ASHA ADNAN (b. 1990)
In the last five years, 1,600 women have been part of Asha & Co’s many activities, which are often centred on food, art and conversations. The community, set up by founder Asha Adnan, organises between three and six classes and gatherings a month to support women who are recovering from mental health issues and abuse, offering a welcoming space – usually Asha’s own home – and friendly smiles. Yet, in 2017, Asha found herself wanting to throw in the towel.
“I didn’t know how to cope with the number of people that started to come. I didn’t feel I had the skills or I was qualified enough. I wasn’t earning money from these sessions, whatever I collected from the sessions, the money is used to organise the next one. I liked to listen, but I was also absorbing other people’s experiences which sometimes were really heavy and affected me deeply. At one point, I felt confused because I was satisfied with what I was doing but I was also so burnt out,” says Asha candidly.
Asha took a six-month break and realised that what was holding her back was poor time management and the need to improve her skills. She hired a freelancer to help her with Asha & Co, and attended short courses to gain knowledge in managing communities, events to network with other social entrepreneurs and learn from their advice and perspectives. She adds: “I grew as a person and Asha & Co also grew on its own.”
Asha & Co was set up in 2015 “kind of accidentally”. It initially started as a means of her own personal recovery. Asha herself is a survivor of physical and emotional abuse from a family member, and while looking for a community support group she felt that there was a gap. She shares: “A lot of survivors want a kind of normalcy in our lives, so while focus groups are important and help you tend to your issues, we don’t really want to be labeled as ‘the other’. We still want to integrate and move on with our lives. We can’t do it alone, the community needs to know we exist and everybody has a part to play.”
As a result, the group is open to all women. If a woman reaches out or if she may be in
potential danger, additional support such as redirecting her to the right agencies and
avenues that would be better equipped in supporting her will be done with her consent. For
Asha, providing that safe space is what’s important. “Even after a woman receives access to
professional help, we always stick around to support her and to continue letting her know
that she’s not alone.”
She says: “We have women who come and say, ‘I’ve always been struggling with this, I didn’t know other people were going through similar things or that it had a name’. Or women who start to look out for their loved ones. There’s only so much one person can do. By educating other ladies – and there are those that recover and come back to volunteer – the community thrives and grows from there.”
To learn more about Asha & Co, visit www.ashaandco.com.