Finding a voice again: conversation classes for torture survivors
“Inside I am happy when I come here to talk English. No talk is no happy.” – Asli
Blog by Anneke, Freedom from Torture volunteer
That’s what Asli said to me. I’m one of her English teachers at Freedom from Torture’s London centre, where, along with five other volunteers, I run conversation classes. Asli had to flee from Somalia because she was tortured, and arrived here not knowing a single word of English. I’m so glad we can offer her the chance to learn.
It’s been incredible to see her slowly build confidence and make friends as she learns a few more crucial words at our conversation group each week. The group hasn’t been running long, but it’s already changed Asli’s life.
Torture survivors experience the frustration of not being able to communicate and the isolation and loneliness it brings, day in, day out. Public transport feels like a maze and if someone tries to help you, you don’t even have the vocabulary to politely tell them you don’t understand.
I saw an opportunity to help torture survivors like Asli with English language classes specifically designed for their needs. In a very short period, I’m thrilled to say we have a large group of volunteers willing to teach. And an abundance of torture survivors, desperate to learn.
It’s so important that survivors can learn in a safe, trusted setting – with others who know first-hand how trauma affects concentration. There is no judgement here: just warmth, support and encouragement.
For the people who can attend our classes, learning begins with understanding the environment around them. For example, survivors learn about currency, so they can go to the shops feeling confident, they learn directions, so they can navigate their new city and they learn how to ask for the time, so they can arrive promptly for appointments, such as a visit to the GP or their solicitor. Most importantly, survivors learn how to communicate with other people, so they can feel a little less alone.
Just being able to say “hello” and “goodbye”, “please” and “thank you”, breaks the silence and loneliness these torture survivors feel every day. Helping our attendees to feel a sense of community is what we strive for. After all torture survivors have been through, they deserve to feel part of something again.
I helped start English classes at Freedom from Torture for courageous people like Asli. I feel honoured to be contributing to this life-changing project as a volunteer teacher and co-ordinator.
Please support Freedom from Torture’s current appeal if you can help support conversation classes and other projects. Even £10 could help survivors like Asli to travel to the group.