Our family, survivors and supporters: The difference you are making right now
The view from our Chief Executive Susan Munroe
In this special 30th year edition of The Survivor, we want to say a huge 'thank you' and focus on all the good things you have helped achieve.
Please take a moment to read Cece's speech ('Survivors celebrate 30th Anniversary', below) from the Service Users Conference; she put it better than I ever could how important your support is when she said;
"Some people may not understand it but you stood by us, you believed in us, you gave us hope, comfort, peace and above all you saved our lives."
I also hope you enjoy '30th year good news so far', below, for some of the news we can report on from 2015 – there is so much to share with you but we just can't fit it all in!
What's really important to us is that you know how much we rely on you and value your support.
We'd like to know more about you, what you like reading about and what inspires you. As someone who's chosen to support torture survivors, some of the most vulnerable people in the UK, we really value your opinions and comments.
Please feel free to get in touch with me or my colleagues anytime. We love to hear from you!
Susan Munroe, Chief Executive
PS. Please don't forget to order your Christmas Cards and purchase raffle tickets. Both are a great way to support Freedom from Torture and tell more people about the people we help.
In May we wrote to you to ask for your help in funding this year's holiday scheme. Now we want to say a huge thank you! Because of you, this year we can organise even more holidays for Freedom from Torture survivors.
Behrang arrived as a 17-year-old orphan from Afghanistan after he was tortured for 20 days because the government thought he was a supporter of anti-government groups. He shared his personal experiences in the letter in May.
When we told him that the holiday scheme had even more funding for the next two years, he said;
"I feel so happy that my story will help other people like me have a holiday. Thank you to everyone who donated, I just want to say thank you a lot. It's really hard when you ﬁrst arrive here alone, everything is different but the holiday helped me make connections with people here. When you spend time with nice British people, like my holiday hosts, you can learn how to live here. They made me feel so welcome. I am glad more people like me can have this experience because it made me very happy."
Behrang works 20 hours a week in a grocery shop and has now moved from stacking shelves to helping customers as his English has improved so much. He is also attending college to study Maths and English and continues to work very hard.
He is still in touch with Mark and Nanny, his holiday hosts from Cambridge.
Another holiday success
"This holiday has changed my daily life here in the UK, now it feels like I have family here." ~ Abdulhram
As part of our holistic care for survivors of torture, Freedom from Torture offers a holiday scheme. These holidays do wonders in relieving stress and showing survivors that there are many people who care, as Abdulrham and his family discovered.
Abdulrham, 55, was a successful business man in Syria. He has four wonderful children and has worked very hard to support himself and his family. During the war he set up a charity to collect money from business associates and use it to buy medicine and food for people who simply couldn't afford it.
It was this kind act that got him arrested, thrown into prison and tortured for six months. Abdulrham escaped and fled to the UK but threats to his family continued. Abdulhrams wife, Salwa, stayed for seven months until the government threatened to kidnap the children; she had no choice but to flee their family home. They left everything to save their lives.
Abdulhram was left with a broken collar bone amongst many other injuries and now has to permanently use a walking stick. The family are adjusting to life in the UK and were very thankful to go on a Freedom from Torture holiday in Hove.
Abdulhram said; "The hosts were so caring and respectful from the moment we arrived. They saw I had my walking stick and had difficulty walking and they immediately started to help me. I think they could see I was emotionally weak as well as physically, they showed such kindness.
"We were welcomed into their home and ate lots of different English food. Every day they made fresh bread in a special bread cooker.
"The day before we left, the holiday hosts arranged for their close friend to join us to so they could take all six of us out in the car. We put a tent up, the children played football – they were very happy. They took us to a beautiful restaurant by the sea and we ate ice cream.
"Before I went on holiday I was engulfed by the past. I was very depressed and emotional, but this holiday has improved me so much, my feelings are much more positive. I have been here one year two months and my wife and children have been here seven months and I don't think we have been happier during this time. Definitely not.
"This holiday has changed my daily life here in the UK, now it feels like I have family here. We are still in contact with the hosts, when they come to London they will visit us and I hope I can repay their hospitality in some way.
"I am very grateful for this holiday as it not only changed my mind but my children's. They were very happy there, it was wonderful for them to get out into the countryside and see goats, sheep, cows and horses – they really enjoyed it.
"You have to be in a situation like this to truly understand how much this holiday meant to us. How it can change how you feel completely. This holiday was like a therapy for me and my whole family. I am very grateful."
Without your donations, we simply wouldn't be able to support the people who desperately need our help. Looking back on our 30th year, these are just a few of the people who would like to say thank you.
"Thank you to all the supporters for your kindness. I have so many inspirational stories to share from this year so far, but one that stands out to me is my client Natnat from the DemocraticRepublic of Congo (DRC). Both her parents died and she had to look after her siblings all by herself — with no support. She was very vulnerable and age just 21 she was tortured by soldiers and had to fl ee from her country alone because her life was in danger. Four years later she is training to do care work in the UK and last month she started her fi rst year studying Psychology at University. In the future she'd like to be a child Psychologist and help other vulnerable children. It's incredible what someone can do when they have someone here to support them. Thank you for believing in people like Natnat."
Renee Stafford, councellor
"I'd like to thank you for your ongoing support so we could help Aamir. Aamir, from Afghanistan, has been an asylum seeker since he was 15 but the government didn't believe him and said he was 18. This young boy had to live as an adult completely alone in a foreign country, with no contact at all from his own family. Over the past few years I've worked with his solicitor and the Red Cross and we've become his support system. He says we are like family and he prays for us. I've seen him change from a timid boy who couldn't travel anywhere alone to a young man with his own bike who loves to ride around Glasgow, which he calls his home. We prepared a Medico Legal Report to document evidence of torture and support his case, and eventually, this year he was offi cially granted refugee status so he was allowed to live and work in the UK. The Home Offi ce now also believe he is the age he says he is. It has taken three years, but he's fi nally been given a future."
Roy Farquharson, children & young person's clinician
"I came to the UK in 2013, I was detained for 10 months in the UK. I was very depressed, stressed and Freedom from Torture helped me a lot, I have been seeing a therapist, I am in football group, doing English class at Freedom from Torture. I am a lot better and with the help of Freedom from Torture I been able to have some normality to my life. I am very grateful with the support that Freedom from Torture has given without which, I could not have survived or be where I am now. Thank you."
Kate is an active member of our Write to Life group. She had to ﬂee Iran ﬁve years ago when her life was in danger because she converted to Christianity.
She was referred to Freedom from Torture and later joined the Write to Life group where she developed a love of writing and its possibilities. Kate has been reciting her piece Flight number 111 at events this summer. She spoke about how her life has changed since she joined the Write to Life group.
"When I first came here I couldn't even speak, I couldn't even look another person in the eyes. I had no confidence. I was so very, very shy. Write to Life gave me the opportunity to have a voice, and five years later I stood on a stage in front of more than 100 people!
"The group helped me become strong again. I was nervous at first and only wrote a little but because the group was so supportive, I got better. I found that by writing I could release my past. I live in a house of asylum seekers but I can't speak to them about what's happened and my feelings. But in the group I felt safe and accepted. I've made very good friends.
"Every session is different and very professional, we have an aim and a goal and we learn to write in different styles. I can tell the mentors put a lot of themselves into it, it's straight from the heart. They are generous and kind and they contribute their knowledge, I really appreciate them for that.
"I have a degree in mathematics, so I like to challenge myself and learn new things. Sometimes I find it frustrating when I'm not learning fast enough, but this group caters for everyone's level. As I am an asylum seeker I'm not allowed to work but this group keeps my mind active and engaged as well as being my emotional support, it keeps me going. It's my family and my therapy.
"When I read my work out loud at events it feels amazing. It feels wonderful to have a voice and to have this opportunity to tell people what I've been through. To tell people the truth. The first time I was on a stage and people were listening to me, actually listening to me, it was like a relief. It was like I was sharing my pain with them. And not just my pain, the pain of my people.
"One day I hope I can do my English GCSE and maybe I could become a teacher. Write to Life has given me a second family and opened the doors to my future."
Write to Life is completely funded by charitable donations, thank you so much for your ongoing support.
When Rehvan, 34, and Sarvesh, 35, had to ﬂee Sri Lanka they left everything behind: their homes, friends and family.
They met six years ago through the Tamil speaking therapy group at Freedom from Torture and have been best friends ever since. Today, they both have good jobs in local supermarkets and no longer need therapy. They popped into the London centre to say hello and (very kindly) brought in chocolates for everyone!
Can you tell us a little more about why you ﬁrst came to Freedom from Torture?
Sarvesh: When I was young, many people I knew were joining the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) army against the government army. I became involved in the LTTE when I was only 13. When I was older I left to work on my parents' farm and shop, and look after my mother. One day I had to cross a control area to buy stock for the shop, I was identified as LTTE and arrested. I was tortured for about five months. They beat me, kicked me, I was taken to a torture room. So many things happened that I can't even speak about. My family had to sell their property to pay for bribes and arrange my escape.
Rehvan: I was born in a Tamil-controlled area for Tamil people. I had a nice peaceful life there with my family and relatives until the war whenone person from each family had to join the fight. I had to go to war. One of my friends died and when I went to his funeral I was being watched by the government, one day they came for me. I was locked up. I was punched, beaten with iron bars and a truncheon, tied up, stabbed and burnt. It was all over my body, every day. They wanted information I didn't have. Like Sarvesh, there are things I cannot even talk about. Thankfully people at Freedom from Torture Freedom from Torture understand. My family managed to pay a bribe and arrange my escape from Sri Lanka. I went on a small boat, then a plane. I didn't know where I was going.
What was life like when you ﬁrst arrived?
Rehvan: We didn't speak any English at all. This country was so different and I had so much pain. Emotionally and physically. It was overwhelming.
Sarvesh: When I arrived I had no passport so they put me in a detention centre. It was like a prison. I was there for two or three months. I couldn't understand anything. It was frightening being locked up all over again and I was still having nightmares about the torture.
What was coming to Freedom from Torture like?
Sarvesh: My counsellor at Freedom from Torture saved my life. There is no question about it. I was in a deep depression. My elder brother had died,my younger brother is paralysed, my other brother is missing and my mum and dad are both wounded from the war. I was worrying about my family constantly but there was nothing I could do. I was quiet and withdrawn. I wouldn't talk to anyone.
Coming here changed everything; they understood that we had suffered. After group sessions the counsellors would call to check we had got home safely and if we were OK. Everything like this made a big difference to me. When you see me here today, smiling, happy, with a good job – it is because of this place.
Rehvan: This is the place where I became a normal person in this country. When I arrived I couldn't stop crying, I felt like I was going crazy. I was separated from everything that was important; friends, family, home. I didn't see the point in living. But the people here at Freedom from Torture give life.
Can you tell us more about your friendship?
Sarvesh: We are more like brothers really, we have got each other through some really hard times. We were very isolated when we first arrived; it was so good for us to go through it together.
Rehvan: Sarvesh was there for me when my grandmother died, I know he is always on the end of the phone. When you have no one, that is so important.
What do you hope for the future?
Rehvan: I want to do something good for this country and for Freedom from Torture. I am learning about English life and meeting a lot of nice people at work in the supermarket. In my heart I am so grateful.
Sarvesh: We are both really grateful and we want to do something good for this country and for Freedom from Torture. That's why we have come back today to say thank you. In the future we would like to do much more and to help other people who are alone like we were.
In August we released a brand new report based on a study conducted by Freedom from Torture of 148 Sri Lankan torture cases forensically documented by expert doctors in our Medico-Legal Reports (MLRs).
Tainted Peace: Torture in Sri Lanka since May 2009 points to the fact that that torture did not end when the fighting stopped. Rather, torture - including rape and other forms of sexual torture and extensive burning - is deeply entrenched in military, security and police practices.
The forensic evidence presented in this report covers torture committed in Sri Lanka from May 2009 to September 2013 but cases of more recent torture, including from 2014 and even 2015, have since been referred to Freedom from Torture. In 2014, for the third year in a row, Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for those referred to Freedom from Torture for clinical services.
As we help people who have made it to the UK, like Sarvesh and Rehvan, we continue to remember those who are still in danger, those who have no voice.
You can help today by;
- Reading the full report at www. freedomfromtorture.org/srilanka-report or call 020 7697 7788 to request a paper copy
- Spreading the work of Freedom from Torture by passing this newsletter on to a friend, community centre or library
- Sharing our stories and latest news online by email, facebook and twitter
- Donating to support our continuing work
In July, the Freedom from Torture West Midlands centre in Birmingham opened its doors to welcome local supporters. Susan Munroe, Chief Executive, spoke about our 10-year-vision and said a special thank you to the supporters and 150 volunteers we rely on each year. Andy Keefe, Director of National Clinical Services, talked about our clinical work and Freedom from Torture's commitment to treat a whole person.
He said; "We work on building a relationship with a survivor and gaining trust, it's hard to imagine the value of simply saying 'we believe you'."
The Birmingham Women's Group spoke about what it is like to be a woman in a moving spoken word performance. Saghen said; "I am a woman. I am fi ghting for other human beings. Being a woman is about caring for others and fi ghting for our rights. I want to thank Freedom from Torture for everything they have done for me."
It was especially emotional for one service user, Vaki, who has fi nished her therapy and is moving on to do further Human Rights work in London. Vaki said; "I suffered so much pain. When I first arrived I was like a newborn baby. I cried and cried. I had no one here. When I first came, I got a warm welcome from Debra. It felt like a mother had picked me up. Everyone supported me, I looked forward to my appointments. I used to be scared of everything, even just getting the bus. But now I am confi dent. I never felt like a patient here, I felt like a human. They saw me as a daughter, a sister, not an external person. It showed me that there are people who love people. I thought that I would never be able to stand up for myself again but they gave me a hand and helped me stand."
After a lovely shared lunch, Neena Ramful, Researcher, spoke about her research with Iranian clients and Serge Eric, a Freedom from Torture Trustee and former service user, talked about the importance of giving survivors a voice. He also talked about the impact of creative therapies. Since taking part in garden therapy at Freedom from Torture Serge now has his own allotment and said;
"I'm often gardening until 10 o'clock at night!"
The day finished with visitors and service users taking part in a shared drumming experience.
If you are interested in attending open days or the work of the West Midlands centre speciﬁcally, please contact Amy on 0121 314 6825 or email email@example.com
Hugh McMichael, supporter since 1993 "It's been wonderful. It's lovely to hear the long-term plans. The highlight has to be the presentations by clients, who are totally inspiring."
Ann Gregory, Brushstrokes Community Project "I've found it really great. It's made me think that I might have clients who have been tortured and I need to know more."
On Friday 31 July we held our biggest service user conference ever at Knebworth to commemorate our 30th anniversary. It was an opportunity for service users to get together, to celebrate their strength and feel connected to others who have been through similar experiences.
More than 200 people attended from centres around the country, members of Stone Flowers music project played, survivors and staff danced, ate together and shared inspirational speeches.
One survivor, Cece, has shared her speech below.
"I feel very humbled and delighted to be part of this great event today.
"What began as Betty and her team's idea 30 years ago has created a huge difference in my life and the lives of thousands of survivors here today.
"Thank you. For the past 30 years you have seen our pain, listened to our pain, felt our pain and walked with us through our pain. Some people may not understand it but you stood by us, you believed in us, you gave us hope, comfort, peace and above all you saved our lives.
"When I started going to regional meetings, I realised that although we survivors are all different – different backgrounds, different nationalities, different experiences - we have all experienced the same pain and trauma and we know how it feels to be totally vulnerable. We all shared a need for somebody to hear our voice, our pain and to help us to create a new life. We are a team, a family, united under the banner of Freedom from Torture.
"When I was young I always thought that my family is my parents, siblings or my blood relatives. You proved me wrong. Freedom from Torture is our family - no matter what torture we had been through, you made us feel human, loved, valued, offered us companionship, and turned our hopeless lives into lives with a purpose. You freed us from suicide, mental illness, and lives of crime.
"I remember the ﬁ rst day when I walked through the doors, four years ago. At that time I had given up all hope. In my country I haal torture.I came here to be safe. But then I was evicted from my ﬂ d been through physical mental and emotionat, and I had nowhere pose. I honestly just wanted to die. to go. All I could think of was to go to sleep and never have to wake up. I thought my life had no purI went to my GP for sleeping tablets and she understood my plight and referred me to Freedom from Torture.
"I never believed I could stand here today to face a crowd like this. But within a year my life was transformed both emotionally and in a practical way with the help of Freedom from Torture.
"For most of us here today, we must have physical and emotional scars. Scars never completely go away, but I believe they don't hurt anymore. The scars remind us it could have been worse but we survived.
"My fellow survivors: Don't let our scars deﬁ ne us. Let them show where we have been, but not where we are going. I can assure you all, that, in spite of our scars we can overcome our pain. With our faith, our strength, our patience we can live a normal life again.
"Thank you Freedom from Torture for doing what you do. Thank you for changing and saving our lives. I believe the next 30 years will be greater, better, more powerful and louder than ever before. Freedom from Torture. Long may it continue! God bless us all and thank you!"
Now she is allowed to work in the UK, Sennait is studying a Level 3 diploma in Health and Social Care as she would like to help care for the elderly, but her journey has been incredibly tough.
Growing up in Eritrea, the authorities found out that Sennait's family were Pentecostal. Her mum was shot in the street and her father 'disappeared' forever.
At age 15, Sennait was left to look after her younger brothers and sisters in the house alone. Knowing she was vulnerable, alone and a religious minority, policemen would come to her house and violently rape her regularly. They threatened that if she ever told anyone she and her family would be in greater danger.
Eventually, Sennait confided in her uncle. Seeing no other way out he made arrangements for her to escape Eritrea.
Sennait arrived in London aged fifteen-and-a- half. She was housed in shared accommodation; she had no connections with her family and didn't have any friends. Luckily, she was referred to Freedom from Torture and we began helping her build her life back up.
Sennait said "When I first arrived in the UK it was horrible, I really missed my brother and sister. But when I came to Freedom from Torture I finally felt safe. When I first came I didn't know anything, I couldn't do anything, but things are so different now. What's changed is that now I have support, I know my rights as a person, as a human. My therapist, Johanna, is wonderful. She is the closest thing I have to my mum.
"I started to go to church when I came to the UK, but seeing happy families together made me miss mine even more. I decided that as soon as I had refugee status, I would do everything I could to try and find my brother and sister. I made a best friend and she said she would help me, but before I got refugee status she died in childbirth. She was like a sister to me, it was like I'd lost my family all over again. If my real sister was out there, I had to find her."
Sennait lived here for ten years before she was given refugee status and was allowed to travel. By this time she had made some friends at church and together they helped her buy a plane ticket to Ethiopia where she heard her sister could be.
When she arrived in Ethiopia, her sister was very ill. Sennait saw her for two days before she passed away. Sennait returned to the UK. She has still not found her brother.
Johanna, Sennait's counsellor said; "What I admire about Sennait is that she has really become a fighter. On top of everything she has been through, her best friend in the UK died and Sennait has been helping her friend's husband bring up their children ever since. She really is an incredible woman and I am so glad we have been able to give her the care and support she needed to become this strong; she will be a brilliant careworker."
We wrote to you last year about Nadine from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was having nightmares in which people hunt her down to attack her. She felt extremely unsettled as she tried to ﬁt into a bewildering new country, whilst trying to deal with the past. In her most despairing moments, she thought about suicide.
Nadine's story is a deeply upsetting tale – her dad was taken away by government soldiers because of his work in the media. Soon after, they took her mum away too. If that wasn't traumatic enough for a young girl, then the soldiers came for her. Nadine was separated from her brothers, kept in a cell and beaten and raped for a month.
When she escaped to the UK Nadine was just 16 and was referred to Freedom from Torture because she was suicidal. Nadine was deeply traumatised, she had no idea what happened to her family and she was alone in a foreign country. She wasn't eating or sleeping properly and often woke up screaming.
But Nadine was determined that she wouldn't let what happened to her hold her back. With the support of her counsellor she has built herself up to be a strong, intelligent and inspiring young woman.
Thanks to her determination and hard work, Nadine is now fluent in English and has studied Maths, Science and IT. She is learning about getting into work and has been accepted on a course in travel and tourism. Nadine has big dreams and would like to become an air steward. She was nominated by her peers to be their class representative; she is happy and has made some good friends.
There will be no overnight miracles for a young girl who's been so deeply hurt. This is just the beginning. Nadine's needs will change over the years. The care we provide will evolve with the healing process.
It's not something we can rush. But with your help, we will be there for Nadine and other young torture survivors whenever they need us.
Nadine is looking forward to a happier, more secure future and this is thanks to your support and the generosity of all our donors who have funded the services that have empowered Nadine. A very effective way in which you can demonstrate your ongoing commitment to torture survivors is to include a gift to Freedom from Torture in your Will. Your legacy will create a lifeline for survivors like Nadine and the opportunity for them to build a happier future.
If you have yet to make a Will you can take advantage of the opportunity to have a simple Will professionally drafted free of charge through the National Free Wills Network of which Freedom from Torture is a member. We will provide details of accredited solicitors near you who are members of the Network and the fee for their Will drafting service, which is substantially discounted, is met by us. You are under no obligation to include Freedom from Torture in your new Will but we hope you will consider doing so.
If you would like to have your Will drafted free of charge please contact Rebecca Wood on 0207 697 7814 or rwood@ freedomfromtorture.org. We can only offer this service for a limited time so please get in touch by 7 December 2015 if you are interested in taking part.