Freedom from Torture - "It doesn’t take a lot to make someone feel welcome."

"It doesn’t take a lot to make someone feel welcome."

After fleeing torture, Jolie now works for Freedom from Torture. This Christmas, Jolie will be handing out presents to torture survivors, bought by Freedom from Torture supporters. Here she shares her story of arriving in the UK and the importance of feeling welcome. 

Blog by Jolie Oyele

If you want to buy a Christmas present for a survivor you can do so here.

It’s my job to make everyone feel welcome when they come through our door at Freedom from Torture. I know how important this is because of my own experience.

When I arrived in the UK with my baby girl, having fled torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo, some of my new neighbours threw bottles of urine at my house, trashed my garden, set my bins on fire and smashed my windows. It was so frightening; I was even too afraid to tell anyone it happened.

When you are alone, with no family, no friends, no home, it’s the loneliest feeling in the world. And when people say you are not welcome, it hurts.

So I will never forget the people who did make me feel welcome.

My first Christmas in the UK, my eldest daughter was about a year old. I had an elderly neighbour and he and his wife had their children coming over to join them for dinner. He invited me as well, my daughter even called him Grandad. After Christmas, his children invited us to spend time with their families too and even bought my daughter a doll!

It doesn’t take much to make someone feel welcome. Little things, like when you don’t expect anything and someone brings you something, help you feel valued.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to handing out Christmas presents at Freedom from Torture’s Newcastle centre this year. The Christmas Care Boxes we give to survivors show people who have been tortured that they’re welcome here – that the worst is behind them and they are safe here in the UK, among friends. 

These gifts will be unwrapped by people I meet at Freedom from Torture everyday, like Abdul-Satar, his wife, Amira, and their two young sons from Syria. After attending a peaceful demonstration against the government, Abdul-Satar was arrested, blindfolded and taken to a basement. He was beaten, tortured and raped.

So many survivors in the UK are haunted by their torture, just like Abdul-Satar. Many of them will be alone this Christmas, but little things, like a warm hat and gloves or a friendly message of support, can help them to feel welcome.

I’m looking forward to handing out the presents again this year. Last year, it was really magical! The survivors of torture we work with were really thankful. I really hope this year we raise enough to give every survivor and their family a much-needed Christmas present.

If you’d like to send a gift of warmth and welcome to a survivor this Christmas, you can do so by donating to our Christmas Appeal.

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