We are working to scale Punjabi men's peer support through the Cha in the City movement which is being funded by Movember. This blog is part of a series where our project manager, Taimour Ahmed, reflects on the process of this project, key learnings, and important milestones.
This month marks my 4 year journey with Taraki. I remember it was a dark winter back in 2019 when I first started attending their men’s peer support spaces. Maybe I remember it being quite dark because I live in sunnier Lisbon now or perhaps I was feeling disconnected and ultimately lonely. Perhaps it was just a mixture of both. My twenties was a good decade for setting good foundations in my life, however, it was also a challenging period. It was challenging period because I lacked purpose and meaning, mainly in my work. It wasn’t that I felt completely lost, it was more that I found myself asking ‘there must be more to life?’. Despite everything looking ‘good on paper’ at the time. My sense of feeling disconnected was made worse by the fact that I felt like I did not belong to the communities I come from. Truthfully I’ve never felt ‘Asian enough’, despite having moved from Pakistan to the UK at the age of 9. Growing up I experienced a lot of different South Asian sub-cultures in the UK, however, I found myself constantly chasing and hoping to fit in. It’s only with hindsight at 32 I realise I was more than enough to start with.
Having felt these complex emotions for most of my twenties, I decided to attend Taraki’s men’s peer support space for Punjabi men. I had the honour of being invited by Shuranjeet the founder for my first session. I remember I was quite nervous before attending my first session, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t grown up around positive men role models (for the most part) who had modelled emotional openness and vulnerability. Especially amongst other men. Naturally this led to anxiety on my part. In the end, I decided to go and it was one of the most important and life changing decisions of my life.
Not only did I find safe spaces where I can connect with other Punjabi men and reshape my own masculinity, I also started the journey which led me to where I am today. Today, I am fortunate enough to leads the scaling of Taraki’s mens peer support model called ‘Cha in the City’. Which is the exact same model that allowed me to personally tackle so many challenges in my head with the support of other men with shared lived experiences. It is this beautiful peer support model that has allowed me to find meaning, connection and purpose in what I do. While ‘going behind the curtain’ from a participant to a project lead did have its challenges and sometimes I miss the innocence, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Having the opportunity to deeply study and understand how we can better serve men in our communities is something I would happily do for the rest of my life. In fact it would be my life’s honour.
Looking back over the past 4 years, I would have never imagined that I would be a case study of ‘participant to someone who leads the work’ for Taraki, let alone have the option to work in men’s mental health. However, having this opportunity now along with my lived experience, it feels like a great foundation to start from in our effort to support other Punjabi men and their mental wellbeing.
At the core of it, after 4 years, my purpose now, which feels deeply clear, is to make sure that men in our communities, do not feel isolated, un-supported and ultimately alone - like I did in my 20’s. And while that is hard to write (modelling vulnerability is hard), I do so with a smile on my face knowing our commitment and movement is powered from a place of love.