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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

UAE support group offers vital lifeline for troubled teachers

Dubai teacher Robert Welsh has set up a place where educators with mental health challenges or financial troubles can support each other

Robert Welsh, founder of Teacher Socials, with members Andrea Higgins and Sean Gavin. Antonie Robertson / The National
Robert Welsh, founder of Teacher Socials, with members Andrea Higgins and Sean Gavin. Antonie Robertson / The National

A support group is coming to the aid of troubled teachers facing mounting debts and battles with stress and depression.

Every year thousands of educators from across the globe relocate to the UAE in search of a brighter future.

But while the lure of higher wages and year-round sunshine proves a perfect fit for many, others struggle to make the transition, with a heavy workload and workplace pressure often to blame.

Running up huge debts, alcoholism and depression are so common among teachers that a support network has been set up to offer guidance and help members of the profession adapt to life in the UAE.

Teacher Socials was launched just over a year ago, by English teacher Robert Welsh, 43, who works at Al Khalidiyah Boys School in Sharjah.

“It is easy to think it’s all just big wages in the sunshine here in the UAE but a lot of teachers find it difficult to adapt and the reality can be very different,” said Liverpool-born Mr Welsh.

Mr Welsh started Teacher Socials to offer guidance to his teaching colleagues whose mental health might be suffering as well as aiding their personal development.

Moving to a new country, far from home and being away from family and loved ones, can be a challenge for anyone.

“A friend of mine from the UK moved to Dubai to teach and a few months later I phoned him just to see how he was getting on,” he said.

“When he answered the phone he told me that he was standing on the roof of the school contemplating whether to jump off and end it all.”

Mr Welsh was able to talk his friend out of doing something drastic but he often wonders what would have happened had he not made that phone call.

“This was someone who showed no outward signs of depression before.

“I knew him from playing rugby back home with him and he was a well-adjusted lively person.

“It showed me that anyone can be suffering from depression and might need support.”

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After speaking to his friend, it emerged he was finding it difficult to fit in at work and was struggling with a much heavier workload than he was used to before.

“When I spoke to him, he was not the same person at all, he had become extremely withdrawn.

“He would spend his weekends alone and would stock up on alcohol and drink by himself in his apartment.”

He said that alcohol is a temptation for teachers who are finding it difficult to cope with life in the UAE.

“You find a lot of teachers drinking alone, I know of cases where they can afford to go out but their friends, who are not teachers, cannot," he said.

“You will find a lot of teachers at brunches by themselves, sitting there just drinking on their own.”

The financial aspect of life in the UAE is another area in which teachers, who are new to the region and the lifestyle that can come with it, struggle to adapt to.

Financial advice is an area in which the Teacher Socials group offers advice.

“We have instances of people racking up hundreds of thousands of dirhams in credit card debt,” he said.

“One guy had Dh200,000 of debt because he was going out all the time, taking every credit card that was offered, he was even renting out Ferraris at the weekends.”

Mr Welsh said he was able to help that teacher manage his spiraling debt, but without the support of the group that would not have been possible.

Teacher Socials came about from a need for teachers to look out for each other.

More than 7,000 teachers have signed up for the programme since it began in 2017.

“Sometimes when people have settled here for a few years they become acclimatised to the customs and ways of the country,” said Mr Welsh.

“They can forget how difficult it can be to adapt to life here. Something as simple as having lunch with a new colleague or asking them about their day can make all the difference to someone.”

Teacher Socials is a community project that is registered in both the UK and the UAE. It is free for teachers to join and its website has dedicated sections offering help on mental, physical and financial well-being for teachers.

As well as offering a range of upcoming social events and discounts in venues across the UAE, the site also gives teachers the opportunity to contact Mr Walsh and his team in strictest confidence and share any difficulties they are having in both the workplace and with their life in general.

For more information, visit www.teachersocials.com