Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Teacher set up a network for troubled colleagues

Robert Welsh's Teacher Socials support group has close to 10,000 members

Robert Welsh set up a support group for teachers that Helene McGlone and thousands more are part of. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Robert Welsh set up a support group for teachers that Helene McGlone and thousands more are part of. Chris Whiteoak / The National

A tense phone call with a colleague led one teacher to start his own support group, which now has close to 10,000 members in the UAE.

Robert Welsh, 44, said when he phoned an old friend from his home town of Liverpool, who had recently moved to Dubai, he found himself speaking to someone he believed was on the verge of ending his life.

The Sharjah primary school teacher convinced his friend not to make a terrible mistake.

But it brought home to Mr Welsh that many teachers needed social contact to support their mental health in what is globally a demanding profession.

“My friend had only moved here to teach five and a half months before that day,” he said.

Many of them have been living as students, surviving on Dh1,000 for a month back home and then they arrive here and are given several times that. A lot of them don’t have the financial maturity to deal that

“I thought I would give him a call to catch up and couldn’t believe what he was telling me.

“I told him not to do anything and I drove from Al Ain, where I was teaching at the time, straight away, and managed to speak to him.”

His friend told Mr Welsh that he was lonely and felt isolated at work.

Mr Welsh decided to form the group Teacher Socials.

Within three years, the group was ready to welcome its 10,000th member.

“I realised there was no community here for teachers to meet up and share their problems,” he said.

Among the activities that were organised for members were beach walks, skiing, nights out together, paintballing, go-­karting, yoga, art classes and visits to shooting ranges.

Membership grew so much that the group will soon provide an app to members that offers discounts at hotels, restaurants and venues across the UAE.

That could prove to be important for teachers who struggle to cope financially with their new lifestyles here, he said.

“For a lot of teachers, especially the younger ones, the change in lifestyle is difficult to adapt to,” he said.

“Many of them have been living as students surviving on Dh1,000 for a month back home and they arrive here and are earning several times that.

“A lot of them don’t have the financial maturity to deal with suddenly having so much money.”

But it was not only increased salaries that were creating financial difficulties.

“Banks are offering crazy credit card and loan deals that people will never be able to pay back,” Mr Welsh said.

“Teachers often get offered loans of up to Dh500,000 and you have to wonder why anyone would need that much.”

Many are not prepared for their new lives in the UAE. Mr Welsh said that most of the teachers needing help from the group tended to be from the West.

Robert Welsh set up a support group for teachers that Helene McGlone and thousands more are part of. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Robert set up a support group for teachers that Helene McGlone and thousands more are part of. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“They are the ones who have the most adapting to do,” Mr Welsh said.

“They are far from home and don’t have the same support networks as people from neighbouring countries or those who have large communities here.

“They are not familiar with the laws and customs, which can lead to problems.”

The group has 12 counsellors on hand to offer advice to those under pressure.

One of those is secondary school teacher Helene McGlone, 41, who had great difficulty adapting when she arrived and took up a job she did not like.

Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to and realise you’re not alone

Helene McGlone, group member

But she soon found employment at another school, which she said she loved.

Ms McGlone became keen to provide any assistance she can to help her fellow teachers.

“Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to and realise you’re not alone,” she said.

Updated: October 3, 2019 11:20 PM

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