Dr Payal Shewani: A parent’s virtual friend

As an early childhood educator and inspirational speaker, Dr Payal Shewani believes that mastering the small tasks will lead to fast growth. Apart from managing her family of four, the 47-year-old spends more than eight hours every day teaching small kids online. For free.

Even as a college student at SIES College Mumbai, Payal would enjoy spending her spare time tutoring children in her neighbourhood. "I used to enjoy teaching the kids," she remembers. Then 16 years ago, she arrived in Abu Dhabi to join her husband who was employed in the emirate and got a job as a teacher in a private school. However, she had to quit a few years later after a family member took ill and required her care.

"I was very disturbed and was feeling very low and down when I took that career break," she recalls. "I felt my life was meaningless."

It was a morale boost from her son Sahil that led her to the path of online teaching. "He said mom, the world needs to see your calibre," she recalls, "and that ignited the spark in me."

While juggling chores at home, Payal pursued her Master’s in educational specialisation then went on to earn a Doctorate in Education Specialisation
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Apart from the pep talk, Sahil also taught her how to use gadgets and the nuances of online learning.

Keen to master it, Payal went on to get her Diploma in Montessori training, before taking online courses in student safety, child psychology, pedagogy, hybrid learning and coding.

While juggling chores at home, she also pursued her Master’s in educational specialisation then went on to earn a Doctorate in Education Specialisation from Sorbonne University.

Soon she was giving free sessions for children and formed a group wherein monthly activities for kids were tasked, while mothers were trained to deal with parenting and behaviour issues. She also invited them home for extracurricular activities, parenting seminars, behaviour assessment and more.

In 2016, Payal started her first virtual Master Academy on YouTube, offering training sessions and webinars to parents along with educational resources for students. Soon, they became popular and thanks to word of mouth, her skills reached out to more than 200 students.

It did not take long for awards to start coming her way, including the Woman of the Future 2019 award from the India-based GDB group, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam National Award in 2020, Outstanding Teacher award and the most recent International Woman Achiever Award in 2021.

Payal was also selected as one of the ‘most inspiring people on earth’ by the Golden Book of Earth. She is a permanent member of Early Childhood Association, a charity based in India that promotes the rights of children and aims to provide teachers and parents the best research about child development and learning.

The Abu Dhabi-based mother’s typical day starts at 5.30am with 90 minutes of yoga. "Then, from around 10am until 4pm, I am busy with the online classes," she says. "The rest of the evening is spent preparing for the next day’s classes, working on activities, uploading images and videos, coordinating with parents, and counselling."

For an hour from 9pm, she spends time upgrading her knowledge, doing some online courses, checking on upcoming courses, preparing for exams and self-assessments. "This time really helps you to know in which other areas you can improve, to learn more creative ideas, what is lacking, what is latest update on education and so on," she says.

Payal has received many accolades for her initiatives, including the Woman of the Future 2019 award
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Payal says she owes a lot to her family for the support they offered, "especially my kids who have taught me social media interaction skills and online education."

One of the best pieces of feedback she received was from the mother of a three-year-old special needs child. The child, the mum said, had not been reacting to parents. However, after just three weeks of speech therapy and counselling the child showed marked difference. "One day the mother came to me with a box of chocolates and hugged me saying the child for the very first time had kissed her and responded to her. That was a moment I felt I had truly achieved something."

Her advice to other homemakers? "Try to make a career for yourselves," she says. "Spend time for yourself and on yourself. My dream was to sing a song on stage and I completed it by participating in Indian Idol Dubai in 2018. Now I plan to start my own school in India and I am sure it will come through."

For more details on her projects, email payal.shewani@yahoo.com.

Sadia Anwar: Telling stories

Back in 2011, Sadia Anwar, an architect by profession, decided to quit her job as a lighting designer to raise her two kids Omar and Inara.

A scion of the erstwhile princely family of Bhopal known as Begums of Bhopal, Sadia is proud of her royal lineage that ruled the city for more than a hundred years. However, her six-year-old daughter Inara was more enamoured by the Disney princesses Anna and Elsa of Arendelle.

Sadia launched Storically.com in 2019 to create personalised books that help preserve personal history and amplify diversity
Stefan Lindeque

"That really bothered me," admits Sadia, 44. "My children were oblivious to my family’s four generations of amazing women and their remarkable feats."

Fearing that her family’s identity would be lost with her generation, Sadia decided to take matters into her own hands, quite literally.

In 2019, she launched Storically.com, a platform that creates personalised books to preserve the personal history and amplify diversity.

This is done in two ways. The stories are personalised by selecting an avatar and adding in the name and other details of a child making him/her the fulcrum of the story. The other option is where people can share their personal stories about their history and identity, and Sadia will include all those details into a book for children.

"I started out by putting Inara as a character in a book with Sikander Begum (one of the Begums during that era). I narrated a scene to Inara in which she and Sikander Begum rode into the city of Jaipur and are greeted with drumbeats, colour and shouts of ‘make way for the princess of Bhopal’ by 200 horsemen belonging to the Maharaja of Jaipur. Inara was immediately captivated."

Although the notion of royalty no longer exists, the stories of these amazing women who broke the norms back in the 1900s had to be continued, feels Sadia.

"Seeing my daughter’s fascination of princesses, I wanted her to be familiar with a wider perception of what is a princess. A princess is powerful. She rules, creates change and is much more than a tiara and a gown. I want her to know that she has it in her to be a real powerful woman, who can create huge impact," she explains.

The start-up was one of the three finalists in the Sheraa Sharjah in 2019 and was selected by Ma’an Abu Dhabi – a social incubator and accelerator whose mission is to support the growth of the community through developing social innovation solutions – as part of their cohort 3 in September last year.

"Research has shown that developing a positive sense of self and identity is crucial in children, to enable them to grow into healthy individuals in a complex society. Storytelling is an incredible way to help children learn about themselves and connect to aspects of their personal history and heritage," explains Sadia, who has an MBA from the London Business School. "Every one of us has stories from our lives, our heritage and our personal history. They could be stories about battles in the World War, or about a walk in the woods to pick flowers. Our stories define our identities in weird and wonderful ways."

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One of the most successful books in the Write Your Own Story series was a Christmas book customised with the names of the children. Sadia is also working on another book series called Bismillah Buddies, which will be launched in Ramadan this year with their first book titled After Iftar Tales.

"Stories are central to human communication. Telling stories sparks connections to cultures and histories; to legends and myths; to universal truths; to others and, most importantly perhaps, to yourself. We are pushing the boundaries of personalised books to help people connect to family, friends and community in a meaningful way. Exploring our unique and diverse identities and sharing them is the driving force behind this idea. We aim to address the core human need to remember."

For more info contact sadia@storically.com.

Sapna Jain: The art of balance

A graduate in finance, Sapna Jain, 41, could be termed a late bloomer in the field of art having picked up her paint brushes barely three years ago. But in just three years she has managed to quite literally make a mark in the local art world picking up a few awards on the way, including the winning entry at the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival 2018 and second place at the ARTEZIEN competition in Delhi – not to mention having her works featured in scores of exhibitions in the UAE and in India.

"Initially I painted just for my own pleasure but eventually when my artwork was appreciated by my friends and family, it pushed me to explore avenues to showcase my work to the outside world rather than just a close circle," says Sapna, who quit her job as a teacher of finance to take care of her children Sanyam and Shlok.

As the kids grew up, Sapna found herself with some spare time in her hands and started dabbling with painting, unleashing a very rewarding career in its wake.

Being a homemaker is a fine balance between taking care of your family and pursuing your passions, says Sapna
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The first time she did an artwork though was for her husband. "He is a follower of Swami Vivekananda (an Indian monk, philosopher and orator) and I decided to gift him with a sketch of the philosopher." Her husband loved it and that encouraged her to continue her newfound passion in art.

Her commissioned works have been sold globally in Japan, Singapore, India, Australia, London and Dubai.

Sapna believes that being a homemaker is a fine balance between "taking care of your family and pursuing your passions". After her daily household chores, she spends some "me time" post lunch, which often involves more than just painting. A passionate blogger on art, she also enjoys studying the works of the Masters.

When painting, Sapna’s favourite themes are feminism, children and the interplay of emotions
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"I spend around three hours a day for my art," says Sapna, a staunch yoga practitioner who doesn’t miss a day of practice. "I like to organise my time in slots. This helps me maintain a balance between family and art." When it comes to painting, her favourite themes are feminism, children and the interplay of emotions, the last lent itself to a book cover for the renowned Indian author Pushparthi Atul Srivastava.

Sapna feels ecstatic with every piece of art that she sells. "It’s a lovely feeling to be appreciated by someone. That fact that they’re ready to adorn their walls with something I have created truly make me feel blessed. You feel like you and the buyer share a common emotion and the painting is a tryst between the beholder and the artist.

The artwork that was purchased online by a buyer in the UK, who told Sapna that the painting’s colours “blew her mind”
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Her biggest appreciation came from an art collector from the UK: "She told me it was the first time she was purchasing a piece of art without seeing it in person (the sale was done online). She said the colours blew her mind!

"I feel art is a very subjective concept, but I have been blessed with a few friends and family who always encourage and criticise me constructively, helping me push my boundaries further," says Sapna.

Sapna can be contacted on Instagram (@artofsapna).

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