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