Child Psychologist, Founder, Female Network, Think Tank, Entrepreneur, Saar, Bahrain
Ms. Alammadi has a secret weapon for keeping you engaged during a conversation (and no, it’s not the surprisingly subtle and disarming rolling of the r’s due to her Irish upbringing). There is a genuine sense of wonder and engagement which comes from her culturally rich background of growing up in two (very different) places and learning empathy from a young age. Mariam is so humble that it wasn’t until reading her answers for WOW Woman that I learned that she was the first to open a free psychology practice in the region, tried her luck in a polar opposite field after suffering a burnout and pulled together an inspiring 130+ member think tank in Bahrain while setting up a private practice. Yet like many women we know, she still admits to occasionally suffering from impostor syndrome. I believe that it is Mariam’s strong sense of self which translates beautifully into her writing and is guaranteed to make you want to re-read her story over and over again, pulling bits of wisdom from each paragraph.
My name is Mariam Alammadi.
2. Where is your hometown?
I am half Bahraini and half Irish. Currently living in Saar, Bahrain.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a child psychologist and founder of a psychological center in Bahrain and am founder of female network and think tank Afkarech.
I decided I wanted to be a psychologist at the age of thirteen. I very clearly remember seeing the difference in stigma of being mentally ill and physically ill. I believed there was no difference and that belief is something I still hold. In high school I volunteered with as many organisations as possible and learned empathy along the way. Being able to connect with people beyond their nationality, religion and socio-economic background is something I am proud of and is a skill I attribute to this period of my life.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I never derailed from wanting to be a psychologist and I tried to study and learn as much as I could. I worked for an NGO after leaving university and although they did not have the funds to pay me, they did send me to as many courses as they could. It was only really when I was putting my certificates on the wall recently in my office that I noticed that I had taken some many courses on leadership and women’s leadership in particular.
I believe that we can take steps in life but not understand the longer journey and in my case this was true.
After graduating with my MSc in Applied Psychology I was headhunted by a leading hospital in Bahrain as a psychologist. Myself and my female colleague set up the first free psychological practice in the region. I worked there for six years in public and private practice in the hospital. My cases ranged from developmental delay, abuse, dealing and coping medical diagnosis, pre-surgical assessments and eating disorders. It was truly an education and every time I felt like I had seen and heard everything I would get another case that would only prove to me I was still learning.
I loved my job but I felt like I still was not reaching my full potential and against the advice of many I left the hospital for a few months to work out what is was I wanted to do with my life. I could probably deem this time “burn out”. However unbeknownst to myself then it was possibly the best thing I ever did. For a few months I did not really want to anything but I opened my own boutique and got into retail which was a good digression but not really what I wanted in the end. I fell back in love with psychology and formulated a business plan for my own center. I reached out to different organisations that I felt could support a woman like myself and more often than not did not get a response. I had a conversation with a friend who encouraged me and said if you cannot find an organisation that you feel you fit in with then create one hence my female network Afkarech was born. I remember very clearly the first meeting and wondering if anyone would show up. We started off with nine people and now we have one hundred and thirty members.
Setting up both a network and business at the same time was probably not the wisest move but I loved it. Afkarech is really my passion in life. I got to meet this amazing group of women and to be responsible for bringing them together makes me beyond proud. In one year, Afkarech was shortlisted for the Shaikh Issa Bin Ali Al Khalifa Award for the best voluntary project. Even though we did not win, to even be noticed for our efforts in such a short time was a huge victory for us.
In November 2018 I won the Smart Health Award for the Top 50 Leaders in Health Care. I was the only psychologist to make the list and it really was my proudest moment to date. The 13-year-old me would be extremely proud in my eyes almost twenty years later I was listed alongside physicians and medical doctors proving the point mental health is an important as physical health.
5. What did you study in school?
I studied Psychology & Sociology and then later “Applied Psychology”.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
Yes tremendously, I really did not think I would be in the Middle East or an entrepreneur. I also would have never imagined that I would be the founder of women’s empowerment group.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
I definitely had a burn-out period. In your twenties you are told that you have to keep your head down and work as hard as possible before you have a family so that you can keep your career afloat. That belief was something I was guilty of. Nobody can sustain that and in the end I realised I was over extending myself and honestly I am not sure anyone even noticed.
8. Advice for other women?
My advice for other women is do not be afraid of who you are and your potential. If you have a dream follow it and take the leap. Sometimes you get to your destination and sometimes you fall and land on something better.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
One of the taglines for my organisation Afkarech is “to aim to help women determine and define success on their own terms”. For me that is the key to actually allow women to decide what are their own successes. How I see women being able to help other women reach their goals is by being a voice for gender equality and making sure the conversation in taking place in their communities, offering one another support, educating women, getting involved in communities, supporting causes and speaking up when there is a injustice. I try to do that as much as possible with Afkarech. We offer free educational workshops, social events, support local organisations and charities and give interviews if there has been an issue in which we feel that a woman has not be treated fairly. We offer a place for women to come and discuss the issues that they are experiencing and offer solutions on how to overcome them.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
My happy place is definitely the sea. It is therapeutic and I love the feeling of watching the waves. I feel like my troubles got washed away at least for that short period of time. My office has several paintings of the sea and they help me all the time. Just looking at one gives me a feeling of calmness.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I think my favourite hobby is just travelling. I love being in different countries and meeting lots of different people. My favourite place is South Africa and I am really looking forward to going back.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
Now that my center has been established – I am hoping one day I will have a psychological hospital and rehabilitation center. Maybe by putting this into the universe it might actually happen!
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I sometimes feel like I suffer from Impostor-Syndrome and I am working on that. I even catch myself saying “I just got lucky” and try and stop myself. I really feel as women we often undermine ourselves and try to blame it on luck but in reality we actually did the work and we should be proud of that.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
There is nothing I would do differently in life except maybe have more self-belief. Life is not a race there is no optimum age to achieve something. We all arrive at the same place just at different times and on different journeys.
15. What inspires you?
Other women inspire me. I really love seeing them in the media or even scrolling through Instagram and them achieving their goals. It pushes me if they can do it so can I.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I am hopeful about the future and what I can achieve via my psychology center and my women’s network Afkarech.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Forget about pleasing anyone else except yourself. because for you to make someone else happy you have to be happy first. Never take anyone’s opinions verbatim – always ask yourself “how do you feel about it?”. You live one life make sure you are living it for yourself.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
That later on in life being from two cultures in a great thing. Although it might make you feel awkward now and that you do not fit - in later in life it will be one of your greatest assets.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I am actually really into children’s books at the moment. I am quietly researching and really want to be a children’s author one day. I think that books in childhood play such an important role and give out such positive messages.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?
A WOW woman in my world is my friend and CEO of Women’s Care Crisis International – Mary Justine Todd.
A WOW woman in my world is my friend and CEO of Women’s Care Crisis International – Mary Justine Todd. She is responsible for the first Arabic and English 24-hour response crisis line in the world for women that are being abused. The organisation and staff are truly amazing and help women every single day. I admire Mary Justine because the work can be so draining often overlooked yet so so important. I love that she never gives up.
A second WOW woman I know and have recently met is Bedour Al Raqbani, Founding Director of Kalamati Center. Bedour has a daughter that is deaf and after she did not find the right services she set up this amazing child therapy center. Her story is inspiring and really touched me. I remember sitting and actually crying thinking about how strong she is.
A third WOW woman is my friend Fatima Al Mansoori who is humanitarian and international speaker. Fatima is fearless and spreads relief and positivity around her. Recently with the floods in Kerala while people were trying to escape she was going there to help and be amongst the people. She is a great example of Bahraini woman – fearless, conscientious and brave.
Finally, I am really lucky to have an incredibly strong mother who really told me I can do anything and could achieve anything I set my mind too. She is most probably the biggest influence in my life to date and my respect for her grows as I get older. She had wisdom and insight that I am only really beginning to interpret.
21. You were raised in Ireland and Bahrain. How did the systems in each country prepare you for your current life?
I feel very lucky to have been raised in Ireland. My home town is Letterkenny and I had an amazing childhood. Simple in many ways which I feel made me better equipped for life in the Middle East. The Middle East is an exciting place to live always changing and always growing but it is important to have a strong sense of self if you want to be a pioneer for change.
I am hopeful for Bahrain, with our generations of women. Via Afkarech I have met so many dynamic, intelligent and wonderful young women. They are the future and I can see a fundamental shift that they are no longer asking to have a seat at the table. Instead, they are demanding it!