May 27, 2021
By Dina Al Mahdy
After a solo trip to South East Asia, Shahira Heneda developed a passion for mindfulness and meditation and began her journey of personal development. Along her journey she was deeply inspired by her reading of Rumi’s book of poems and Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now”.
Having experienced a massive shift in her own wellness and mental health, she was compelled to share her experience with friends and family. However, on investigation, she was quickly disappointed by the lack of online support for mental health in the MENA region. Shahira left her job at CNN International in London to build NŪR, a mindfulness and meditation app delivered in a variety of Arabic dialects. NŪR’s mission is to positively impact the MENA region and offer easily accessible tools for daily mental health support.
WoE: Please introduce yourself
SH: My origins are Moroccan and Egyptian – my mother is Moroccan and my father is Egyptian. I was born and raised in Tangier, located in the north of Morocco. My background interweaves the cultural richness that Tangier, the gate to Africa and Europe, offers. I speak Arabic, French, English and Spanish. I also pride myself in being Arab, African and European.
I left Morocco when I was 16 and moved to Paris to continue my studies. I graduated from the American School of Paris and gained a BA in Global Communications from the American University of Paris and a minor in Business Administration. I started my career working for the award-winning advertising agency Fred & Farid as well as L’Oréal working for their luxury brand Lancôme. I later moved to London to further pursue my career, and joined CNN International Commercial working within their Middle East and Africa team.
WoE: What was the nature of your job in CNN?
SH: At CNN International I worked within their commercial department. My role was planning and strategizing digital advertising campaigns and brand partnerships for CNN’s clients from the Middle East and Africa.
WoE: Why did you decide to make a career shift from a prestigious position to another one?
SH: Growing up, I developed strong empathy for mental health patients. A very close member of my family has struggled with their mental health for the past 15 years, and is still ongoing. Very early on I’ve understood the lack of awareness, stigma and taboo around such topics in the Arab world. Mental health had no place in our society. This denial, lack of awareness and lack of mental health support for both the patient and their loved ones baffled me.
When I started my own mindfulness and meditation journey after encountering some mental struggles myself, I experienced a massive shift in my wellness and mental health. I was compelled to share my experience with friends and family from the Arab word. But on investigation, I was quickly disappointed by the complete lack of online support for mental health in the MENA region with the exception of a couple of startups. Shortly after, I decided to create an app that is tailored for the Arab world and offers easily accessible tools for daily mental wellness and mental health support.
WoE: Was it an easy decision and did your family reject or encourage you?
SH: It was not an easy decision to leave the buildup of my career behind. It was clear to me however that everything I did and experienced led me to the realisation of this very important mission for our region. The MENA region was subjected to so much socio-political instability and trauma over the past few decades that raising awareness on such topics, healing and preventing more trans generational trauma is extremely important.
WoE: Why did you decide to specialize in meditation?
SH: After having experienced such a massive shift in my own mental wellness and mental health practicing meditation, I had a strong desire to share it with friends and family. I believe it’s a great place to start any personal healing process. The simplicity of this self-healing practice drew me to learn more about it and its benefits. Sitting silently for a few minutes per day, paying attention to your breath or mantra is such a powerful concept from both a philosophical and practical perspective. So much so that over time your level of awareness in all aspects of life rises. In return, this allows you to show up every day as a better human for yourself and loved ones.
There’s more and more scientific research proving the benefits of the practice and its importance. For example, meditation improves anxiety levels 60% of the time, relieves the symptoms of insomnia by 73%, can increase employees’ productivity by 120% and finally, mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder 72% of the time, a topic that needs much attention in the Middle East.
I have found the teachings of self-healing to be extremely rare if not absent in our present culture and educational systems. The concept of meditation itself has existed for thousands of years in the region, but it seems like we’ve lost touch with the essence of it on both a secular and non-secular level.
Finally, my biggest inspiration is my family. Together we navigated the lonely struggles of mental health and the toll it can take on the entire family. This motivated me to serve the gap in the Arab world and take on the mission to offer an easy and accessible tool to those in need.
WoE: Tell us more about NŪR app?
SH: NŪR is a mindfulness and meditation app built and tailored for the Arab world with hyper-localised content delivered in a variety of Arabic dialects. It provides practical tools to enhance well-being and promote mental health, all delivered in a culturally accessible form. NŪR’s mission is to positively impact the MENA region and offer easily accessible tools for daily mental health support.
This beta version of our app is for both beginners and more advanced. You can find introductory guided meditations such as breathing or stress relief sessions, as well short boosts for inspiration such as poetry and coaching sessions. We decided to add poetry and music as we noticed that many people in the MENA region were open to the idea of meditation, but not necessarily ready to begin the practice. This angle is meant to ease users into introducing a routine of self-healing into their lives, enjoying a moment of relaxation through either beautiful poetry from the most prominent poets of the region, or curated playlists that we’ve created for different moods.
We hope to keep updating the content with the most relevant and needed topics, as well as events occurring throughout the MENA region and its diaspora. We would love to hear from our users and what we can do to improve during this testing phase. Users can find a feedback form on our website to contact us and share their feedback.
Visit NUR website and to download App on Apple Store and Play Store here
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