Shaheda Omar, eternal optimist on a daily mission to help children

09 August 2020 - 14:58 By LEONIE WAGNER
Shaheda Omar director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children handing out food parcels in an informal settlement.
Shaheda Omar director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for abused children handing out food parcels in an informal settlement.
Image: Sunday Times/Masi Losi

Shaheda Omar is an eternal optimist. Throughout her two decades of working with abused children her motto has been, “wake up, make up and show up”.

Omar, clinical director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, has never taken a sick day in her 20-year career. Passion and tenacity drive her.

“There are days that I crawl out of bed and go to work because this is what makes me better. This is something that makes me happy. I’m not a special person, but the people I’ve worked with on every level, whether it’s informal settlements or an affluent suburb or government, those opportunities have been special and shifting in my life,” she said.

The Teddy Bear foundation provides therapy, court preparation, medical, psychological and forensic assessments for abused children.

With the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations, they have changed their approach in helping children. Omar said they have worked harder with fewer resources during the pandemic.

Despite international funding being slashed, they have been able to provide more than 5,000 food parcels to families in need.

“Parents we’ve worked with came to us saying they couldn’t provide food for their children. We had to search hard and fast to organise food parcels. We started a feeding scheme and we’ve been feeding families from all corners of Gauteng. We realised that people can’t move beyond their hunger pains and we needed to address that need first,” Omar said.

They also donated masks to underprivileged communities and data to parents, enabling them to call for therapy. Omar said growing uncertainty and job security fears had a ripple effect on society’s emotional and physical wellbeing which often led to domestic violence.

She said her team knew to quickly address food insecurity because where there was domestic violence there was also child abuse.

Omar is driven by a commitment to the wellbeing of children and vulnerable people in society. Born in Lichtenburg in North West, she grew up in Ferreirasdorp in Johannesburg.

A background of adversity has made her grateful for everything, She believes that she has been entrusted with skills and knowledge to reach out.

“Children are so vulnerable, innocent and fragile. Having gone to court and testified in cases where you think there is no way out and then coming out with a victory for the child, or seeing that child smile again, has actually been something that has encouraged, motivated and inspired me,” she added.

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