Freedom from Torture - Voices that Change the World: Write to Life Members on Recovering their Voices

Voices that Change the World: Write to Life Members on Recovering their Voices


Last March, members of Write to Life performed their work at a fundraiser organised by the South London supporters’ group. Afterwards, a woman came up to us and introduced herself as Barbara Houseman. What we didn’t know then was that she was one of Britain’s top voice coaches.

Writing is hard enough, in your third or fifth language: reading those words aloud, in a new country, with your confidence battered by whatever was done to you back home, is a huge challenge. But what Barbara heard was the potential in those voices, and the power in those words. Over the summer she came and ran a one day workshop as a gift to nine members of the group. Below are excerpts from their responses.

“I hate it if someone says shush! to me” (Elif)

I always wanted to be part of a drama class and to learn about body language and how to use my voice effectively. It was such a delicious workshop – as if we were eating more and more honey. Barbara Houseman touched my voice and touched my life - she is marvellous!

It made me feel more powerful. I started understanding what it was like to use my voice to express my feelings. When I was in prison, I was voiceless, unable and not allowed to speak, even by my fellow prisoners. I felt sad, hopeless, not trusting other people because of the violence I suffered from those people I had trusted. They stole my joy in living and I stopped talking to anybody for more than six months.

From that time on, I hate it if someone says shush! to me. Where I grew up, women were always submissive and silent. Men didn’t like women talking. I grew up like that, my father always liked to tell me to shush! and most of the men I met were like that too. They don’t like women thinking, nor creating, having freedom, having power.

But after the “Voice” workshop, this is what I know. Keep your voice clear and loud whatever happens. Be brave, tell the truth. You have the power to change your own life and other vulnerable people’s lives too. The past is past – live your life, it’s a gift.

“My own voice was the voice that had changed my world” (Faryad)

To me the workshop on ‘Finding your Voice’ was as delicate as sowing a seed in the soil. As it began, I thought I had never had a voice in my life. I was not able to recall a day or a time that I had had it. I felt quite upset and angry, but of course did not want to avoid my feelings. It was the right time to go through finding something precious that I had lost in the journey of moving country, and also in exile.

In the next Write to Life workshop we discussed our experiences and in one of the writing exercises I wrote about a voice that changed my world. Amazingly what I found was that my own voice was the voice that had changed my world. As a human rights activist in my home country, I was struggling to make the world and those in power listen to our demands: stop executions, stop gender-based violence and discrimination. Give everyone social and financial support, political freedom, and everything they are entitled to have.

Now, after years, with the help of that voice workshop and off-loading the distress with writing, I am more able to own the voice I had lost. A voice that also was a big part of my identity. I am more able to recognise that what has made me feel lost is losing my own voice; and I do want to own it again.

This is the way that I think the workshop enabled me. It was not just a few hours getting together to do some theoretical work. It was as profound and effective as any therapy.

“All my pain and shame flew through the roof” (Jade)

I never knew my voice could be a weapon until I met Barbara, who opened our eyes and our voices.

I was scared of the exercises she gave us because, after what I’ve been through, I thought that I would never lift up my arms or legs again. But we followed the routine, swinging our arms to and fro, bending our knees as far as our arms could pass our legs. I jumped on the spot and forgot the pains in my legs for that wonderful moment. I found myself wiggling my bum as well! I was chewing imaginary gum, making various noises through my mouth and humming. It sounded like motorbikes revving or toddlers making silly sounds.

After that all my pain and shame flew through the roof.

I have never done such exercises before. They made us feel open and not worthless as we have been led to believe we are. So now, I am going to Brrrrr like a toddler playing with his lips, Brrrrr like a motorbike revving, until Barbara comes and gives us some of the other exercises she has up her sleeve.




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