Write To Life's member Sheila reflects on her life in limbo, endlessly waiting for the Home Office to process her asylum claim whilst not being allowed to work.
"So much waste of people's lives is happening around the world, whether knowingly or unknowingly. When I think over my own life, and to where I am today, my heart breaks: something lodges in my throat and I find it difficult to breathe or swallow.
"Whilst I was in Zimbabwe, I worked as a primary school teacher. I thoroughly enjoyed my job because I knew that every January, I felt I gave birth to a new class of 45–50 children! Those children loved school, despite the critical shortages of learning materials. I would go to shops and ask for empty cardboard shoe boxes and plastic sheets to cover their books as most of them had no money to buy covers. The cardboard was for writing their flashcards and their reading cards. Once the children could write and space their words neatly they would start to read out loud. I loved encouraging them, helping them to build confidence in themselves and be able to use their young minds. I would teach them to count using smooth stones or bottle tops or sticks. It gave me so much pleasure just watching them soaking in so much knowledge, their mouths screwed up in concentration. For PE we played simple games using our own versions of skipping ropes, made from pliable stems stripped of bark.
When I think over my own life, and to where I am today, my heart breaks.
"In December we had prize-giving days and to me, this was the climax of our year. I would be so proud as they would be given chances to showcase what they had learnt throughout the year. The gap-toothed smiles filled me with pride. Those children gave me so much energy and a hunger for living – even if I was tired or low they'd lift me up. They were a tonic beyond medication; I never lost a single day of teaching.
Before I joined Freedom from Torture I was like a person who'd been carrying a rucksack filled with stones.
"Now, coming to the six years I have been in the UK, it's a very different story. My first four years were extremely painful, so difficult that I was always thinking how best to end my life. I would wake up and watch the sun rise and then, hours later, watch it set again. Sitting doing nothing drained me of all energy. I would try reading a book but I could read a full chapter and never take in or understand what I had read. If I went out for a walk, I would come across a family having a good time and I would miss my own family so much that my heart broke. Passing by a school, or seeing children in school uniform, still hurts me: it makes my heart ache beyond explaining. The pain you feel – sometimes you just can’t explain it.
"What do you spend time thinking about, when everything you had invested in, all that you put your love and hard work into has been pulled from under you? To know only that you own nothing. You are homeless, and you never know what uncertainties tomorrow might bring.
Sitting doing nothing drained me of all energy.
"Before I joined Freedom from Torture I was like a person who'd been carrying a rucksack filled with stones. Now, after two years with Freedom from Torture, I have been given a ray of hope. That rucksack has been gently eased off my chafed and bruised shoulders. Joining the Natural Growth Project meant my life began to change, but the best change came a few weeks ago when I joined another Freedom from Torture group, Write To Life. Here, I am able to express my feelings, my emotions and my hurts through writing. The vacuum I was forever staring into is now beginning to fill up. I can feel light-hearted, and even find things to make me laugh. I now have a bigger family, made of all different nationalities, and a purpose for living.
What do you spend time thinking about, when everything you had invested in, all that you put your love and hard work into has been pulled from under you?
"I still don’t know what the outcome of my case with the Home Office will be, but at least I can be grateful for my therapists from the NGP group, my mentors and the founders of Freedom from Torture.