“Music is my medicine”: a survivor's story

For Shego, music therapy at Freedom from Torture has helped him overcome the trauma of witnessing his parents’ killing and forced flight to the UK when he was only a teenager. With our help, he is rebuilding his life and finding his feet. 

by Shego

I am 21 years old and I come from Somalia. When I was 13 our home was attacked because of our ethnicity. My parents were killed and I was injured and left to die – in fact, my attackers thought I was dead.

My uncle found me and cared for me but it was hard for both of us. For four years I had to hide inside his house for fear that the attackers would find out that I was alive and return to kill me.

When I was 13 our home was attacked because of our ethnicity.

In the end, I had to leave Somalia; it wasn’t my decision but I had to go to be safe. Somehow, I managed to reach the UK. I was only 17. I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t understand the language or the culture. I was very lonely and very frightened.

When I came to Freedom from Torture even small things scared me. If someone just dropped a mug I would jump in terror. Seeing a violent scene on television would bring back my fears. I could sleep only one or two hours each night. I had terrible migraines. I was depressed and felt suicidal.

The therapist at Freedom from Torture saw right away that I would benefit from music therapy. That’s when I met Harmin. Now we meet once every fortnight to talk and play music together, and it has made a huge difference to my life.

The therapist at Freedom from Torture saw right away that I would benefit from music therapy.

My first sessions with Harmin were with an interpreter. It felt so good being able to talk freely in my own language. At first, I found it difficult to explain how I felt but music helped me express my feelings. Now I can talk directly to Harmin about my fears and emotions. He is the only person I can really open up to.

After we talk we play music together. My favourite instrument is the metallophone, which has a beautiful sound and creates a special atmosphere, especially when I play the metallophone and Harmin joins me on the piano.

I feel every bit of the music I play – I feel it in my head and it goes down my spine. I can instantly feel the tension lift from my neck and my head. Music lets me relax and it helps with the migraines, much better than any pill can. I just wish each session was longer.

I still have problems sleeping but music helps. When I feel stressed, I listen to music and use it as a way to relax. I feel much better, have put on weight and started to look after myself more.

When I’m having a tough time in the week, alone or at college, I know I’ll be okay because I will soon have a session.

It takes me over two hours to reach the London centre for one hour’s therapy. I have to miss out on a day at college but they understand why it is so important. It supports my studies because it helps me concentrate and retain information.

When I’m having a tough time in the week, alone or at college, I know I’ll be okay because I will soon have a session with Harmin.

Life has slowly got better for me, although there are still bad times. I studied English, maths and science at college, then hospitality and catering. Now I am looking forward to doing a work experience course in travel and tourism.

I even found that I have a sister who lives near Freedom from Torture’s London centre...Now I have a new life and a sister and music.

I have refugee status now so I can stay in the UK. I even found that I have a sister who lives near Freedom from Torture’s London centre. She left Somalia much earlier after earlier violence. When I lived in Somalia with my parents I didn’t know that I had any siblings so this is really special. Now I have a new life and a sister and music."

We want to make as much noise as we can this Refugee Week because we want to live in a country that is certain torture is always wrong. A place that believes in compassion and fairness. A place that welcomes people who have survived torture.

If you share this vision, stay tuned for our social media activity and sign the declaration to make the UK #ASafePlace this Refugee Week. 

The UK has a proud tradition of offering safety to people fleeing torture and persecution.  But times are uncertain and these values are under threat. It's time to take a stand. Will you sign our declaration and join us?

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