International Women’s Day Spotlight – Aleksandra Payamon
International Women’s Day (March 8th) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women as well as a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge and to mark the event Walsall for All is inviting women in the borough to talk about their own personal challenges and what they believe will be the biggest challenges for women in 2021 and beyond.
The first of these is an interview with Latvian born, Aleksandra Payamon, ESOL Tutor and Monitoring and Administration Officer at Black Country Innovate.
You migrated here from Latvia 11 years ago, can you tell me a bit about your life in Latvia and what made you decide to leave and come to England?
It was 2010, the middle of the economic crisis; Latvia, similar to many other countries, was going through a very difficult period. Many people lost their jobs, had numerous financial challenges (loans, credit cards etc.), being a single mum, I wanted to offer to my family a better future, so I decided to take the courageous decision of migrating to the UK.
Back in Latvia, I had a good job, I was an auditor in a quality and inventory team, but even in this position, I could not afford the life that I wanted. Even now I remember how stressed and anxious I was when thinking about moving to a country where I didn’t know anyone and I would have to face many other challenges (language and cultural barriers, looking for a job, accessing local services, trying to make friends, renting a flat, looking for a school for my children etc.).
Did you settle in Walsall initially or elsewhere?
I settled in Birmingham for the first 10 months and managed to find a job in a very short space of time as a quality inspector at a fruit and vegetables factory. Unfortunately, the area where I lived wasn’t the best so I decided to find somewhere my family would feel safer. My work colleagues recommended Walsall as being a quiet and affordable place for a single mum. For the last 10 years, I have considered Walsall my home and I have been really happy living here with my husband and children.
What was it like being in a new country, new culture and having to speak a different language?
When I initially moved to the UK I had a basic knowledge of English, which allowed me to find a job quite quickly, but I still had to understand the accent, which was difficult especially when talking on the phone and trying to access local services. I still remember how anxious I was when I had to respond or make a phone call.
For a person who had never visited the UK before I was impressed by how diverse this country is and how many different languages were being spoken around me. I really enjoyed this because I always wanted to know more about different cultures and the UK afforded me and my children this opportunity, I was so happy that they would be able to grow up in such a diverse environment.
During my first year here I had moments when I felt really down and alone, I was missing my family, friends, food and places that I loved. I felt I couldn’t cope with the level of stress and responsibilities (single mum, school, night shifts, numerous bills, etc.); I was considering going back to Latvia, but I am really happy that I found the strength to stay and continue my journey.
You’re an ESOL tutor now, how did you first get involved in ESOL and how did you end up teaching the subject?
I was active on numerous Facebook Groups for people who had migrated from Eastern European countries. Having gone through it myself I know how difficult it can be and how lost/lonely people often feel, so I tried to help as much as I could. I was offering support to those who didn’t know what documentation was needed to apply for a job (National Insurance Number, bank account, proof of address), I was also supporting families with school admissions processes, GP/dentist registration and for a long period of time was very active in the Russian community, organising trips/coffee mornings etc.
This year I became an active member of the VERA Group (a Walsall based group set up to help empower Eastern–European women) and this offered me the opportunity to share my knowledge with those who are at the beginning of their journey and are struggling to speak English through delivering ESOL courses. I’ve been able to build a safe and friendly environment where people are happy to learn, encourage and motivate each other.
You also work with Black Country Innovate, can you tell me about your role there and what it involves?
I started working at Black Country Innovate six months ago as a Monitoring and Administration Officer. I feel very privileged to be part of this amazing community organisation that is delivering some really impactful activities for our communities. I am involved in the monitoring and delivery of numerous projects (Hate Crime Initiative, Befriending, Counselling etc.). I am also responsible for communication, building connections with partner organisations, working closely with community groups, organising training, etc. This job has given me an amazing opportunity to continue playing an active role in the community and to make a difference in people’s lives.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Choose to Challenge’ - what’s been your biggest challenge and what advice would you give to women facing challenges of their own?
For the last six years, I have been fully focused on my role as a mum and a wife. This has been a beautiful experience, but I realised that, apart from these amazing roles, I also want to succeed as a professional. For me one of the biggest challenges was to take the first steps towards this journey; I was full of doubts, was out of my comfort zone, but I knew that there was never going to be a ‘perfect moment’ to take those initial steps.
In September 2019, I decided to begin my studies at Walsall College, I am now about to complete my Level 3 Accounting and Bookkeeping. I am very proud that I am able to combine my job, studies and other important activities whilst at the same time continue to be a loving mum and wife.
I know that as women we are facing numerous challenges, but I also know that each of us has huge potential. I would encourage all women to believe in themselves and to look for opportunities that will move them towards their own individual goals.