I felt a pang of nerves entering into that comfortable, homely lounge tucked snugly into the confines of a London safe house. My nervousness seemed incongruent with the unthreatening environment. Would I be able to handle what I heard and saw? The brokenness, the pain, the trauma? Would I be able to help these women I was about to work with? The programme we’d so carefully and meticulously prepared – how would they respond to it?
I shouldn’t have worried. As I met each of the women who resided in the house I was instantly put at ease. They were strong, joyful, bold and full of life, despite the horrific things they had experienced, some very recently.
Their joy didn’t dismiss their pain – it existed in an extraordinary parallel. Sometimes I caught the pain in their eyes. Some days they looked tired and worn but yet still managed to exude warmth and appreciation. They were frank and honest about their struggles, their dreams, their victories and their fears.
Coaching began. Each of the three facilitators were assigned a lady to coach one to one along with facilitating some short group sessions all together. Bright eyed and eager, if shy and a little nervous, *Esther approached and sat down by me for her coaching session.
Both tomboyish but with gentle femininity in her mannerisms and a fiery spark in her eye, words tumbled out of Esther’s mouth expressing her desire to be allowed to do what many would see as “men’s work”. She spoke of the equality of women and of her love of manual labour and the outdoors.
This passion and bold declaration of who she was as a person was interspersed at times with hesitation and a look of doubting fear in her eyes which seemed to say: “Can I really dare dream? Can this happen for me? What if it goes wrong?”. Occasionally she would verbalise this.
Then a single sentence raced wildly around my head.
“There is always a solution.”
Simple. And yet a desperately-needed truth.
I looked her straight in the eye and held her gaze. I spoke those words firmly and clearly as strong hope gripped my heart. “Esther – there is always a solution”.
A smile played around Esther’s lips. Her eyes brightened. Hopelessness and fear had to flee, as words of life spilled out into the atmosphere.
“I always sleep so well at night after you ladies come to speak to us,” she said, a smile fully formed on her face. “I feel hope again. I believe I can do this.”
Now, months later, the nerves still happen but I have realised something.
I don’t have to force it. I just have to listen. I mean, really listen. My humanity is enough. I know what it is to feel fear and pain but I have hope to offer because I also know what it is to feel darkness and to hold tenaciously to that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. To have others offer their strength as I reach for the light.
Because there is always light. I have hope to offer because I truly believe in its power. Hope and love – there is nothing stronger.
Esther taught me how passion can exist alongside pain, hope alongside fear, joy alongside despair. She taught me that we are not all that different, despite our different backgrounds and experiences. Humanity is what unites us and we are on this journey together.
So today, where is our focus? Is it on our circumstances, or is it beyond that? Are we speaking words of life and offering our strength to those around us? Are we fighting for what we truly believe in?
At graduation, the ladies were joyful and full of hope. Their strength sparked strength in me. My strength sparked hope in them. We need each other. We are in this thing called life together. Let’s reach outwards to those around us and watch love and hope grow!
*Not her real name
By Lorraine McIntyre,
Day 46 facilitator
Day 46 is an innovative 8 week learning programme designed to support survivors of trafficking and modern day slavery beyond their ‘45 days’ of statutory emergency care. It is a unique blend of eight face to face confidence, identity and employability workshops which comprise of group sessions, 1:1 coaching and mentoring and where possible, a bespoke voluntary work placement or training opportunity. This comprehensive package helps survivors develop greater resilience, independent living and employability skills.