Building Connection and Community

Posted by Unseen Team on the 10th February 2020 in Survivors in the Community, Survivors, Slavery, News, Fundraising

I’m sitting in a warm community hall, listening to three young women speaking to each other in a language I don’t recognize. All three of them have a baby or young child on their lap. Their conversation is muted, their babies are placid, one fast asleep under a fuzzy blue blanket.

Gradually more women arrive, pushing prams or just coming in on their own. People greet each other and exclaim over the young children. Cups of tea are made and served. Rugs and toys are laid out on the floor and some of the children start to play. It feels just like any parent and baby group I might have gone to myself, when my own children were tiny.

However, the people in this group are survivors of modern slavery. This monthly drop-in session is run by Unseen’s Resettlement, Integration and Outreach (RIO) programme. The eleven women, and one brave man, in this room have all managed to escape from some kind of exploitation. Their safety is paramount, they are referred to as ‘clients’, and I am here today to offer some pampering: hand soaks, hand massages and nail painting. Something simple - a few moments of positive attention and good quality connection so clients leave smelling delicious and feeling cared for.

I sit at a table, with oils, moisturisers and coloured nail varnish on display. Some women are confident, they come and sit opposite me and ask me to soak and massage their hands. One woman wants her nails painted bright candy pink. Others are not so confident. I catch the eye of a woman across the room. She looks tired and she looks away before I have finished smiling at her.

I speak to many women, as I massage their hands. I hear how they are studying English at college. I hear how they find it hard raising their children in their one room bedsit, with no garden and very little money. They tell me how good it is to come to this group, to meet up with others and for their children to play.

Later, I talk to a RIO support worker about the group. She tells me that this regular meeting space is very important for her clients. There are few opportunities for clients to spend time together in an informal space and just hang out. Their housing is too small. The park doesn’t always feel safe. Cafés are too expensive. Other mum and baby groups can be overwhelming – day to day questions can be very hard to answer for some of the women, who are still processing their own trauma while trying to become mothers without the support of family and friends.

While massaging the hands of the young mothers, I reflect on my own experience as a mother, how much I rely on my friends and family, how I trust my community to look out for my children alongside me, and how I understand where to turn for help, for example my GP, if I have worries or concerns.

I am in awe of these women, raising children while re-building their lives after unimaginable trauma. The complex range of support Unseen provides to help survivors to settle back in the community is so important.

But I realise that this seemingly simple drop-in group gives survivors something essential: the opportunity to connect with others who have had similar experiences, to build a community of support for themselves and their children and to take the first brave steps towards trusting again.

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