~ The Art Of Change ~ with Carol Omer ~

Art and Creativity as Mediums for Empowerment , Connection and Change…

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Partnering with Mother Nature

Posted by carolom on January 10, 2019

I have two partners in life.

My husband and co-creative business partner-good friend David.

And Mother Nature who is as reliable a partner as anyone could wish for.

8 days ago I planted the Seeds of Intention.
Sunflowers that were placed Mindfully in little pods, watered, given sun and attention and voila! 8 days later 12 little seedlings have burst forth with another dozen on the way.




We are women living and evolving in a world men have ruled over, designed and largely created.

Sharp lines, cement boxes, white walls and show-me-the-evidence-thinking.

As with all generalisations this is not always true,  however I am far more at home with the stars as my ceiling, round lines instead of sharp ones and fresh air not recycled electrical air.

Partnering with Mother Nature recognises that the homes our brothers have designed and built have few round lines and circles…

Unless you go to some of the African countries of course and marvel at the Ndebele houses, many of us are living in square boxes upon a round Mother Earth…




*Source Google Images


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

On Her Shoulders…

Posted by carolom on June 12, 2018

*A fictional account of the kind of  real life stories behind the walls of a domestic violence shelter.

Bridget heard the crunch of stones on the pathway two seconds before the knock on the door. Two seconds that gave her time to turn off the television, position herself behind the curtain and pretend she wasn’t home.  Her visitor knew she was in there of course and after her first lyrical tap on the screen was ignored she called out “Hey Bridget, you may have forgotten, just want to remind you, it’s group day today. There’s childcare on site and we are having morning tea. You are very welcome to join us”.

Bridget looked over at her sleeping baby, hoped he wouldn’t wake up and then returned her attention to the slight gap in the curtain. She hadn’t left her unit since arriving at the shelter four days ago, refusing to respond to the weekend staff and their invitation to join the group for Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch in the meeting house.
Bec, the newest team member expressed her concern during the handover with the Monday shift,  “I think we might need to use our key to check on Bridget, she hasn’t made contact all weekend and she might have self harmed or overdosed in there.” Tricia, the site manager, smiled and responded with, “It’s fine Bec, we know Bridget’s okay her lights are on in the evening and staff saw her taking rubbish out to the bin on the weekend.”

The familiar frustration that came with the feeling that she was not being heard washed over Bec, her chest tightened, her heart started beating faster and to her great annoyance she could feel her cheeks begin to go red. Tricia’s answer did little to appease Bec’s growing concern for Bridget. “Okay” she responded, frustration tightening her voice, “but can we document it in her file that I have expressed a concern please?”

This was a familiar scenario for Tricia, managing passionate social workers, fresh out of university, who insisted on ensuring that every detail is documented.  They worked alongside of seasoned staff that didn’t share the same reverence for reams of policies, risk management forms and paperwork that, according to Vicky, “have wrapped our little village in red tape and rules”.

“Of course Bec, your concern is noted.”  

“Thanks Tricia”.  Bec’s response was terse and she had to make a conscious effort not to bang the door as she left the shelter.

Behind the closed curtains and locked doors of her unit, Bridget felt safer than she had felt in a very long time. Her beautiful son was sleeping
soundly, he would wake up for his warm milk and cuddles, rest contentedly in her arms and usually fall asleep again shortly after. Bridget envisaged she would not need to leave the unit for at least a week, thanks to the thoughtfulness of charities that provided generous food vouchers for women at the shelter and the efficiency of the staff that supplied her with sheets, towels, kitchenware and spicy smelling soap and shampoo (leftover from the Christmas donations),

At Bridget’s’ induction Vicky mentioned there were domestic violence support groups on site at the shelter and she was welcome to attend but Bridget wasn’t ready to mix with the women from the other units. “The last thing I need is to be with women whose life is as crappy as mine.” was her silent response.

Nathan woke for his mid morning feed and after an hour of delighting in each another’s company, fell asleep again. “We are both so tired aren’t we baby” she cooed as he began to doze against her chest. Bridget returned to her computer, grateful for the wifi access, (provided at no cost to the shelter by the local service club) and although the staff wouldn’t have guessed, she was also immensely grateful for thepeaceful quiet sanctuary behind the high fences and security cameras. She felt very safe and was currently in the middle of a project that consumed most of her waking hours.

From the staff office Tricia heard Bec’s car reverse out of the driveway and down the street, the hole in the muffler was getting larger and her arrival and departure at the shelter becoming increasingly noisy. She smiled to herself, opened Bridget’s file, documented Bec’s concern and her response, sent a copy to Bec and exited the computer. In the 23 years she had been working in women’s shelters, Tricia had come to understand that the staff members who are the most anxious for the women at the shelter were sometimes the ones who needed the closest supervision.

Her ruminations were interrupted by the arrival of Margaret, returning from dropping two children at school and their mother to a hospital appointment. It had been a busy start to the working week and Margaret was ready for a cup of coffee and two of the chocolate biscuits that were in endless supply in the staff pantry.

She didn’t ask Tricia if she wanted a coffee, after working together for fifteen years, morning tea was a well-established ritual. Bec’s response to the offer to join them  was usually “thanks for the offer but I’m too busy to stop for a break”. It amused the women, they knew it was Bec’s way of letting them know she didn’t really approve of sitting and chatting when there were so many emergencies that needed her attention.
They sat down at the round kitchen table and exchanged a smile. “So how was Bec today?” Margaret asked.  “She was annoyed that I wouldn’t give permission to use our key to enter Bridget’s unit. She thinks Bridget is at risk and we need to check on her”.

Margaret smiled slightly, the familiarity of this scenario holding no surprises for her.

“Didn’t the weekend staff see Bridget putting her rubbish out and haven’t her lights been on every night?

Tricia nodded as she dunked her choc mint biscuit into the coffee, leaving it there just long enough for the edges to begin to melt into the hot liquid. “Yes and yes. Bridget needs rest, you’ve read her file, she’s exhausted! She was invited to the group this morning but she pretended she wasn’t home. She needs time”. Tricia smiled as she popped the last of the sweet, melted chocolate into her mouth. “Bridget  is going to be fine. Bec is the one  I am concerned about”.

In the sanctuary of her unit, surrounded by the small handful of possessions she had brought with her, Bridget immersed herself in the project that had been inspired by one of the brochures she received during her induction. A small, purple and green pamphlet titled Digital Safety for Women sat amongst the service agreement forms, payment benefit forms and information folder with numbers for local doctors, schools and legal aid (over the weekend she had noted there were no take away pizza numbers but then cancelled her interest because she realised she would have to speak to a staff member about the delivery anyway).

Last Thursday morning, when the police had arrived to escort her safely from the damaged house, she had been able to collect some of her possessions that weren’t broken. Her laptop had miraculously survived the attacks, even though he checked it randomly and frequently and had threatened to remove it from her along with her phone. For some reason it had never been a target during his rages. She assumed it was because it had been a gift from his parents for her 21st birthday and carried a higher status than the vast array of personal belongings that he had destroyed, pawned or hidden from her.

Bridget was following the instructions in the pamphlet to a tee. She had a small list that she would ask the staff to help her with once she emerged from her unit but there were some things she could do on her own and she was well into the process of doing them. With a red biro (found in the pencil case that accompanied the gold colored note book that was amongst her induction package) she turned to her list. Block his number. Tick . Delete all photos of him from my phone. Tick.  Delete nasty messages but keep a record for the police on memory stick. Tick. Suspend all of my social media accounts. Tick. Change all passwords for all of my accounts. Tick. Ask staff for a safety referral to audit my phone, computer and car for tracking devices. Pending. Change my mobile number and upgrade. Pending.

She smiled with satisfaction, stood and stretched her a
rms above her head and brought them slowly to her sides as an unfamiliar calmness began to envelope her. For a moment the big red ticks on the page in front of her looked like darting arrows. “Serena would love that” she said out loud, “It looks like Artemis shot her bow and arrow all over my page”. She laughed for the first time in weeks, the memory of heryoga teacher’s quirky ways making  her feel reconnected to the life she had before she met the man who turned her world upside down.

Bridget could feel a shift in the air. She looked over at Nathan who had awoken from his brief nap and was laying contentedly in his cot, looking at her. He kicked his legs as she leant over to pick him up, filling him with delight to hear his name and see her smiling.

“It’s dark in here isn’t it baby, let’s open these curtains.” A quick cuddle, two kisses on his forehead and she placed her precious little boy into the bouncer on the floor. “Watch this” she said pulling on the curtain chord theatrically and then sliding the netting across the rod. Bright light flooded the room and they both blinked rapidly, as a powerful stream of sunshine illuminated the arm of the grey vinyl couch.  

“Look where we are baby, there’s trees everywhere”. Nathan waved his arms excitedly, he didn’t understand what his mama was saying but he could see her beaming at him like he had never seen before.

Tricia & Margaret were standing side by side  under the kitchen window when they saw the curtain in unit seven open. They looked at one another and smiled. “Bridget?”

“Yes” Tricia answered, “I’ll head up there and see if she needs a hand”.

Bridget bent down to the bouncer and scooped Nathan in her arms, nestling into his neck and laughing. “We’re free baby and we are going to be okay. I Promise”. For a moment Nathan was completely silent as he felt his mothers soft, rhythmic breath across his hair. He pulled his head back to look at her and gurgled with joy, luxuriating in the happiness of his mothers gaze.

“Hang on, there’s something I’ve forgotten for my list” and she picked up the red biro and wrote with a flourish, ending the sentence with Pending!!

She was about to prepare Nathans bath when she heard the sharp knock on the security screen. “Hold on” she called out, unlocking the two security bolts and releasing the catch on the outside door.

Tricia felt the familiar wave of admiration and concern rise in her chest as she looked directly into Bridget’s eyes. “Hi Bridget and hello Nathan, I’ve come to see if there’s anything you need a hand with?”

Bridget adjusted Nathan’s position on her hip and opened the door wider. “Yes, thanks, come in. I have a list”. She looked slightly embarrassed as she continued,  “And I’m wondering if you know of a good tattooist near here. Have a look at my drawing. I’m going to get her tattooed on my shoulders.”

Tricia smiled and touched Bridget lightly on the arm, “I do actually, I don’t have tattoo’s myself but I’ve seen some pretty amazing designs over the years.  The woman who stayed in this unit before you designed a butterfly tattoo as well. Isn’t that a coincidence? She called it her transformation woman”.


Posted in Domestic Violence, Shelter, Transformation, Uncategorized, Women | Leave a Comment »

The Women’s Village

Posted by carolom on December 6, 2017

Domestic Violence Shelters:

In the following conversation I discuss the role of the Women’s Village and why Domestic Violence Shelters are more than just a place of temporary refuge for women and children in crisis.

Here is the link:

 The Women’s Village is so much more than a Shelter


Posted in Domestic Violence, Shelter, Uncategorized, Village, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lest We forget

Posted by carolom on November 11, 2017

My Grandad John Chapman.

Killed in the second world war.
A working class man sent to a war that wealthy men start.
A broken crumpled photo.
A grieving widow.
An only child growing up in a home where the war broke my Nanas heart.
An only child denied her Fathers love, living on her own in a house of silence where her war-widow Mother worked full time, standing on her feet all day, never discussing what happened.Finding relief in hours of silence when her working day was finished.

A solitary child in awe with the world of books and paintings, art and story.
A little note she kept in her purse all of her life “To Maugny with all my Love Daddy”.
Watching an old 1940’s movie one day with a scene of young men climbing into an army truck to head to the battlefield I saw my Grandfather for the first time, represented by those vibrant, alive, energetic young men who were being sent to battle.
It is the only time I have cried for my Grandad.
I have no memories to miss.
War took care of that.

My Grandad never came home from the war and for many years I couldn’t understand my Nana’s strange and difficult ways or why my Mother jumped at loud noises and preferred to be on her own rather than in company.
I didn’t understand the contentious relationship my Mother and her Mother had but now I know that the pain and war-trauma they both experienced turned into resentment and depression and divided them into two troubled women.

Mum staying connected to her Creativity was the biggest blessing in a very sad story.
We all learnt to hold it in.
A week before she died unexpectedly my Nana said to me, “I never really got over your Grandad being killed you know”. She was in her 80’s and had never shared her pain before. It was like meeting her for the first time and then she was gone.
Now I fully understand the devastating impact that war has had on my family and how being born into a city that was the most bombed city outside of London has reverberated down the generations.
For my Grandad Private John Chapman.

The working class man who wanted to have lots of children and who doted on his beloved Maugny for the short time they were together.
Lest we Forget.



Posted in Lest We forget, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Royal Adelaide Hospital – Renewal, Rejuvenation and Originality…

Posted by carolom on November 7, 2017

This is the hospital where my beloved Mother died.


I was a cleaner  at this hospital in the early 80s and walked hundreds of kilometres down these corridors, wielding mops and brooms, chemical soaked cloths and bottles of disinfectant that cover every surface with mists you can’t see.

I used to mop towards interesting conversations and whispered politics because the green uniform of the hospital cleaner is like a cloak of invisibility in the fast paced, hierarchy of the world of medicine.
I learnt to drive the big industrial polishers by inadvertently slamming it against the wall whilst my wrists developed the muscles to hold it in place when the power surge brought it to life in a dramatic way. The metaphor does not escape me.
On February 7th 2015, 30 years after putting down my broom and walking out the ”Domestic” exit for the last time, I drove through the carpark gates at 6:30 in the morning after a life changing call from the hospital. I drove in knowing that this was the day my life will change for ever.

This was the day Mum was going to die.

My old familiar workplace felt as foreign to me as the prospect of living in the world without her. In some ways I feel like my car is still in the carpark.

We have a brand-new state-of-the-art hospital in the city and this old Royal Adelaide hospital site is undergoing renewal!

D553F774-0CB7-4028-B0CF-F823F7C0D753Those who knew my quirky, complex creative Mother know that colour and creativity were oxygen to her soul, so imagine my delight walking along North Terrace yesterday to see the grey buildings where she took her last breath, are encased in the very promise of possibilities and creativity that brought Mums imagination alive.

Maureen Omer, nee Chapman, was a voracious science-fiction reader for decades which meant she lived in the realm of new possibilities, realities and concepts that have never been seen before when all around the world told her a very different story than the one she lived in her imagination.




“The sci-fi writers are the prophets” Mum used to say.

How fabulous that the piece of land where Maureen drew the breath that we inhaled as she exhaled for the very last time, will be reincarnated as a vibrant. colourful landscape in the middle of our beautiful city!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The ART of Change. A Domestic Violence Shelter Memoir

Posted by carolom on April 18, 2017

*This is my unedited memoir in progress. I welcome your feedback and comment as I develop my work in progress.
Thank you for taking time to read my story about working in  women’s domestic violence and homeless shelters over the last 20 years and thank you for your patience with the unedited nature of the following story.


The ART of Change
A Domestic Violence Shelter Memoir

by Carol Omer

Chapter 1.

The Women’s Village

For many years I worked in homeless shelters and domestic violence refuges amongst complex women leading challenging lives. And that was just the staff.

That’s an old joke I used to bring out at staff meetings occasionally to remind us that although we were the shelter workers, we were not exempt from life’s dramas and difficulties. Our agency was a supported accommodation and advocacy service for homeless young women under 25, with children. It was referred to amongst the residents  as a shelter for single mums.

Many were teenage mothers dealing with issues of poverty and family trauma. We didn’t always have the answers to every problem that presented itself amongst the homeless women who came to live at the shelter for a short time but we were dedicated to our philosophy of walking with the young women in the early days of  their journey of young motherhood.

A women’s shelter is a complex, compassionate and challenging environment. There were times when staff members attributed issues amongst the women in residence as a reflection of the dynamics of that current group not realising that sometimes the discord and lack of co-operation were a mirror of our own .

As a staff team we were continuously working through complex issues of compatibility and conflict amongst our team  of ten women sharing a relatively small space day in and day out. Spending a significant part of our week days in a compact setting  required us all to take ownership of how our personal style impacted the collective and it  was an on going conversation that sometimes carried high emotion when contradictory values clashed.
We had the privilege of addressing difficulties within the context of   team development and staff training but for the women who came to live at the shelter their issues were not always identified as related to living with seven other women in a highly prescriptive shelter setting whilst under the watchful eye of a team of older women as contributing to   her stress.

Workplaces are a microcosm of human interactions and work place politics, staff alliances and staff differences, personality types and personality clashes play out on a daily basis. I think of workplace teams as a kind of arranged marriage, some of the relationships have a high success rate where others require constant attention and maintenance in order to maintain harmony and an agreement about how power and responsibility are distributed.

Identity, self worth, acceptance, overcoming negative patterns and developing new ways of thinking to overcome old beliefs and narrow perceptions are the challenges we all face in life. The women who came to live at the shelter were living an amplified version of these challenges because of the impact of domestic violence, surviving sexual abuse and poverty. At any given time there would be 20 women living behind the secure gates of the shelter and equally as many children. It was an unpredictable, sometimes volatile and endlessly inspiring setting taught me a great deal about the resilience of women during times of distress and heartache.
Human services are no different than any other institution, that creates highly contained settings where the very best and the most challenging aspects of human nature are played out. Skilled, flexible women with compassionate hearts managed our shelter and they encouraged a culture of self-reflection and team development. Like all of us, they were on their journey of life and together we created new projects and programs, some that failed and many that were successful. Accountability for choices and behaviors was as relevant for the women who worked there as it was for the women who came to live there.

The teenagers and young women who came to the shelter were marginalised and troubled young people. Some struggled with mental health issues and all were affected by trauma and grief. They often arrived with babies in prams donated by the Salvo’s, accompanied by determined social workers who had worked hard to get them into the shelter and away from the people and places they were accustomed to.

Occasionally a woman was at the shelter because of a court order and the monitoring of her daily routines by staff, social workers and psychologists would determine whether or not she would keep her baby or if a care order would be put in place. There was a lot at stake and emotions were raw and unpredictable. Any mother, regardless of her age or circumstances would find the prospect of losing her baby to an all powerful government department an agonising, looming threat.

In some ways the power that the shelter had over a young woman’s future, determined by the observations and recommendations we would make, was the same power imbalance and impending threat that she experienced in the domestic violence she was fleeing. We had the power and the resources and she had to comply and commit to making changes or her relationship with her baby, who was considered to be at high risk by the time a court order was issued, would be changed for ever.
All of the residents at the shelter were young, vulnerable women and many had become mothers at a time in their life when her own trials and difficulties were overwhelming. The reality of life as a single mother on a low income in a society that favours the educated and the ambitious is fraught with obstacles that are invisible to people outside of the subculture of homelessness, domestic violence and sole parenting.


Chapter Two.

The Revolving Door

Why are some people drawn to working in a shelter when others will go through their whole lives never setting foot inside of a women’s refuge or a domestic violence shelter?

The basic salary is not a reflection of the level of experience and skill of the shelter staff and career paths are limited, which is why many young social work graduates work in shelters as a career stepping stone on their way to a far better paying position of influence and opportunity.
It is my experience that there are two common reasons women choose to work in women’s shelters and neither are to do with financial reward. It is dedication and optimism.

Shelter workers are very optimistic regardless of the domestic violence statistics that say family violence is on the rise or the number of times a woman returns to access a service that she had said she will never need to see again.

Women who work in shelters are dedicated to the long term support of families who are vulnerable to budget cuts and housing shortages and to the women who are at risk of exploitation and harm by abusive partners . In the face of shrinking housing stock and limited access to education and resources, women’s shelter staff are resolute in their commitment to advocating for safe, secure and affordable housing for marginalised women with children.

Dedication and optimism are the oxygen that breathes life into women’s shelters even though their budgets and programs are often the first to be cut during the tightening-budget phase of funding cycles and in the aftermath of elections.

Shelters that accommodate children have an extra layer of optimism and resilience. They are staffed by highly skilled children’s workers, equipped with a level of insight and sensitivity that enables them to navigate complex relationships with young women who are often very suspicious of the motives of the staff who they generically refer to as The Workers.

As a staff team we recognised that the devastating circumstances homeless women have experienced can be addressed in the case management process or at the very least their trauma can be attended to in a supportive and dedicated environment when a care plan is put in place.

I was one of The Workers in a team of ten women for a period of ten years at a shelter I will refer to as The Women’s Village. During that time I also sat on an Aboriginal women’s domestic violence service and as a board member of The Big Issue street magazine. The Women’s Village was a small community based organisation that provided accommodation and support to homeless young mothers and their children . We were the gatekeepers standing at the revolving door. Women arrived with deeply ingrained trauma and were often living out inherited family chaos that placed them into a web of poverty, family violence and limited opportunity from birth. Their children had often experienced a great deal of upheaval in their short lives and many were already familiar with the day to day routine of refuge life.

Our shelter was not the preferred place for the women who had strong, supportive networks, empowering family relationships or access to resources, however if one of our residents did have this level of support, she would usually only stay for a short time and having escaped domestic violence, would return to her supportive family shortly after.

By their very nature, women’s shelters are a place where women and children go when there is nowhere else to go.

It was not uncommon for a woman to leave with her children and return a few weeks or months later. Promises of love, promises to change, promises of a better future with troubled and sometimes dangerous men kept her trapped in the domestic violence cycle so it was our job to offer her domestic violence education and personal development training so that she could recognise the cycle and the inevitable stages that always left her vulnerable and in harms way.
Each woman has her own unique story about her relationship with her children’s father and even though her age and stage of emotional development and health issues may keep her anchored deeply in the events of a troubled past, we often witnessed great courage and determination throughout the months and, in the early days, sometimes the years that she was supported by our agency.

Homeless young mothers are one of the most vulnerable groups in Australian society so embarking on the journey of parenting at a time when she was discovering her own identity is a huge undertaking for a teenager and each staff member at the shelter would play a different role in supporting her in that journey.

We were a staff team of ten women of different ages, backgrounds, cultural and spiritual beliefs. Some of us were academically qualified and others brought their school-of-life experience to the team. To use the metaphor of The Women’s Village, we were the village chiefs, the aunties, enforcers of shelter rules and responsibilities . We were the mothers and the grandmothers who had walked our own journey to arrive at the shelter doors as a staff member. As service providers we were the educators and programs developers, the cleaners and the teachers, the advocates and motivators who often saw a young woman’s strength and potential long before it began to awaken in her own consciousness.
Although our service agreements referred to us as staff members, employees and management, there was much more to our role than the documents reflected. This is true across all residential shelters and it is one of the reasons I consider shelter staff to be the invisible army of workers and volunteers in the public conversations about domestic violence. The dedicated staff who carry a woman’s story with her until she is ready to carry it alone are the least visible but most critical to the effectiveness and safety of the women’s shelter network

In a world that calls for a clear mind and strong sense of self to navigate the challenges of living in a complex, highly competitive world, our team recognised the importance of celebrating the smallest of achievements in the grandest way possible!

Our children’s workers always met with heartfelt acknowledgement the rare smile from a severely depressed teenage mother, who was struggling with a baby and insecure toddler. The survivor of sexual abuse who was making her escape from her second or third violent relationship with a new level of resolve was greeted with the cheers and affirmations of a staff team who understood that our job is to believe in her until she is ready to believe in herself.

We knew that her chances of living beyond merely surviving a deeply troubled past and developing the skills and knowledge to create a peaceful, secure life for herself and her children would require a huge amount of strength and resilience. Many women at the shelter were facing personal demons that haunted her every waking moment. Some of the staff members could relate to the challenges she was facing because they had walked a similar journey and understood that she needed time to rest and rejuvenate, reflect and recover.

Our residents were young women who struggled to make sense of their situation and were confronted with the enormous challenge of making a better life for their children even though they faced overwhelming emotions and loneliness. I am trying to look after myself and I’ve never been very good at that and now I have two children to look after and I’m worried I will mess up their childhoods. Heartfelt, anguished concerns that I heard over and over in the 10 years I hosted our in-house personal development group.

It was the responsibility of the staff team to create a safe and secure shelter whilst also managing the daily currents of anger, frustration, sadness, grief and despair within the walls of the shelter. Concerns about lost parenting payments, bank accounts raided by the ex-partner, unpaid electricity bills from the home they had fled and needs assessments for traumatised children took up large amounts of time and resources. Fear, uncertainty, stress and grief were expressed and exhaled on a daily basis.

Transport to appointments, referrals for food vouchers for baby formula and nappies, accessing legal aid, hospital visits and trauma counseling, the list of urgent matters needing immediate attendance is exhaustive across women’s services. Leaving domestic violence is a big step that becomes the catalyst for the complex process of sorting through the practical aspects of creating a new life.

Although all of the young women were mothers, the reality was that many of the troubled young women living in our shelter and outreach properties were unable to meet their children’s needs as they had not yet begun to understand their own.

Homeless shelters provide a place of rest and refuge for some of the most marginalised, traumatised members of society and whilst every woman had her own unique story and not everyone was carrying deep scars of childhood abuse and neglect, it was a common enough experience that most of the young women who came to live at the shelter were considered to have high needs and were assessed as at risk by the social workers who referred them

Sharing a common bond of homelessness, young motherhood and youth culture, the programs we ran were an opportunity to learn about different ideas and alternatives to the path they have been travelling. We made sure that the programs were relevant to their age group and sometimes we got it wrong but most of the time we were able to create training tools that were adaptable for all levels of literacy levels and cultural

For some it was a turning point that they would grab with both hands and cling to with fierce determination, willingly accepting the support of the staff and the services we brought in as necessary to leaving the past and creating a new life for her self and her children.   Equally many would return to their former life after a brief respite in the highly structured and   closely supervised environment of the shelter. We are going to give it another go. He said he has really changed this time and I believe him .The kids miss him. We would make sure she had our phone number before fare welling her from the site. The younger staff, the newly graduated social workers, sometimes anguished over a resident’s return to a relationship that had brought her nothing but heartache and grief.

The older staff understood her anguish, we had all witnessed it at the revolving door as we welcomed and fare welled the young women. Each of us had to learn how to detach emotionally as a vulnerable woman made a potentially life threatening choice. We had learnt to stay connected to compassion along with a willingness to allow her to experience what she needed to learn beyond the walls of the shelter.

Occasionally two of our residents would realise they had lived in the same foster placement or government operated group home. The universe had aligned with finite precision and placed them in the same place at the same time to meet. The reunion would reflect either the worst or the best of their shared backgrounds.

They called one another the GOM kids. As children they had been placed under the Guardianship of the Minister. Government departments and an army of youth workers and foster care providers became the parent figures to replace the birth parents who were no longer the primary care giver in their lives.

Women arrive at shelters with their children in strollers, their belongings in large red, white and blue plastic bags. Sometimes their possessions are in large black bin bags, toys and toiletries hastily bundled together inside of thin biodegradable plastic that has ripped and torn during the journey from the boot to the shelter door. The young family may have left the crisis refuge in the inner city or emergency accommodation in a motel in order to set up a temporary new home inside of one of the eight on site units that we had named Peace in 8 languages that they did not yet understand. New residents arriving would sometimes pass the old ones leaving.

Social workers, counselors and occasionally family members accompanied the new arrivals. Those same family members might also be the source of her struggle and her conflicted feelings and she may tell us that she had lived at the shelter with her own mother 15years ago. The older staff would nod, remembering the family and what her mother was going through at the time. During our tea break we would reflect on what we remembered about her as a little girl and whether or not we could recall where the family went after they left the shelter all those years ago. Our oldest shelter worker had a razor sharp memory and her fondness for the little girl she once knew brought a level of heart and soul to The Village that could never be captured in the data and statistics that was diligently included in our annual general report year in and year out.

Our referrals came from a variety of community organisations, specialist support agencies, family support workers and early intervention professionals. Where were the artists and story tellers, the dancers and song writers amongst the decision makers, the researchers, academics, therapists, social workers and counselors you might ask?

How often did we see a young woman’s creative skills or interests detailed in her referral reports or amongst the voluminous case notes that followed her from service to service? Never.

Did her intake forms recommend placing a notebook, coloured pens, brush or canvas into the hands of the women? No.

Unfortunately creativity and the potential of the imagination was not discussed amongst the professionals or referenced in her files yet in the coming years we witnessed that these were the very tools that often facilitated the greatest change in a young woman’s life.

Chapter Three:

Creativity as a Tool for Transformation

Creativity as a vehicle for goal setting and personal development is not the preferred tool in the homeless sector. Reference to creativity won’t be  found on intake or referral forms and funding for hands on, imaginative programs is almost non existent in women’s shelters. Although there is a growing recognition that arts based mental health programs are beneficial for relaxation, creative expression and well being, the limited nature of funding for homeless shelters and programs precludes the arts and creative processes.

A child’s experience in the western education system at the entry level is generally rich in creativity, dance, movement, developing the imagination & having fun! Variety and movement is a key to engaging children’s attention in the kindergarten class room.

The world of play and creativity at the pre-school level begins to be left behind once children step through a very different door to enter junior primary and step on to the long road that leads towards qualifying for university. The university lecture theatre   could not be further away from the dynamic creativity of the early childhood world and by the time those who have done well in the system arrive there, they are often carrying the belief I am not creative.
Where the kindergarten’s internal and external spaces are designed for the development and use of imagination, play and exploration  in a high activity setting, the next level of schooling requires a transition to sitting still for long periods and engaging in activities that do not involve the feet, song or the same level of movement.

Many of the women  who came to the shelter had not completed high school and very few had a university education. With some exceptions the one hat, fits all approach to educating hundreds of thousands of children simultaneously means that the individual with her personal struggles and concerns can become lost within its corridors.

Most had come to believe they were not very smart and that learning created a great deal of stress with very few outcomes so it was to be avoided when ever possible.

I once asked one of our young social workers if she had any training in the subject of creativity during her years at university and her response was No, nothing like that, I hadn’t even thought about it until I began my placement here.

Many young people have not had success in the one-hat-fits-all approach to learning, especially the ones who are kinesthetic learners, who absorb information when there is movement and rhythm like there was in their early child hood. These are the young people who struggled with sitting still for years on end in the class room and by the time they arrived at our shelter they did not identify with the education system or the prospect of re-entering it.

We often saw the young mothers immerse themselves into play group activities with uncharacteristic concentration, absorbed in activities that were designed to develop a strong bond between mother and child. Play group often revealed a playful, imaginative child within the most troubled young woman and in her enthusiasm to play and enjoy the creative exercises, her child might be ignored as she immersed herself in the free flowing creativity that she had not experienced for many years.

In those early years it became apparent that whilst we had identified the importance of play and creativity, variety and fun for the developmental well being of the children in the shelter, it was time to pay attention to the daily evidence their mothers had the very same needs for creativity and play.  In fact the same could also be said for the staff members of the agency, even though art, creativity, story telling  and play for workers was a pretty outrageous concept in a sector that places high value on the importance of  professionalism and a code of conduct that does not include dancing in a circle wearing fairy wings as we eventually did as a team for one of our staff meetings.

A significant number of the young women who came though our programs  had been born into family systems that were assessed as a high risk environment. Some had spent their vulnerable childhood years surrounded by chaos and family violence with government departments, backed by court orders and mental health authorities. The adults in the lives of this marginalised group were often parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties who were afflicted by alcoholism and poverty   and their own unresolved issues.

By the time the young women made their way to the shelter, it was time for a change!

Chapter Four
Creating Happiness And New Growth Everyday

To be continued

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Creating wearable Empowerment Art…

Posted by carolom on February 13, 2017

 Bead Happy Empowerment Art  is an ART of Change  program for Women who have experienced violence.

We hand roll  beads  from air drying clay to create an empowerment necklace. Meeting over 3 sessions at the Shelter,   participants shape their beads based on a Vision they hold for the future or as an expression of  strength and developing a clear, confident  sense of Self and identity etc.

When  the personal vision  beads are dry we paint them and give them life, colour and vibrancy. Das clay is  quick drying and a very hardy medium that is not heavy once it has dried.
The rolling of the clay and shaping the beads is a very relaxing process,a form of open eyed meditation that  is very conducive for learning and relaxation.

The Bead Happy Empowerment Art project engages two significant aspects – process and completion, which are often difficult to attain for people who are living with post traumatic stress and the effects of violence, losing ones home and coping with injuries and grief.

The talking circle format is a very relaxed, creative  environment .

This informal setting  is often more culturally relevant for many of the participants from CALD backgrounds. (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse).

The environment does not have a counsellor – client dynamic. It is an empowering model that facilitates conversation  beyond pain and issues to the place of connecting with personal power, natural talent and new possibilities.

We celebrate personal strength and explore the potential we have to move beyond limitations and the impact of domestic violence.

Thank you to the Women who have shared their work in the images below.

Although they remain anonymous in the photos, the very personal stories and amazing creativity that is expressed through the clay and the beading process  affirms to me how privileged I am to provide art based life coaching at the grass roots, community level where so many amazing women have extraordinary stories to share.


We roll the beads from air drying clay



As we roll and then sand them we are holding the vision of our goals and aspirations



Spraying the Bead Happy Empowerent Necklace seals in the vision and stengthens the clay



Every bead, every necklace is as unique as the fingerprints of the woman who created them as she  pressed her vision into the clay

Carol Omer is a certified Life Coach and Artist. She specialises in creativity based empowerment and healing programs for women. She is the author of The Big Girls Little Coloring Book, a life coaching colouring book for women.


Posted in ART of Change, Domestic Violence, Sisterhood, Transformation, Uncategorized, White Ribbon | Leave a Comment »

When things turn up and make you smile …

Posted by carolom on September 6, 2016

This is a true story and it began this morning when I was preparing to go for a morning walk.

I could not find a second hair clip and rather than waste time looking I decided to go with a hair clip and a hair grip ( as Mum used to call them). I had already lost half an hour to emails so I didn’t want to waste any more time!


It is Spring time in our part of the world and  the Jasmine vines, my very favourite flower, are bursting with new life. There was a massive flowering vine hanging over the edge of fence in one of the very old lane ways and I picked some but as I was only half way through my walk I thought I wish I had brought a bag with me…

I exited the lane way into a car park and there, on the edge of the car park  was a lone shopping trolley with a bright pink,  empty bag sitting in it.

No car nearby.

No people to be seen.

This must be my bag! 

I smiled as I put the Jasmine inside and reflected on how sometimes there is great power in our throw away thoughts. We throw them out into the ether, often thousands of thoughts in a single day  and sometimes they boomerang back to us wrapped around a prize  catch created by the matter of fact nature of our thoughts !
Did you know that often the things that matter in those matter of fact moments can  matter’ialise when we least expect it?

I arrived home, took the beautifully perfumed Jasmine from the bag and placed the flowers in  Mums  old ceramic boot vase that she made many years ago.

Since Mum passed away  last year I treasure every single thing she made and there are many art and craft creations she lovingly made over the years.

For example that is one of her knitted dolls hats on her manikin that is embracing mine.


I am an avid student of the power of the mind and our role as co-creators with life but there was no way I could have guessed what was in the bottom of what I thought was a completely  empty bag!

Here it is! A second hair clip!

Exactly  the same as the one I was looking for before going with the hair grip instead.



Hand on heart this extra bit of Magic just kind of made my day! As the late and wonderful Dr Wayne Dyer wrote You’ll see it when you Believe it!

I definitely believe in the Magic of life!

I don’t know how the empty pink bag ended up sitting in an empty trolley in a near empty car park and I would happily return it to its’ owner if there was identifying information in there.
But then again it is quite possible it just turned up because I thought I wish I had brought a bag with me  and before that I need that hair clip, my fringe is in my eyes…

Posted in Magic, Serendipity, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

She walks alone at Midnight…or does She?

Posted by carolom on August 17, 2016

I went outside at midnight to round up Junipurr and Purrly.

At the end of my driveway a woman was walking past.

She said : “What are you doing out so late?” and I said:
“I’m calling my cats in, what are you doing out walking so late?”.

“Oh I don’t sleep much these days. I often walk at night.

My son died 5 years ago. I haven’t slept much since”.

It was one of those unexpected moments where everything in the world funnels down into this one encounter with a stranger.

Junipurr ran towards us, his bell jingling with vibrancy and gorgeousness, so full of life and vitality.

“I am so sorry for your loss. The world isn’t the same anymore is it? My Mum died last year.”

I know this because since Mum died it feels like the doors and windows are permanently open and drafts and winds blow in at anytime of the day or night.

But I know that losing a child is not the same as losing your Mother. It’s a different kind of pain because I’ve seen it in my friends C’s eyes.

“He was only 20.” She said this twice.

” See that star up there, the bright one. That’s him”.

I realised that’s why she walks at night alone. She isn’t alone at all.

5 minutes before my biggest concern was a failed creative project I had been working on for hours.

It was a moment that completely reorganised my thoughts and perspective from the personal to the Universal.

“I’m truly sorry for your loss”…I couldn’t find any better words. I would have liked to have.

“Thank you. And I’m sorry for yours”.

“It makes you wonder why we are here” she said.

She walked off into the cold but very clear and crisp night and I came inside with my kitty-cats.

I went out 10 minutes later to see if she was walking back. Maybe a coloring book would help.

But the street was empty.

This song is for all of the Mothers who are living in the world without their children.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

When a Throw-away line Casts a Wide Net. MagNETic!

Posted by carolom on August 17, 2016

Sometimes it’s the throw-away lines of our mental chatter that have the attractor factor.

I listened to an interview with one of my favourite authors, Norman Doidge who wrote the fabulous book The Brain that Changes Itself.
A must read for anyone interested in neuroscience and neuroplasticity and the extinction of the dinosaur belief that the brain is hard wired and can not be changed.

“Once broken can never be repaired” paradigm is sailing away across the oceans of the flat world as we speak… 😉

In the interview with Dr Doidge there was mention of his new book published by penguin in 2016 “The Brains way of Healing”.

I thought “Would love to read it, will check with library” but forgot to check and book it when I got home.

Three days later strolling around 2nd hand store and there is a brand new 2016 copy of “The Brains Way of Healing’ sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to notice it.

And I did.

How did this newly released $30 book arrive in perfect condition on the shelves of a second hand store for $2.99 just a few months after it’s release and three days after my intention to read it?

Throw-away lines sometimes cast the widest net perhaps….



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »