTQ+ people are making headway in 2020.
This year, because of the pandemic, the usual Pride parade in London has been cancelled but the plan is for the parade to go ahead in June 2021.
Below: Some of the children's artwork and an example of craftwork by MEWSo clients.
Zahra Habri, Senior Advisor on Domestic Abuse
Zahra has worked for MEWSo as a senior advisor for five years after being an active volunteer.
When she first decided to make advice her career, she took a Diploma in Health and Social Care. It soon became clear to her that she did not want to do a degree in social work and become a social worker, so instead she successfully completed her Advice and Guidance degree with the Open University.
“Later I was working for a company providing short education courses for vulnerable people, helping them find jobs, when I discovered MEWSo,” she said. She was introduced to Halaleh, MEWSo’s Executive Director, who persuaded her to become a volunteer advisor. “That’s when I decided this is the kind of work I really want to do,” said Zahra.
A mother of two, and having experienced domestic abuse herself in the past, Zahra found advising women going through the same thing she had was a more natural fit for her.
“At the moment, I am looking after 15 women who have been through or are currently experiencing domestic abuse. Most of them I have helped and I'm just checking on them once or twice a week to make sure they are still OK. But five of these women I am in very regular contact with, sometimes everyday, trying to help them through their situation.
She said: “Speaking up about domestic violence and mental health are still taboo in our community. We need to encourage women to talk about their problem. In order to get their trust we make sure they understand that their information will only be shared with relevant members of our team and agencies there to help, such as a solicitor, and no one else. What has happened to many of the women we help is absolutely heartbreaking.”
Controlled , Abused, Thrown Out
A woman was thrown out of the house with her four children after years of suffering under her controlling husband.
For more than a decade she was controlled by him. She wasn’t allowed to see friends or family. She wasn’t allowed a bank account. He kept all the children’s benefit money and he decided how much and when she could have money for the house, the children and herself. The house had to be spotless all the time, he wanted his dinner always ready on time, he wanted no noise out of the children. When he eventually took up with another woman, he threw his wife out.
After sleeping on an old friend’s floor for two nights, she contacted MEWSo, and Zahra was there to help. She found her emergency accommodation. When the children found it too far to get to school she reapplied to have her placed closer. She helped her apply for permanent accommodation, which was accepted.
When she became sick, Zahra spoke to the GP on her behalf. She found her a therapist after advising her to get psychological help. Having only a small amount of English, Zahra would translate for her whenever she needed to explain herself.
Lied to, Threatened, New Born Taken From Her
Another woman was brought over to England on a visitors visa on the promise of marriage, only to become a virtual sex slave to a man already married. He stopped her returning home when her visa ran out so, not speaking any English, she became totally dependent on him for everything.
When he eventually left his wife and married her in a mosque, (the marriage is not recognised as legal in Britain) his ex-wife continually threatened to get her deported. She contacted MEWSo for help but refused to talk about anything other than the risk of deportation, even though Zahra suspected there was much more to her story.
Zahra helped her with her residency applications and kept in touch with her when she attended MEWSo activities. When she became pregnant her husband would beat her, pushing and punching her in the stomach. Again she kept quiet.
Depressed and scared when she went to hospital to have the baby, her husband convinced the doctors and social worker that she had tried to commit suicide and threatened to kill the baby. He took the baby home alone and denied her access without supervision. That’s when she finally opened up and told Zahra everything that had been going on.
Zahra managed to find her a refuge and arranged for her to get food deliveries. She worked with the MEWSo solicitor to try and get her her baby back only to be told by social workers that they will have to go to court to sort out custody - of a baby who was barely two months old!
Every week, Zahra deals with women who find themselves trapped in harmful and dangerous situations. Women who for whatever reason are unable to find the help they need within mainstream services.
That is why MEWSo offers dedicated support services to vulnerable women unsure of where or how to get the kind of help they need.
If you are being abused, please call Zahra on 07421 145 528 or email: email@example.com. If you think you are in imminent danger, please leave immediately and call the police on 999.
*All the details above have been altered to protect the women's privacy and keep them safe.
*Look out for more staff biographies to come ...
If you would like more information about our campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating or look at our vacancy page for volunteering options.