WBUR Oral History Project: Waheeda Saif
Interviewed by: Jayne Guberman
Date: January 10th, 2014
Location: Riverside Trauma Center (Needham, MA)
Recorder: Jim McGrath
Photo: Waheeda Saif (Photo by Waheeda Saif)
Waheeda Saif is the Program Coordinator at the Riverside Trauma Center, the agency responsible for the psychological care for residents and businesses in communities surrounding Boston in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. Having grown up largely in New Orleans, Waheeda came to the Boston area to pursue her studies in mental health counseling at Boston College. A married mother of three young children whose family is actively engaged in their local Muslim community, Waheeda’s clinical work has focused on child, adolescent, and adult survivors of abuse, and on providing support services in the field in response to traumatic events.
As a non-native Bostonian, Waheeda had previously experienced marathon day as a holiday free from work. This year, she had been enjoying a rare few hours to herself, when her husband called to say that something had happened at the marathon. She only began to take this seriously when she later overheard a group of women in a store talking about explosions at the marathon. She then quickly headed home. When she spoke to her husband again en route, he cautioned her not to allow their nanny, a Muslim woman who covers her head, to use public transportation because he thought it would be too dangerous. Only then did she begin to realize the full import of what had occurred.
Over the following few days and weeks, the Trauma Center team worked tirelessly to provide support for individuals and communities. They launched an outreach effort to provide guidance on how to talk to children about the bombings and other traumatic events, and they worked with community groups in Watertown and Cambridge, as well as with neighbors of the Richard family in Dorchester. They also accompanied individuals as they were going back to their businesses and residences in the Back Bay for the first time and counseled employees of businesses near the finish line.
Waheeda recounts her personal struggle, as a Muslim woman, about whether she should continue to wear her hijab, a Muslim woman’s traditional head covering. She describes the fears of an anti-Muslim backlash circulating within her local community, particularly once the Tsarnaev brothers, also Muslim, were identified as the prime suspects.
Scheduled to participate, as a member of the trauma response team, in sessions for students and staff at Cambridge Rindge & Latin on the Monday following the bombings, Waheeda describes the agonizing process by which she decided to continue wearing her head-covering. She tells how, walking into the school the next morning filled with trepidation, she immediately encountered a young woman student standing with her hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance wearing a hijab. Later, Waheeda convened a support meeting for Muslims at Rindge & Latin which was attended by forty students.
Audio Clip 1
After learning of the marathon attacks, Waheeda describes how she was very concerned about her nanny, who is also Muslim and wears a head covering, traveling home on public transportation.
Audio Clip 2
Waheeda reflects on some of the positives that came out of all the trauma that Boston endured in April 2013, including a better dialogue about mental health and seeking help within her work community. She also discusses the meaningful conversations that took place within the Muslim community and the peace walk from Cambridge City Hall to the Cambridge mosque which she found very moving.
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