Get to know Farida Camille, the woman behind Unique Foundation as she talks about her path from teacher to businesswoman to charitable volunteer.
By Rhonda Chapman
Farida Camille, 46, is a passionate and committed volunteer who spends many hours doing charitable work in her beloved country and abroad. Previously an English teacher, she is a businesswoman and the founder of Unique Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to bettering the lives of school-aged children and youth.
You might recognise Farida from the boards and committees that she sits on: she recently joined the Inner Islands sub-committee for Citizens Engagement Platform (CEPS), was appointed on the board of the Seychelles Employee Transition Scheme (SETS) and has been on the board of directors for the Seychelles Trading Company (STC) for the past three years. In November 2019, she was appointed the chairwoman of the the school council for a primary school. Farida is also a member of the Praslin Disabled Committee and a member of several committees at her parish church.
But it is her traumatic childhood experiences that shaped the woman that she is today: a strong mother figure who loves, nurtures and gives, despite coming from a broken family, being fostered and going through a marriage breakdown.
Get to know the woman behind Unique Foundation as she talks about her path from teacher to businesswoman to charitable volunteer.
“Probably my greatest passion, which intensified in the past six years, is working as a volunteer to bring joy in the lives of people in need, be they orphans, children or adults facing tough situations in life and going through trauma,” Farida says.
“I do not mind devoting a lot of my time, going through sleepless nights and draining my energy to help others. I do that nationally and internationally. I often go on what I call my pastoral visits to the hospital or visit people at home who are sick or going through some tough situations. I always respond to the calls of people in need to listen to them, lift their spirit, spread message of love and hope.”
For the last 22 years, Farida has spent countless hours doing humanitarian work. She credits this interest to her childhood experiences which taught her a lot about life and inspired the future that she wanted.
She adds: “From very young, I had a very compassionate heart. My childhood, with all its difficulties and the ways in which we found joy, has marked my life. I never believed in riches, but I really believed in overcoming hard times and using life’s challenges to make a difference in my life and to pursue positive goals. I love going back down the lane to my childhood, the impact it has had on shaping me, shaping my vision and made me a very strong little woman.”
Farida’s life began in Anse Aux Pins and she lived with her family in an estate for people from the lower working class. She has eight siblings, four of which were from her father’s side and didn’t grow up with her. As her mother and father separated before her birth, Farida wouldn’t get to know him until she was about nine.
Although life was tough then, she remembers bonding with her siblings who lived with her and has fond memories of her mum making and selling ice cakes for a living and her stepdad bringing chocobars home at the end of the month, a treat that would always bring the family together.
Not surprisingly, Farida attaches great value to these experiences. Who can blame her? Life back then was humble, the little things were valued, even when life was hard for her family. She treasures the joie de vivre that existed.
Farida draws a lot of inspiration from her mother: “I observed the devotion that my mum had to raise us and knew then that it was not easy for her. I admired her, but there were moments of hardships that made me vow to work hard and grow into an independent woman.”
But like many other children in Seychelles, Farida was also affected by social issues in her community, including in her own home. She recalls how even though her stepfather worked hard to raise another man’s children, life with him was a nightmare when he drank. She would regularly be forced to leave the house with her mum and siblings at night when he came home drunk.
Amid the trauma, Farida was fostered by a lady who was going out with her uncle at that time. The young woman had no children and wanted a daughter. Farida moved in with them on Mahé and started school there. This opened a new happier chapter in her life, albeit painful as it meant being separated from her siblings.
“I cried a lot,” she says. “I wanted to go back home but I had mixed feelings. I focused on my studies and, given the right tools and support for my studies, I had new vision to become a professional teacher.”
Farida stayed with her foster parents for 11 years. She went on to study at the National Youth Service, the Seychelles Polytechnic and then pursued a diploma in teaching. She spent some time teaching English at Pointe Larue Secondary School until she left for the University of Warwick, UK, on a scholarship to study for a Bachelor in Education.
Farida says she thanks God for her foster parents and the opportunities they gave her: “I am very close with my foster parents and I make time for them every now and then and make them happy. My foster mum, Marie Ange, gave me the necessary support for me to focus on my studies. I am forever thankful to God for making provision so that I could have a more conducive environment to live in although the separation from my siblings was tough. It was my obedience and personal commitment that pushed me further into attaining my goals.”
When she returned home with her degree in education, Farida worked as a qualified English teacher for nine years. She also worked in other positions in the education sector, including as a professional development facilitator, the head of the English Department, and as curriculum coordinator. She became active in drama and environment groups and participated in activities that took her overseas. She was also the recipient of the Positive Youth Image Award in Career Excellence.
Farida says it was her love for children, combined with her experiences as a fostered child, that motivated her to dedicate her time to school-aged children and youth and their families. From very early on, she had a heart for children with special needs, and as a teacher she enjoyed teaching them and helping them with their unique challenges, which for some meant they would often struggle to focus in class.
“I had to vary my lessons incredibly,” she says. “That is how I grew as a teacher amidst such challenges, being more of a pastoral care officer than one teaching academics merely for high grades and results that everyone expected. I developed great interest in special needs education and expressed my wish to pursue my studies in that domain.”
This became reality when she was granted a scholarship for a master’s degree in special needs education (with a focus on inclusive education) at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. This was an area that not many people in Seychelles were qualified to teach.
When she returned home, Farida helped set up a unique program for a new centre on Praslin Island for children with severe disabilities and specific education needs. For the first time in her life, she was working with children with various types of disabilities, including Down syndrome, spina bifida, speech impairment, visual impairment and severe autism disorders.
“I was so happy with this group of children and enjoyed the challenges of each day,” she says. “That was a great novelty in my professional development and the irony of it is I was so devoted and dedicated with them and in making them feel cared for and happy, that I got pregnant and was unaware of it. I was skipping rope on the sand with the children in one of our termly outings and eventually that led to a miscarriage.
“I had just got married the year before and at the age of 35 I was desperate to have a child. That miscarriage was the turning point to my career. I knew that in order to carry a child I would have to rest a lot and not work fulltime. I already had a few health issues, constantly anemic, had multiple fibroids even after doing a myomectomy and I constantly had back pain.”
Farida decided to leave teaching to target pregnancy. Sadly, during that time she discovered that her husband had been unfaithful, and so her plan of having a child collapsed. They divorced and she took some more time off from teaching.
“For me, any other issues in a relationship is okay,” she says. “But violence and adultery cannot be tolerated, and the marriage does not make sense once marital vows are broken. The commandments are lost, especially when the wedding has been blessed in church.”
It was then that Farida decided to rethink her life and her visions and dreams which made her want to be a strong, independent woman. She had worked hard and invested in two plots of land on which she built her house. She rented out her home, went on a pilgrimage overseas for six months, spent time with friends and relatives abroad and focused on self-empowerment and professional development.
Farida returned to the Seychelles feeling renewed even though she still suffered from several health issues. Still, this was a Farida with a new mindset who went on her next career adventure helping the Seychelles Pension Fund build and rent out a new 20-apartment project.
Unique Foundation was also born. There was a lack of advocacy for positive outcomes in youth development, resilience and one-to-one mentorship. Members of Unique Foundation are current and ex-professionals from a mix of backgrounds, including teaching, nursing, social work and the music industry. They work to make a difference in the lives of the Seychellois children and youth for whom they advocate, many of whom are at a greater risk of negative outcomes and academic underachievement due to their family, community, social, economic and other conditions beyond their control.
“Unique Foundation is my way of giving back to my country and my people whom I love dearly,” she says. “Especially the children of Praslin where I moved since 1998. The children that I and the other members of Unique serve are the future of Seychelles and we need a caring and loving future.”
But now in 2020, after teaching for 16 years, working for six years in tourism leasing and managing the apartments and managing her own self-catering guesthouse, Farida chooses to make the most of the pandemic to slow down a bit.
“I have decided not to be employed anymore,” she says. “And not to take up any big businesses. In fact, when I was employed 24 years ago, I remember promising myself that I would work hard and by the age of 45 I should have basically everything I need to live a comfortable and peaceful life. That I would stop working at the age of 45 and enjoy my life a bit.”
She adds: “It was a very wise decision for me to drop a big business and to be self employed. In fact, being a volunteer, I find myself engaged endlessly in helping out and giving psychosocial support in many instances. When strict movement restrictions were passed in the country in March this year, I found myself organising and coordinating a shelter for people who were found on the streets after the ‘no movement time’.
“That was an amazing experience for almost three weeks, challenging but brought much joy to my heart. I and other volunteers in the community had four men to work with. Three of them were alcoholics and one was a drug addict. By the time they went out they were so different and we felt that we had made a positive difference in their lives.”
In 2020, Farida finds herself busy working on other projects, including helping her school set up new procedures in line with the COVID-19 ‘new normal’ obligations and volunteering on the Praslin sub-committee for Citizens Engagement Platform to assist 16 families who had recently become homeless due to a massive fire that destroyed their apartment block.
“Now with the high impact of COVID-19, I am preparing myself mentally and physically for more ‘callings’ to which I always respond positively,” she says.
With such a busy life, made even busier by her joining two boards of directors in the past three years, she has developed a health routine that helps with her mental health and physical fitness. She meditates in the morning, at times doing yoga for wellness.
“I love quiet mornings, no early morning phone calls,” she says. “I keep my phone on silent and I do not like TV or radio being played aloud in the morning. I cannot stand people talking aloud in the morning too, so I am better off starting my days alone and peacefully.”
She always makes time for a swim or a walk, at times going on two-hour walks along the coast: “This is to keep fit and exercise as I am very concerned with some health issues that I have had over some years.”
Farida also finds singing, dancing and gardening therapeutic. She listens to old classic music before bed, she reads her bible and faith-related articles and books, sings in her church choir, and plans to reread her Sidney Sheldon collection that features many of the locations that she has visited.
She has also travelled quite a bit both for work and leisure.
“I am often referred to as a globetrotter,” she says. “My friends often state that it is difficult to track me and my moves are spontaneous. I just decide that I need a break and off I go. The advantage of not having children.”
She travels three to six times a year, and wherever she goes she always finds a charitable cause to sponsor or engage with.
“I believe that I am being called to be there for others,” she says. “I feel that the world out there needs people like me for support and to make a difference. I connect very well with people, those in need, those going through sad situations. I know where I came from and I associate with people going through the same hardships.
“That is why I deviated my travel plans from doing a lot of shopping for myself, my family and my house to helping people in need. I visit orphanages and make the orphans happy through special deeds. I stay with them in their shelters, go to school and even teach them. It brings so much joy to my heart. I even took my mum to visit them and she stayed with me to see what I do as my missions.”
Many would naturally expect an adopted child to adopt a child, but Farida says she has never wanted to adopt children: “Because as a person who was adopted myself, I know it is not always a good experience. It is best for a child to grow with his or her siblings, unless it is a very dire situation. I don’t think I would be as engaged as I am now, if I had my own biological children. God gave me so many out there to care for and I am forever thankful to my creator for giving me such a blessing.”
Farida doesn’t want to grow old alone and she would like to fall in love again even though right now she’s enjoying a peaceful life. This time with someone mature and of good Faith.
“This time with someone mature and of good Faith. Someone calm, who appreciates, values and loves me more than the last,” she declares. “And we will age together happily and peacefully. I wouldn’t mind a man who has one or two children between the age of five to 10, so that I could look after them too. I believe that spiritual strength is very important in overcoming fear and difficulties and spiritual strength will carry me to the next level of my life. Life is so very precious.”
But until then: “The many children and even adults I work with just fulfil my days and I have many nieces and nephews who keep me happy. I have no regret with regards to my two previous relationships. There is a purpose for them to have crossed my path and shared my life.”
Farida says that at times she reminisces about the many things she has done in just over 20 years and that she still cannot believe she had all the energy to do all that and mostly alone.
“I even put others before me so often,” she admits. “I believe they were all God’s plan for me and that is what I now need to pass on to others. I remained resilient and bounced back after each situation and none of the situations could destroy my life. I stumbled but got up stronger, more persistent and focused.”
Farida’s motivation is driven by Isaiah 40:31 (which inspired the logo design for Unique Foundation):
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
This is exactly what she teaches the children and youth.
Her hope for the coming years is to sponsor a centre or private school for academically challenged children of the Seychelles.
Visit Unique Foundation to follow Farida’s amazing work with Seychellois children and youth.