"Caring for your own mental health is necessary to care for your children"
“Caring for your own mental health is necessary to care for your children"
Saran Sy Savane reflects on her commitment to mental health support and finding sisterhood through motherhood.
It’s October, it’s Black History Month and this year we are Saluting our Sisters.
Black women have always been at the forefront of social justice movements, fighting against oppression and paving the way for change. Despite their countless contributions to society, their achievements have too often been overlooked or forgotten.
At Citizens UK, Black women have also played a crucial role in making change in our communities.
We spoke to Saran Sy Savane, a leader who has been involved with Parents and Communities Together (PACT) for four years, leading mental health peer support groups by facilitating workshops and encouraging mothers to practise journaling. Saran is the mother of three children. She has just graduated from a degree in Health and Social Care and was awarded the Southwark Stars award in June 2023 by the Community Health Ambassadors Network in Southwark for her outstanding contribution as a long-term volunteer.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey with PACT?
I am from the Ivory Coast, I lived in France before moving to the UK in 2015. My first language is French and when I moved to England I had to learn English. I moved to Camberwell in 2019 and I didn’t know anyone in this area. I was looking for a school for my children and this is when I first heard about PACT. What was most important to me was being part of a community, and I started joining meetings. During the pandemic, most meetings were online and I joined all of them.
When the South London Listens campaign started with a strong focus on mental health, I was encouraged to get involved. At the time I was quite shy, and didn’t feel confident in English but I was supported and started facilitating breathing exercises with other women community leaders. I was then involved in the Mindful Mamas project, focusing on mothers’ wellbeing.
This is when I was really able to build up my confidence, and I spoke publicly sharing my story with other mothers. I started volunteering and I was later involved in a project aimed at evaluating the impact that PACT had had on parents. I was trained in facilitation, public speaking and evaluation and co-shared a final report which highlighted how beneficial PACT’s activities had been to parents’ wellbeing. This will be essential to expand our funding and develop new projects.
You were actively involved in the Mindful Mamas Project and you led a journaling workshop – could you tell us more about that and why it was important to you?
I had been practising journaling as an act of self-care and that really helped me during the pandemic to overcome challenging moments. I would do it at the end of each day, by dedicating five minutes to it. Expressing my thoughts without worrying about grammar or spelling mistakes and focusing on positive things that had happened that day would help me recognise the things I was grateful for. I started facilitating journaling workshops with the Wellbeing Wednesdays group. Journaling helps you keep a record of your journey and to better appreciate your achievements. Following these workshops, a lot of women shared with me that journaling had really helped them, even if they didn’t practise it every day. I facilitated these workshops with different groups in PACT.
This is why I was involved in Black Maternal Voices from the start. This group met up regularly to share our experiences of motherhood as Black women. This was a rare space centring the experiences of Black motherhood to offer mutual support and discuss the issues that we wanted to change. Together, we created a sisterhood. Saran Sy Savane
Mental Health support is something you have actively organised on, can you tell us why and what you have learnt from that experience?
As a mother, I personally realised that caring for your own mental health is necessary to care for your children. I would summarise it as ‘happy mother, healthy baby’. That’s why I am organising on mental health, because taking care of mothers is essential to children’s wellbeing as well. Because PACT is a supportive community of parents, it perfectly matches my passion for health and social care. This is why I was involved in Black Maternal Voices from the start. This group met up regularly to share our experiences of motherhood as Black women. This was a rare space centring the experiences of Black motherhood to offer mutual support and discuss the issues that we wanted to change. Together, we created a sisterhood.
Alongside my volunteering with PACT, I am a Community Health Ambassador for Southwark, where I make sure that my local community’s voice is heard by health services and that everyone knows what support services are available to them. In June 2023, I was awarded the Southwark Stars award by the Community Health Ambassadors Network in Southwark. I’ve also just graduated from a degree in Health and Social Care from the University of Wales Trinity-St David. I would like my work to focus on perinatal mental health by supporting young mothers with their mental health.
What would you say to someone who is considering joining the PACT community?
I would say that PACT isn’t only made for children. It is a space curated for parents as well, where I am not only seen as a mother but as an individual. My children all go to school now and yet I still have a space in PACT, I belong in that community.
How have you previously celebrated Black History Month?
A couple of years ago I led a Black History walk in Camberwell with PACT, from Camberwell Green to Brunswick Park. We chose to highlight Black women that had driven change in their community in the UK. We pasted photographs of these women in different locations and gave speeches about what they had achieved, it was fabulous. It was a collaborative process with our children, and my daughter was involved – she has fond memories of that moment. It was about paying tribute to Black women’s crucial role in social justice movements.
What does ‘Saluting our Sisters’ mean to you?
I see it as a journey that has only just begun.
We are a community of parents working together to build communities, provide practical and emotional support, and take action on the things that matter.