Writers overcome horrors of torture through verse
Ask most writers what drives them and they will invariably say it is an innate compulsion, a desire to share their passion with the wider world. For torture survivors, the ability to tell their story can be fundamental to the healing process, but like any other writer it is also the pursuit of a creative ideal.
Persecution and suffering may have been visited on such people, forcing them to flee into exile, that only tells a fraction of their stories. For they all have an identity beyond the horrors they have encountered
Seven years ago, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture established the Write to Life project, which gave the London-based charity's clients a chance to tell their stories, untainted by Home Office officials or tabloid sensationalism. Whether that meant recalling the past or creating a new future, it was a chance to reaffirm their identities. The project has grown to encompass twenty writers from across the globe including Cameroon, Syria, Somalia and South Africa.
Co-ordinator Sheila Hayman said: "This is something that the Medical Foundation does which has a concrete product. One of the worst things for clients is when they are asylum seekers and they don't know whether they are going to be able to stay. They are kept in a terrible state of limbo where they see no point in putting down roots. They can't move in any direction with their lives, they feel completely powerless, but the one thing they can do is write. It makes them feel that something is moving along, even if it's just something in their heads.
"The next stage is when they get their leave to remain but then they are in the same position as thousands of other unemployed people. Through writing they can have a part in spreading their news, writing about the truth. It also helps them to address the guilt and injustice they feel at having left their loved ones behind."
Write to Life is one of many projects offered by the Medical Foundation, which is the only organisation dedicated solely to caring for torture victims. The project recently secured funding from MAN Group who fund the Booker Prize to the tune of £25,000 a year for three years. Sheila already has her sights set on a project to enlighten the masses - she is in talks with a major coffee shop chain to stock stories in its outlets which people don't necessarily have to buy but can browse while enjoying a drink.
"We need to reach those people who are sucked in by the media's misrepresentation of asylum seekers, people who think the country is flooded with refugees, who think that these people are totally unlike themselves. We want them to see that these people are husbands, mothers, professional people just like them."
Next summer, the group will take part in a presentation to Reading University, followed by a debut at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in Herefordshire. You can gauge the sense of achievement among the clients by the excited chatter and constant barrage of questions that Sheila faces at the mere mention of yet another platform to showcase this group's remarkable work. As Sheila points out, it's a case of "preaching to the unconverted", rewriting the history of asylum seekers and refugees, and redressing the imbalances both in their past lives and in the lives they hope to create in a new society.
Read the stories of WTL clients by clicking on the links below: