For everyone This wise angel

Sahar Ghaly is the AEU rep at Bendigo Kangan Institute, and founder and CEO of the Wise Angel Foundation. She started Wise Angel because, as a survivor of family violence, she was unable to afford the court costs – so when she came out the other side, she decided to assist people who are going through something similar. 

“We are helping victims out of that black hole,” Sahar says. 

Since 2015, the foundation has successfully sourced donations of clothes, bedding, toys, and other necessary items. Sahar simply approaches businesses and asks what they do with their unsold goods or produce.

“We have a lot of waste in this country. I was concentrating on companies throwing out food. They give it to landfill – so instead they give it to me! I spoke to Bakers Delight and they gave us the food from their Bulleen store instead of throwing it out. We take it to the suburb, the flats, aged care, and we distribute it.”

They also collect unsold clothing. “We use it to get women ready for interviews. Big W, for example, give us last season’s pallets.”

For Sahar, it’s very important that she is a role model for others, including her children. “I’ve helped women who’ve been through trauma, men as well, and children. I go to court with them. We want to give hope because when you have family violence you don’t have hope. 

“We want to give hope because when you have family violence you don’t have hope.”

“Wise Angels is about empowerment and knowing you’re never alone. On my journey, I was always alone. I’m Egyptian. I was from a culture where there was no such thing as divorce. I didn’t have anyone. I had to rely on myself and my mother.”

It is little wonder that for her work with the Wise Angel Foundation – which comprises three directors and 15 volunteers – Sahar has been nominated for Australian of the Year. “I want to cut this family violence cycle. If I can make a 1% change, I have to try.”

Sahar, who has a Masters in Educational Psychology, teaches VCE VM (Vocational Major) at TAFE. Many of her students carry trauma and have special needs: “Kids who couldn’t sustain a good record in their past schools because of their trauma,” she explains.

“These kids have been labelled as difficult and mischievous, and I spend a lot of my time in pastoral care and consulting with staff on how to help move the kids forward. The kids I deal with have lots of issues of family violence. Our school system isn’t set up to help victims of family violence.”

She is happy to be in a place where she can help others but believes that, psychologically, the scars are always there. “You don’t recover 100%. Even with the best psychiatrist and so on, the pain is still there.”

Sahar is passionate about helping her students believe in themselves and not see their past experience as their defining moment. “It doesn’t matter what happens to us, it’s how we use that experience. They can break the cycle if they want to, they can better themselves, not by getting a high-paying job but because they can be kind and generous and make a difference in the world that way.”

For Sahar, the teacher’s job is part role model, part creator, and part change-maker. “It contains the world. You meet thousands of individuals, and you can make an impact. It’s a two-way thing; it’s a very therapeutic job too.”

The union has been part of her life since she started teaching. “I like to help people and be their voice,” Sahar says. “I am empowering people and helping solve an issue and saving their jobs and working with employers and employees to get on the same page. Now I know I can speak to the executive and be proactive about speaking to people above me.”

As if not already doing enough, she hopes to one day set up orphanages all over the world. If anyone can, Sahar can. “At the end of the day, life isn’t just about buying things and paying a mortgage. I like seeing other people happy.”

And another thing…

The most important things I take into the classroom every day are… a smile. I believe this gives hope to others and helps make the classroom an inviting and positive place – and lots of pens and paper so no one is left out. 

The most important thing to leave at home… my worries and sadness.

The best advice I ever received was… every day is a new day, and you should never judge one bad day as your benchmark for the rest of your days. Today’s experience becomes tomorrow’s lesson.

My top piece of advice to someone starting out in education would be… always go with your gut feeling. Don’t do things to tick a box, do them because you believe in them, and they reflect your core beliefs and values.  

My favourite teacher at school was… my first ever teacher, Mrs Kaled, my prep teacher in 1973 at Sacred Heart in Fitzroy. It was the second day I arrived off a plane in Melbourne. With no English, this teacher helped me and in six months I could speak and get by. She inspired me to believe in myself and not worry what others said. 

The people I admire most are… the authentic and humble people who work hard and help others, the battlers who strive to support others and never complain, and the people who smile and look out for others despite their own battles.

The music or book that changed my life… the Bible – it is my go-to guide. I also love Arabic Sad music.

In my other life… I am CEO of the Wise Angel Foundation, a mother, a missionary worker, and a person who wants to leave a legacy where no one is left behind.

If I met the education minister… I’d tell them to start investing more in our schools and help the teachers do their jobs.

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