Mar 07 , 2018

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An Interview With Zaharah Ariff, Founding Member of Casa Raudha | International Women's Day

Written by Junru Tan.

Aladdin Street Singapore is proud to be celebrating International Women’s Day 2018. We have interviewed a series of inspiring women asking them how they have pushed forward for a change.

Kickstarting our March campaign is none other than Zaharah Ariff, the Founding Member and Manager of Casa Raudha Women Home, a crisis shelter that provides temporary refuge and new beginnings for women and their children who were victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Tell us how Casa Raudha was formed and how did you become part of it?

I started off as a School Counsellor. My dealings with children who came from the less fortunate families made me realized that they were often sandwiched in between their family problems and education. Unfortunately, the latter is often compromised, thus affecting their future.

After three years with the school, I moved on to become a marriage counsellor, providing counselling to couples to who are faced with marital conflicts. It was then that I was made aware of the domestic violence that the women faced.

Domestic violence was not a topic that was openly discussed then, unlike now. The women that confided in me were afraid to share about what happens behind closed door and didn’t want to air their dirty laundry. Furthermore, they were afraid of what might happen to them and their children if they were to leave home. Where will they go and seek shelter? They were afraid to end up on the street and these were some of the concerns that these women had back then.

I realized that these women needed more than just counselling. They needed to be given the assurance that they and their children will not end up on the street if they choose to move out from the abusive environment. They need to know that there is a safe and ready place that could accept and protect them from the abusive hands of the perpetrator.

That was how Casa Raudha Women Home was formed.

What are some examples of how Casa Raudha empowers women?

We are constantly looking into alternative ways to empower women. Our weekly empowerment programmes provide soft social skills, such as communication, negotiation skills, parenting, managing their finance etc. This helps the women and their children to manage the challenges that they are facing. Counselling services are provided in the shelter to help them overcome the trauma and in time, empower these women to be economically active again.

We also create opportunities for them to be given the experience of running their own small business during the festive seasons by selling cookies. Some of them even experienced running a booth selling the produce from our gardens. The exposure given to them is not just purely for the monetary earnings but most importantly, also acquiring skills and knowledge in business that they can continue to use and have, even after they leave the shelter. It helps them to rebuild their self-confidence.

Another avenue is the Casa Raudha Gives Back Project, where the women were given the opportunity to do something good for others. This initiative started in 2016 allows the women to return kindness with kindness. When the table is turned and they became the giver rather than the receiver, it helps to increase their sense of self-worth. It’s a way for the women to give back to the Community, perhaps not in the monetary sense but through other means. For example, the women did a patchwork using upcycle carpets and presented it as a gift to the Rohingya refuges children in Kuala Lumpur.

When they are involved in this project, it became a reminder to them and everyone involved of the blessings that we have and how small the challenges that we face compared to others in different parts of the world. It somewhat gives hope that things will get better.

Do you have any advice for women who are currently facing domestic violence?

Seek help. Do not allow yourself to be perpetually trapped in the cycle of violence. Acknowledge the problems and find solutions. Abuse in any form is not normal and is not to be tolerated. Make peace with yourself. Make time to be alone and enjoy the moment.

How did the victims of domestic violence overcome the challenges faced?

Most of the victims will find the challenges easier to handle when he/she receives full moral and emotional support from the family, friends. Some find strength in wanting to end the violence for the sake of their children. In Casa Raudha, sharing of victim’s journey is part of the therapy. Hearing from the survivors on how they overcome the challenges gives hope and motivation to other victims.

How can we increase the awareness of domestic violence among the community?

Unfortunately, domestic violence is still perceived as a “private” matter by some of the victims, fearing shame and being blamed by their family and friends may have stopped them from seeking help.

It is important for the Community to understand what domestic violence is all about. While some may think that it is a private and family issues, the impact it has on the victims and the possible consequences may impose on the society and can be damaging in a long run.

Recognizing symptoms on a child, friends or colleague may help to save a life or at the very least, provide the opportunity for the victims to speak up.

An awareness campaign can be done through casual engagement, seminars, workshops etc. The involvement of corporates through their Corporate Social Responsibility, Schools using the platform of the Value-In-Action (VIA) and religious bodies to their congregations can help in spreading awareness to the Community at large.

As a founding member of Casa Raudha, what keeps you going when facing challenges within the organisation?

I always come back to the basic reason and purpose of setting up this shelter i.e. to help the women and their children who are the victims of domestic violence.

Are there any values you hold on to when pulling through difficult times?

I always believe that things happen for a reason and I believe in the blessings from the Almighty. I must do my best to overcome any challenges and leave the rest to the Almighty.

Who inspires you?

My late mum. She was a strong lady! She taught us the value of putting the family first and because of what she taught us, my family remains united even after she has long passed on.

Can you describe yourself in three words?

I am quite a flexible person, being able to adjust and adapt to challenging and unpredictable circumstances – be it for work or personal life.

I have a strong sense of logic and I used that a lot.

I always remind myself to have compassion in dealings with others; be it with my family, friends and colleagues, people that I served in Casa Raudha and to those that I may have differences in opinion.

In the light of International Women’s Day, do you have any last words to all woman?

I’m not a feminist but I believe the strength of women is more superior. Be firm yet gently and use the strength to wipe away the tears of another.

To celebrate the annual event, Aladdin Street Singapore pledge to donate a portion our March sales proceeds to Casa Raudha. Shop for a cause today.

You can play a part in helping drive better outcomes for women too! Whether you’re standing up against discrimination or helping a fellow female friend, the collective actions make International Women’s Day a success!


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