Passionate- The Real-Life Story of Aala El-Khani

real life story of alaa elkhani abu dhabi hissah ec

Tell me a bit about yourself. What do you want the world to know about YOU?

I am Aala, a Humanitarian Psychologist passionate about supporting parents/caregivers affected by war and displacement with skills to better care for their children. You will often find me shouting somewhere about how the role of parents is the most important factor in children’s mental health, adjustment, current and future well-being and in the likelihood of them engaging in future risky behavior.

I work as a full time consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and also as a researcher at the University of Manchester.

I am married with two teenage children, Shatha who’s 14 and Mohammad who’s 13.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I have two very different versions to a typical day, as my job with the UNODC means that I work mainly from home, but every 6-8 weeks I travel abroad (to Asia, Africa and often Europe) for a week conducting family skills training.

So, if I am working from home, I get up at 6.45 am, change into something very casual, drop the kids to school then come home and work in my home office. I have a very global role so will have Skype meetings with people from many parts of the world-keeping up with the time differences is always a challenge! I will be planning the projects and trainings that I will soon be embarking on and writing reports, protocols and papers. I am very present in my children’s life, and see this as a golden luxury.

If I am away training, then I will wake up in a hotel in a new unfamiliar country that I will have just arrived at the night before (last week I was in Indonesia, the month before Senegal). I will get dressed into a very smart suit and heels then make my way to the location of the training I will be running. I will meet a group of trainees who I know in three days time I will be very comfortable with, so I embrace the unfamiliarity and nerves. I will run on happy hormones as I train for about 8 hours straight. I will then make my way back to my hotel room, kick of my heels and tell myself next time I am wearing trainers-I never do though! I will spend the night preparing for the next day training and wish I had booked an extra day to sightsee at the end of my mission-I never do though, mum guilt drives me to want to get home as quickly as possible.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced during your journey to where you are today?

Overcoming the guilt of not being with my children all the time. This began with when I was a PhD student all the way to now working and travelling. I now accept that there is no such thing as an ideal work/life balance. Sometimes I feel like I am smashing this whole motherhood thing, and sometimes I feel like a dreadful mum when my kids tell me they don’t want me to travel for work. The same can be said with how I feel about work.

Who would you describe as a role model and why?

I am inspired by so many people, from my parents, husband, friends and family. I believe everyone has good qualities we can learn from and aspire to be like, and also qualities we can appreciate we are best not replicating in our lives. 

Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I am such an extrovert that people quite often don’t realise that much of what I do really challenges my comfort zone! For example, I don’t really like plane journeys, but I travel a lot on very long fights. Also, I can be anxious when travelling alone, so will prop up my hotel room door with an iron board and leave a dim light on when I sleep. I am also petrified of dogs! I gave two TEDx talks and believe me there has been nothing I have done that can come close to how scared I was in the days before…but I did it.

I have absolutely no embarrassment talking about my fears. We all have them for goodness sake. My life motto is feel the fear and do it anyway! What is the alternative?

What is one piece of advice about how to cope with challenges/struggles you face in life that you would like to give to the world?

I constantly renew my intentions in everything I do, or at least I try to. When I am about to go on the stage to give a big talk or travel away, or I am exhausted and losing motivation as I write a report, I remind myself why the work I do is important. My faith is a huge part of my existence and helps me navigate many of my struggles. As I get older, I am more mindful to be present in whatever I am feeling-good or bad, and tell myself ‘what is this teaching me?’ Sometimes nothing comes through, so I am happy to tell myself ‘ok, move on’.

What is ONE word that you feel defines you? (It could be your profession, a personality trait, or a quality you possess).

Passionate-I am passionate about the work I do, the personal relationships I am in and my daily encounters with the world. I guess I love to celebrate love, in all its shapes and forms.