By Salma Merhebi
Women are world-changers who play critical roles in our communities. When they’re given the tools; such as education, resources, support and network they can take action themselves to thrive and build thriving communities as well. Although, according to UNWomen, a large gender gap remains in women's access to decision-making and leadership. There is a human rights issue where women are still not equal members of the global community, and are experiencing disadvantages and violence. These issues led to the birth of CSS, also known as; Community Support Services. The organisation was founded on the belief that all women deserve the right to live as the best version of themselves, whether through family life, cohesion, or education.
Mona Mohamed, founder of CSS in Sydney; Australia, faced challenges and struggles, like many others, which gave her the courage to strive to become a lifelong learner. She graduated with a bachelor degree in Commerce/Information Technology and then earned different certificates and diplomas; graduate diploma in secondary education, diploma in community services, diploma in children's services and a certificate in business/life coaching. Simultaneously she worked as a former high school teacher and a community activist while pursuing her 24/7 job as a mother of six children. Mona experienced some hardships and continuously tried to discover her calling. With a variety of new experiences accomplished, she's done back-breaking tiling, driven a large truck and reversed a trailer for the first time. All of these experiences were invaluable for her to learn skills, get connections and reach finally her goal of setting up a community centre in the heart of Bankstown.
The story began with a facebook group to help women facing abusive relationships. Mona with the help of volunteer ladies assisted women who have experienced domestic violence situations. These women may have lost important pillars in their lives like their home, family and even their confidence in themselves and their self-esteem. Besides helping them settling in a new safe home, connecting them with other women and improving their quality of life were the main goals. Then, Mona worked as a facilitator with students who were struggling in their education. She joined a WhatsApp group which focused on educational help and that's how she got her connections with support networks. Her long charity career encouraged her to take the decision of starting the community hub project. And in October 2018, CSS changed from a vision to reality, was formally set up and finally started operating.
CSS is a nonprofit social organization working towards supporting our community by connecting the women and children and empowering vulnerable marginalized families. Social cohesion within Australian society is a mission of CSS reached through engaging programs and different courses and activities:
Women Empowerment: To help women unlock their power and live the life they desire, CSS runs workshops and trainings for women such as sewing and design classes, English lessons for migrants and the “Be Connected” program which aims to teach seniors the basics of using digital devices and engaging with social media. Local women and ladies from different backgrounds and nationalities, refugees, single mums, migrants and students gain valuable skills that can help them in becoming financially independent and support themselves and their families. It's a starting point to launch their own small business as well as a chance to connect with other women and benefit from the power of relationships. Simply, the opportunity to meet with peers and get to know each other and share experiences can have a meaningful impact.
Youth Empowerment: CSS provides support and training for youth through different programs. First, “YESS-Youth Education Support Services” is an educational program focusing on literacy to empower school students with educational support, and it’s run by volunteers from universities that gave up to 500 hours of their time for one to one small group tutoring. Second, “Art Therapy” workshops help youth improve self-management and communication skills, reduce stress, improve problem-solving skills, and provide a creative positive distraction as well as dealing with isolation. The community support centre also provides drop-in facilities for school kids, and a room full of books and toys for children. The obvious results of these activities were shown when CSS helped get an 18-year-old boy into university after he had spent a year at home losing confidence.
Village Pantry: CSS recognizes that living with limited resources is hard, so, with the help of other charitable organization, the “Village Pantry” is feeding 200 families in need a day. Refugees, struggling families, unemployed and others come along and choose what they need for free. To make this initiative successful and lasting, people are encouraged to help the community and donate.
CSS with more than 30 young volunteers and ladies, Women Kind and other organisation’s support and donors help succeed in reversing the widespread myth of women competitiveness and the notion that a female doesn’t support another female. By empowering all women and raising them up, the village dreams of fostering change and making the community a better place to live for everyone. The concept of giving without exchange in CSS built a generation with a strong sense of helping and supporting each other and created a harmonious atmosphere that everyone can join to try the taste of lifting and impacting others.
“CSS started as a small charity in Bankstown, and it will expand and grow everywhere nationally and internationally. Insha Allah one day, the future plan is to find a way to make it sustainable and to develop a social enterprise model that would be able to empower more families financially” says Mona.
As a piece of advice to anyone willing to follow the charity path, Mona said: “Try To find organisations with the same goals, engage with them to learn from their work, their mistakes and their operating system. Keep working until growing your own wings and being confident to start your own little charity and then grow bigger. It’s beneficial if you have support by your side who believes in your vision because it will get hard at a time and you'll feel stressed after giving tones of financial and emotional efforts. Don’t give up, take a break, recharge and continue! If you’re passionate about something that gives you fire in the heart and spark in the eyes just do it! You'll be amazed at how much it will change your life and others live as well.”