Thursday, April 25, 2013

HOPE For Her Again

*The post below is written with the woman's permission. However, I prefer not to use her real name as to protect her real identity.

Besides being busy with University work (and procrastinating), I've been keeping myself occupied with this project called HOPE under Enactus Sheffield. HOPE is an initiative to empower vulnerable women (survivors of human trafficking, sexual and domestic abuse) via entrepreneurship. You can find out more about us here: HOPE Sheffield and HOPE blog.

For the past 4 months or so, I have been a mentor to one of the women, Wendy*. Wendy is from a neighbouring country in Malaysia so, when I first met her I was surprised to see someone so close to home as one of the women we would be working with. But seeing as how we spoke the same language (Malay language) and came from very similar culture, we hit it off immediately. I remember her being a little shy at first as she got to know the HOPE Community group for the first time. But that was about to change in the months to come.

As her mentor, I was tasked to find out what were her interests and what would she like to do in the future. Usually, the women we work with can choose between the enterprise route or the employment route. We will do what is necessary to prep them with the needed skills and training while they wait for their 'leave to remain' permit or asylum status. Wendy has a wonderful eye for arts & crafts. She is so unbelievably talented, she kept wow-ing us with handmade bracelets, pillows and handbags that she did on her own! It was clear she's interested in taking the enterprise route and hopefully open her own business some day.

Over the next few months, the both of us came up with a business plan and timeline for her. I did some market research and design research on her behalf followed by material-hunting with Wendy. The rest, I could count on her to take care of. We would meet almost every week, about 2 to 3 hours per session. She was so easy to work with. Every text and call was replied/answered, every meeting was punctual, every deadline was met.

During the sessions, she would talk about her past and her stories. From experience (and the training we received before working on the project), vulnerable women have trust issues and the feeling of paranoia would be haunting them for quite some time. But I was genuinely moved when she was already opening up to me about her past just after a few weeks of getting to know each other.

I listened to her stories which she narrated with a calm face and sometimes sprinkled with her sweet smile as she recollected her memories of her dark past. As if they were just some fictional stories. I only sat down and listened intently, occasionally adding some remarks of my own. There I was a 21-year-old girl who never went through any hardship other than the torturous 1-hour spent in the gym doing cardio and weight training, listening to Wendy's stories from the time she was back home to how she got to the UK. I was supposed to be her mentor but at that point of time, I felt she she should be mine!

"Wendy, how do you stay so strong and sane despite what happened? If I were you, I don't think I would have lasted this long!" I asked. She simply answered,"Because of God and my son. I've not seen my son for 10 years. The hope of being reunited with him once again keeps me going."

Wendy continued to charm the other members of the project who had the chance to meet her. Her warmth, kindness, creativity and diligence were reminders why this project is so important. Why it's crucial to do our best to ensure these vulnerable women find their footing again in the community and start afresh with their lives.

A month ago, she received news her request for 'leave to remain' and working visas have been approved. Soon after she was offered a job at a Bed & Breakfast just a little distance away from Sheffield. There is even a souvenir shop at the B&B so she could still be making her pillows, bags and bracelets to be sold there. I'm amazed at how these great things moved very quickly for her. It was as if God has decided enough is enough, it's time for her to enjoy a good life for herself after all that had happened.

Today, we went on a shopping spree to get her stuff for her new job and new place. Enactus Sheffield paid for them as a form of 'leaving package', to thank her for her involvement in the project. She was telling me how the B&B is a family business and the family likes the same things she does: arts, music, children etc. I can already see herself fitting in well as she makes her living there. So excited to see what becomes of her in the near future!

In an interview to record her testimonial for Enactus Sheffield presentation for the Nationals competition, Wendy said,"Zafirah is the best mentor for me. Thank you for sending her my way."

No Wendy, thank YOU for being my inspiration. The project is a lot of work and it can be daunting sometimes but when I think of you and your strength, I only want to do more, knowing that there are other women out there like you who need our help.

Best of luck, Wendy. You are no longer a vulnerable woman. You are your own woman.

Pillows Wendy made for Valentine's Day

And these are her sample designs. She designed and made these all on her own! 

The video that sums up our culture at Enactus Sheffield. If you are interested in helping the cause or buy the products made specially by the women, check this website out! HOPE Sheffield

Monday, January 14, 2013

Stories From the Kitchen

When I first came to the UK, I HARDLY cook. Hardly is probably an understatement. My 'bibik' would always do it for me even when I wanted a bowl of Maggi mee. The only dish I could proudly claim to cooking it well would be spaghetti bolognese.

Living alone and far away from home would teach you a lot of things. One of the things I have learned to do in my first few months here is cooking. At first I was content with cooking using those Brahim packets my mum packed from home. For beginners, they are God-sent. Have your chicken/beef/fish ready, pour in the paste and voila, Malaysian food cooked within 10 minutes! 

I remember the first week in Sheffield when Hanna and I wanted to make scrambled eggs in the kitchen for the first time. Don't know what was up with us back then but we were unsure what goes into the pan. *facepalm* Tu laa, mak suruh rajin masuk dapur dulu, tak nak. 

Our cooking skills were non-existent but we somehow managed to feed ourselves without having to eat out very often. Think we were on fried rice every day for the next few weeks to come. Whatever kind of fried rice you could think of, we had it. Veggie fried rice, chicken fried rice, seafood fried rice, anchovies fried rice. Those and Brahim meals, of course.

But after a few months, we got bored of eating the same thing day in, day out. And it was decided, we HAVE to learn to cook properly. I can't imagine eating all these for the next 3 years. I was on the track to start losing weight too so, I had to find better food alternatives than fried rice and processed meals. 

Cooking can be fun. It is both science and art. The science of mixing the right ingredients and their measurements to get the right balance of tastes. The art of making your dish appetising and appealing. The only thing I find agitating about cooking is the time it takes up and of course, the cleaning up afterwards. 40 minutes to cook and only 10 minutes to finish up everything. Heh.

I love my food baked. It's healthier and hassle-free. I've been getting creative with my marinate sauces and mixes too. Sometimes I just throw in whatever is left in the fridge and hope something good would come out of it. At times, that works and other times, well...still edible la. 

I would sometimes email my parents photos of the meal I've cooked and they couldn't be prouder. Yahh, from not knowing (or refusing) to cook at home, I'm cooking my own food every day now. Guess they expect me to do the same when I come back for summer break soon. Haha.

The thing with cooking is that it is a skill you CAN pick up. That's why I don't believe it when people say "I can't cook." or "Cooking is the one thing I can't do." It requires a bit of time and effort, yes. But it's not rocket science. Take it from me, someone who wasn't sure how to make scrambled eggs in the beginning :p

Some photos of what I've cooked here. They are far from great but for baby steps, they are not too bad. Next on my list is learning how to cook Malay food from scratch. They prove to be more of a challenge since they require more ingredients, time and patience. 

Soon soon.

Sambal sardin. So simple yet so satisfying. Prepare your sambal beforehand and cook it with whatever you want.

Roasted soy-garlic chicken and caramelised sweet potatoes. Since I'm trying to be on a healthier diet, I've substituted potatoes with sweet potatoes. They are packed with better and more nutrients.

Made my own chocolate hummus spread. It's chocolate spread with a twist and definitely a healthier option than Nutella (though admittedly, not as good).

 Would sometimes do some baking with Hanna especially when we have guests over or dinner parties to attend. Our specialty: muffins! We call ourselves 'Muffats'. Hehe.

Friends from near and far would sometimes come over for dinner. This dinner had Hazman from Glasgow, Amir from London and a few other Sheffield peeps. I made lamb teriyaki while Shaz made his famous ayam masak merah. 

Shrimp-Mushroom Carbonara using only cottage cheese and egg. Yes, another healthier option compared to the thick, creamy, cheesy carbonara pasta.

Light meal of baked mushrooms stuffed with cottage cheese and cinnamon powder.

I love salmon! So I always try to figure out new ways to cook the fish so I won't get tired of it. This is baked salmon with cottage cheese and mint sauce.

Brown rice, stir fry veggies and baked haddock. Nothing too hard but they pack a punch in my stomach. 

Baked salmon with sour cream and onion.

One of my proudest moments; homemade burger (yes, I made the patty myself) and creamy broccoli soup.

Another favourite of mine: Aglio Olio