Promoting Child Safeguarding and Well-Being During Mental Health Awareness Day

GEMS American Academy Qatar Promotes Child Safeguarding and Well-Being During Mental Health Awareness Day by Justin Hamza Tyler

October 2023


According to famous English novelist and social critic, Charles Dickens, “I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.” This quote truly depicted this year’s event theme of “perseverance” and seamlessly ties into one of the school’s core values of “tenacity,” because a positive mindset helps people successfully overcome varying degrees of life challenges. This event took place at GEMS American Academy Qatar (GAAQ) on October 10th. 


Chief organizers of this event - elementary school guidance counselor (Andrea Mago), middle school guidance counselor (Dana Al-Shakarchi) and high school guidance counselor (Engy Carniglia) - teamed up to work alongside the school’s Parent Relations Executive, principals and teachers to invite three charismatic, thoughtful and inspiring motivational speakers with skills, experience and personal testimonies that connect to mental health awareness. 


Elementary students in Grades 3 - 5 were in for a treat with life coach, Manal Kurdi, who is the mother of GAAQ alum Youssef Nada (Class of 2023). In her session with over 300 students, she quickly cultivated a space for students to express their feelings on how to handle emotions and then reflect if their thoughts and actions were growth-minded. Throughout different exercises, she promoted an environment of inquiry, opportunity and exploration where all student responses were factored into the activity’s end goal - using mountains as a metaphor for life. Since each mountain was labeled with an emotion, Ms. Manal illustrated and discussed how the ascent (journey) up each of these mountains are the adventures and challenges to embrace head-on, even if life’s expedition is unsteady, menacing and uncertain.


Students in Grades 6 - 8 interacted with journalist, life coach and mother of three GAAQ students, Ophelia Johnson. GAAQ’s specialized middle school program aims to support students comprehensively while addressing the specific needs of individuals. Additionally, advisory teachers provide an additional level of support and guidance to students to help them successfully navigate adolescence. Thus, Ms. Ophelia’s session focused on identifying how emotions are rooted in experiences and provided simple examples on managing emotions in positive ways. Her numerous role-playing scenarios helped foster increased emotional intelligence and reinforced GAAQ’s penchant for guiding students through difficult friends, family and growing pains.


For high school, motivational speaker and life and business coach, Shefa Ali, spoke to a number of students about how to remain emotionally healthy and how young adults can create effective strategies for long-term peace and happiness. Additionally, she spoke about her personal experiences which helped build her social-emotional skills and comprehensive holistic development. At GEMS American Academy Qatar (GAAQ), one of their core beliefs is that quality education empowers the individual and expands options throughout life. As a result, students resonated with her presentation and expressed thanks and gratitude for receiving her practical life tips and advice.


Additionally, there was a breadth of varying mental health-oriented activities across all grade levels. For example, during lunch, elementary students were offered countless mindfulness and stress-relieving stations to enjoy such as exercise, mindfulness, drawing, origami, knotting, brain games, mandala art and meditation. Also, the lower school guidance counselor provided mental health learning resources such as books, videos and games to incorporate in lesson plans as an interdisciplinary educator. Moreover, both elementary and middle school students distributed blank green cards to students and teachers to list one positive affirmation; these cards were then displayed on mobile partition walls throughout the school to be read by the community. Lastly, high school students completed a Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths questionnaire which helped students understand and apply their characteristic strengths and positive personality traits. Research shows that identifying these attributes can help boost student confidence, happiness and purpose while strengthening relationships and goal attainment. 


In all, the collective efforts to promote mental health education at GEMS American Academy Qatar conveyed their commitment to the safeguarding and well-being of people in their community. With their guidance counselors serving as key members of the school’s child safeguarding and protection team, it is only fitting for this trio to lead a fun and festive day which raised mental health awareness within a safe, supportive school environment.