SHOULDER TO SHOULDER: WITH VICTIMS OF TORTURE

 

ABOUT – Freedom from Torture (formerly known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture)

The charity says – Every survivor of torture in the UK has a different story, which means their needs are different, too. That’s why we tailor the support we offer to suit each person who comes to us.

We provide counselling, group therapy and ongoing support.

We run groups like gardening, music, creative writing and cookery.

We provide expert medical assessments to support survivors’ asylum claims.

And we use our expertise and evidence to protect and promote survivors’ rights and hold torturers to account.

“After all the pain, I knew there was a place I could go and no one would judge me.”

 

FREEDOM FROM TORTURE WRITING GROUPS

‘WRITE TO LIFE’ AND ‘ALL WRITE’

Introduction by Sheila Hayman

”This is a famous book, ‘The Smell of Flowers’, it’s about a mother and her daughter. The voices of Arab women are never heard and I feel they should be” – Najib

One of the reasons I habitually give for the importance of Write to Life and All Write, the therapeutic writing groups of the Medical Foundation, is that they give a voice to the voiceless. Refugees and asylum seekers like our clients are freely discussed by journalists and politicians, yet almost never heard themselves. This year they have been less talked about than usual, if only because there has been so much scary and scandalous bad news elsewhere. All the more reason to be ready with our personal testimonies, for when things change.

In the past, the members of Write to Life and All Write have too often had to stand by, smiling, as other people read their work or hosted their events This year, we’ve moved a step forward in empowering and celebrating our writers. Beginning with their hugely successful leading role in the 2008 Supporters, Reception, where several of them read their own pieces, we have been practising performance and public speaking in several workshops and then putting what we learn into practice.

To read what you have written about your own life, on a public stage to total strangers, requires huge courage. ‘’Why should people listen?’’ ‘’Why is my story more important than anyone else’s’’ ‘’What if my writing betrays something I don’t know about myself, makes me look silly?’’ These questions dog any writer, let alone those who in their daily lives are habitually treated as invisible, or worse.

And yet our writers have two great advantages. First to hear their voices at all is a novelty to most people. And second, the process of being uprooted from one country and taken to start again from nothing in another, reduces life to its essentials. The dramas of their lives are ones we can all understand. They have learned the difference between a big story and a small one – though the big one may be hiding in events or objects that seem trivial. Just as Cityman says about his hands: he barely thought about them, until they became all he had to put food into his mouth.

Write to Life is now twelve years old. Initially a handful of clients and two mentors, it now has about twenty clients and five volunteer mentors, with a sister group, All Write, at the Medical Foundation Scotland. The work we do consists of one-to-one writing between client and mentor, and bi-weekly workshops. These start with a simple shared meal and then move on to an exercise in which everybody – clients, mentors and visitors – joins in.

Our writers at the Medical Foundation have a fund of experience to draw on beyond those of many others, often literally unspeakable. And yet they live on in the writers’ heads, like the ghosts in a haunted house, chasing away sheep, lurking in the background of every encounter, liable to jump out and wreck any tentative attempt at rebuilding happiness. So there’s a therapeutic value in confronting them, naming and describing them, and turning them into stories – among many other, happier stories. It’s another kind of empowerment, giving the writer control of the force of past experience, but as a creative, not a destructive force.

There are other purposes to the group. Some of our members were writers in their own countries, or journalists whose courage in telling the truth is the reason they’re here now. For them, learning to exercise that craft in a new

”Is seeking refuge a surviving instinct? True or false? You decide. Many have come, they have seen here, they left. But,I stay.” – Nadine

language – often their fourth or fifth – is a source of pride and satisfaction, as well as a valuable skill. I’m glad to report that one of our current sponsors, The Economist, is offering more than money, bringing its journalists to speak to ours and inviting us to visit its offices and find out how journalism works in this country.

And of course, there’s the important of speaking for those who are still voiceless and unheard all over the world. Surviving, making it to the UK, starting a new life would seem to most of us things to celebrate. Yet, for many of our writers, that relief is almost immediately followed by guilt over the fate of others left behind. As Stephanie says in her piece, we all have a duty to use the courage and the voices we have to defend those who have none.

The moment on a Wednesday evening when the workshop begins, when we all sit down at the long table to share a bit of food and write together, is always a thrill for me. In Write to Life we have people from Congo, Sudan, Syria, Cameroon, Lithuania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Turkey and Burundi. Having reached the UK, they then battle the underground and buses to Finsbury Park from Epping, Lewisham, Ilford, Peckham, Northwood and Hendon, sometimes spending their last money, or borrowed money, on the fare. Yet somehow, they make it to sit together round that table, in peace and friendship, and write.

Getting there at all is an achievement in lives often swamped with difficulty, where ‘choice’ may mean choosing between binding your college thesis or eating for several days. All the more important, then, to discover where it can lead, both in mind and in the world. I’m incredibly proud that our writers are now being published, broadcast and invited to tell their own stories all over the place.

All lives matter, and the matter of all life is to make sense of it in story.

 

 

Here are a selection of stories and poems from the Write to Life and All Write writers: –

 

Remember Me  – F.Mehrban

Dedicated To my hero, Feridoon

When you see a big tree broken by a storm and fallen on the land

When you see a spring that has turned in on itself to form a lagoon

When your heart is full of the pain of injustice but your lips are sewn

When you’re tired of solitude and loneliness

Remember me

If nobody hears your cries for justice, or hears and ignores you anyway

”This belonged to my grandfather. My father inherited it and when he died, it came to me” – F.Mehrban

If hurt and cold and hunger prevail

As you writhe in pain at the inexorable whip

But your pride doesn’t let you cry

Remember me

If you sit in darkness all day long, thinking and thinking

Darkness behind you and, in front of you, annihilation

Without a friend to remember the past

Suffering in a continual nightmare

Seeing everything dimly

Waiting for years and years to see a passerby

through your small window, hoping for any short message

Losing your youth

Without any pleasure

Remember me

 

I watered freedom’s tree with my blood

But instead, I saw oppression growing

I watched the thunderstorms through the window

I heard the raindrops on the roof

But I wanted to see the drops on the flower petals in our garden

I heard birdsong at dawn

But I wanted to see the birds flying in the blue sky

And one day I knew that although they’d imprisoned me

They couldn’t control my dreams

Then, in my small damp cell, I dragged my wounded body to the

darkest part of it

In my dream I made myself free

In my mind I created the voice of the wind scuffling and streams tumbling

I saw birds flying in the blue sky

I rode for hours and hours on my red bike

I put my head on my father’s shoulder

I even smelled my mother’s roses

Yes…I was free

 

Darling, remember life is magnificent when

In the middle of a rainy night, in the dark, wet streets, you see

two lovers walking

When you pass a garden and see a small sparrow with a broken wing,

take it in your palm. Stroke it, mend its wings and help it fly

Fly beside it and feel free, with your whole body, then …

Remember me

 

On the big oak in the corner of our garden, carve my name

Close your eyes and imagine me beside toy

Feel my arm around your shoulder

Listen…Pink Floyd are singing…I wish…I wish you were here

Turn it up loud

 

About F.Mehran – ‘’I was born in the south of Iran and before becoming a writer I worked in a big company for more than twenty years. I started writing when I was a child and had many short stories and poems published in magazines in Iran. I came to England in 2002’’.

 

Yarl’s Wood – Hana

I got out of the van and went into the building. There was a long corridor, with beige walls and a shiny blue floor with a tiny dotted pattern. It all looked very clean and very solid. In the reception, some women were waiting for me.

They said ‘‘Welcome to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre’’ and one of them added ‘‘You are going to stay with us for some time’’. She asked if I wanted some sandwiches. It was nearly eight in the evening and I hadn’t eaten since I left home before lunch. But when I’m upset, I punish myself, I lose my appetite.

”Books are very important for me because they help me to understand the world I live in. They also help me to understand myself better – to help me come the person I am” – Hana

Even if I eat it, it has no taste, no life in my mouth. So I said ‘‘No’’.

Then she continued, ‘‘Now we need to search you’’. That was the third time I’d been searched that day. Two women came and took me to a small room. They told me to take off all my clothes and my shoes. I told them, ‘‘I’ve been searched only a few hours ago’’, They replied ‘’Yes, we know that. This is different’’.

I did what they told me to so. I took off everything except my pants. They checked every single thing. The only place they didn’t go was my pants. After a couple of minutes, a man came. He said in a very harsh voice, ‘’I am going to take you to your room. Follow me!’’

We went along a very long corridor with a lot of doors. He was carrying a big bunch of keys. He didn’t say anything; the only sound was his keys in the endless doors.

We carried on down the corridor, and reached a staircase. My room was a little way up. He asked if I needed any help on the stairs. ‘’You look very tired’’ he said. I answered, ‘‘No’’. I opened the door and entered the room. It was small and square, with two beds and a toilet and shower by the door. One table, two chairs, one cupboard, white walls. Like a hospital.

I saw a girl lying down on one of the two beds. I asked her if she came from Ethiopia. She said, ‘’No, I’m from Eritrea, my name is Azebe.’’ We started talking. She said she’d been here in the country for five years: ‘’I came when I was underage, and when I became eighteen they wanted to deport me. I’ve been taken to the airport three times, but each time I shouted and screamed when they tried to put me on the place, so they brought me back again’’. She added, ‘’Next week I have another flight. I don’t want to go back’’. I didn’t ask her why not. What she said made me think about myself.

She started talking about her life but I didn’t hear her. My feelings were confused; it was nice to have somebody to talk to, but what she said was very upsetting.

I didn’t answer her, and went to bed.

A week later, six guards came to the room. It was nearly midnight. Azebe was expecting them, we were awake. She said ‘’I’m not going; I’m going to die here! I’m going to die here, Hana, I’m not going to go!’’ Then they opened the door: four men and two women. She said to them, ‘’I want to use the toilet’’. They waited, sitting on the bed, watching the locked door.

Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed. They knocked on the door. She didn’t answer. They called somebody to open the door. A security guard came. He had a master key and opened it. She’d drunk the shampoo. She tried to stop them touching her. They pulled all her stuff from the cupboard, put it in a black bag, then they started dragging her out of the room. I was sitting there stunned, watching her flailing arms as she tried to stop them. I didn’t know what to do. I just watched.

After a few minutes I started to vomit, and then my bowels went. I was terrified this would happen to me. It was like watching the future.

The next day, about ten o’clock, Azebe came back. Her face was bruised. I was happy to see her, but I couldn’t talk to here. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t face the dining room, didn’t want breakfast, lunch or dinner, even a cup of tea. I was afraid of the security guards. The white shirts and the black trousers reminded me of violence. I felt nobody was safe in that place.

I didn’t eat for five days. During this time, they took Azebe away again, and brought a Ugandan girl, her name was Maureen. She said, ‘’Hana, you must eat something, you can’t last like this this. You need energy to fight for yourself.’’ But I couldn’t see why I should fight; they had all the power. Maureen asked a doctor to come and see me, but security refused to bring a doctor. They said I had to go to the clinic. She said, ‘’She’s too weak, she hasn’t eaten for five days’’.

She called her friend, I don’t remember her name. ‘’Let’s at least help Hana to take a shower’’. Her friend and Azebe came, took off my clothes and put me in the shower.

At lunch time the three girls made me go to the dining room. Maureen asked the security to let me go to the head of the queue, as I was too weak to wait in it. He said it wasn’t fair on the others. Then all the girls queuing up shouted out, ‘’Let her go in, let her go in!’’ They led me in and I sat in the corner, near the door. Maureen brought me soup, and Azebe and the other girls forced me to drink it. I started, but I couldn’t keep it in. I couldn’t stand, but I crawled to the corridor, and managed to get a little way from the dining room, in order not to disturb the others. Then I started to vomit.

Security called the nurse to clean it up. The nurse was a short man, he looked Indian. He had to take me to my room. He grabbed my wrist and asked, ‘’Why are you vomiting here? You should vomit in your room!’’ I looked back at him. I didn’t answer. I tried to pull my hand away. Maureen was supporting me on the other side. I tried to tell him to take his hand off me, but I couldn’t speak, so I gestured instead with my other hand.

On the way to the room we passed a woman security guard – the woman who’d seen me the first day. She said, ‘’You have to see a doctor’’. She told the nurse to arrange to send the doctor to my room, an old man. He asked what had happened. He looked shocked. He said, ‘’She must go to hospital, she’s dehydrated.’’ An hour later the ambulance came and they took me to hospital. I was so weak I couldn’t stand but they still sent two security guards with me. They x-rayed me and checked everything, then the hospital doctor asked me what had happened. But the security guards were sitting right beside me. I couldn’t tell him anything. He kept asking, again and again, but I just kept my mouth shut. Everything I did or said, they would write down. So I was too afraid.

Day and night they stayed by my bed, two of them. Watching me. Even when I used the toilet they came with me, and told me to leave the door open. I asked the doctor to help me, and after five days the security guards left. After eleven days, the Home Office wrote to the hospital and to me, and told me that if I had an address to go to, I could be released. But if not, I had to go back to Yarl’s Wood. I rang my friend in London and asked her to get me an address, any address, so they could release me. After two days she gave me an address. I don’t know where it was. I didn’t go there. Two days later, they released me.

 

Hana ( no biography details provided)

 

Sheeko Sheeko – The Story of the Lion, the Fox and the Zebra  –  Amina

Once upon a time, the King of the Lions grew old. He stayed in his cave or nearby; he couldn’t go hunting any more.

One day he saw a fox, and he said, ‘‘Hello, Fox. When I was young and strong you were my best friend; but now I am weak and old you abandon me. I can’t get to the bush to hunt; I’m very hungry.’’

”My beloved grandmum Hasina was one of the most important people in our family.She was kind and caring, and loved children. She told us a lot of children’s stories about wild animals: hyenas, foxes, lions. It was very nice, even when it was scary.” – Amina

Fox looked into his face and said, ‘‘I’m very sorry, my friend. I will never leave you alone again. Now I’ll bring you something nice to eat. Wait here just a minute.’’ The fox ran into the bush to find some sort of animal. Finally, she saw a zebra. He was very fat. ‘’Lion would like that’’ she said to herself. To the zebra she said ‘’Hey Mr Zebra, you’re a very bad friend.’’

Zebra asked, ‘’Why am I bad, Miss Fox?’’

‘Well, you know our friend Lion is very sick, and you never say hello to him!’’

‘’I’m not as bad as you think; I didn’t know he was sick.’’

‘’Well, okay, then come with me, let’s go and visit him and see how he’s feeling today.’’

They walked a long way back to the lion’s cave. As soon as King Lion saw the zebra, he jumped on the zebra to eat him. The zebra ran away to the bush, saying, ‘’That was a lucky escape!’’

Meanwhile the fox asked the lion, ‘’Why did you jump before he was even inside the cave?’’ King Lion said, ‘’Sorry Miss Fox, I couldn’t wait. He was so sweet and fat!’’.

So Fox said, ‘’Okay, I will bring Zebra back again, but this time don’t touch him until he’s properly inside the cave.’’ King Lion replied, ‘’Okay!’’

The fox went back to the bush to cheat the zebra again. She said, ‘’Zebra, why did you run away? King Lion was very upset, he just wanted to greet you because he hadn’t seen you for such a long time, and I’m sure he missed you’’.

Zebra said, ‘’Boo hoo hoo! I was so scared when he attacked me!’’

Fox replied, ‘’Don’t worry, come, let’s explain to him. He needs to know, because he’s our king’’

Zebra said, ‘’Okay!’’

After a while they came to King Lion’s cave. This time he was very careful. He didn’t move until Zebra was deep inside the cave. Then immediately King Lion jumped on him and ate the zebra with no problem.

And the zebra screamed very loudly until he was all gone.

 

This is a story from my childhood, in memory of my grandmum. She died in the civil war in my country. Skeeko Sheeko means children’s story in my country.

 

About Amina Abdulla – she is from Mogadishu, in Somalia. The war started when she was a little girl. She had only just started primary school at the time. It took away her childhood, her happiness and her entire family. Recently she won her appeal to remain in the UK and ow she’s a student at Birbeck (University of London) studying Human Rights law. She gets up at four o’clock six days a week to go to her job with Southern Rail.

 

”Not everything has to be modern to be beautiful. This is my homeland, with its special charms and colours. I love it.” – Sunflower

 

”During my temporary custody, when everything seems impossible, watching a movie like ‘Big Moment’ mends my thoughts and transports me from an erupting volcanic and crumbled world” – Steven


”My squint and I have developed a relatinship of love: he makes me feel Unique and Noticeable everywhere I go. But I have also developed a conflictual relationship with him; he has usurped my identity” – Stephanie

 

 

”This is a famous book, ‘The Smell of Flowers’, it’s about a mother and her daughter. The voices of Arab women are never heard and I feel they should be” – Najib

 

 

 

 

 

 

”This is my USB memory stick, which can hold all of me and yet is not even heavy to carry” – Memory


”I was so passionate to have this book, that I didn’t think about the consequences. In the end it was worth making the sacrifice, because I would gain a lot from it. It was something I really wanted to learn. Now I use it all the time.” – Malmo

 

”Dr Susan Fields gave me these glasses. One more thing I have had from the Medical Foundation” – Jade

 

”Still Life, Living Props” – Hassan

 

 

”What can I say of this joy?I was thinking of different names I could call her, that would give it meaning. I changed them so many times. But I found that which made me blessed. Because I trust in the great God I can say ‘ Hallelujah, Praise to the Lord” – Gloria with baby Hallelujah

 

 

”Regardless of the education I had had before, when I came here my hands became my only source of livelihood” – Cityman

 

 

Helen Rae Bamber OBE, (1 May 1925 – 21 August 2014), was a British psychotherapist and human rights activist. She worked with Holocaust survivors in Germany after the concentration camps were liberated in 1945. In 1947, she returned to Britain and continued her work, helping to establish Amnesty International and later co-founding the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. WIKIPEDIA HERE