John: Amy, welcome to our Speakers slot and can I start by asking you to tell us a little about yourself?
Amy: Yes, I’m Amy! I’m 29 and live in Erdington in North Birmingham. I grew up further south, in a town about 40 minutes drive from London, but I came to Birmingham to do my BSc in Modern Languages (French & Spanish) at Aston University and really loved the city. I travelled around South America after that for 7 months, and then came back to Birmingham to look for a job.
John: How did you become involved in what you do now?
Amy: Well, I found a job in Birmingham as a Multilingual IT helpdesk analyst using my languages, but then I got accepted onto an MSc in London, in Globalisation and Latin American Development. I stayed in Birmingham and commuted weekly (much cheaper than living in London!) and took some human rights modules, in which I studied the Latin American ‘dirty wars’ of the 1960s-1990s, where Latin American governments systematically used torture and enforced disappearances to repress dissent of any kind. After this, I really wanted to do something positive to ensure that states that continue to use torture are made to account for their actions, and ultimately, stop employing such horrific practises in order to control and repress their citizens. I did some research and found that Freedom from Torture had an office in Birmingham. I went to an Open Day and a few months later I started working as a volunteer at the centre. When the role of regional fundraiser came up, I applied and got the job!
Amy: I also do lots of work raising awareness about the use of torture and its consequences, and the difficulties that survivors of torture are faced with once they reach the UK. (Freedom from Torture is the only UK charity solely dedicated to providing rehabilitation support to torture survivors, and we only work with clients living in the UK.) So I organise stalls at local festivals/events and go into schools, universities and other faith and community groups to talk about these issues. I organise various events with the help of our ‘Local Supporters Group’ members, some of whom have been fundraising for Freedom from Torture in Birmingham for over 20 years! This year we’ve had 25 runners at the BUPA Great Birmingham Run (half marathon) and the Great Midlands Fun Run, a skydive, a sponsored walk in Henley in Arden, a cycle ride, a Cocktails and Canapés evening, and our annual Christmas concert is on 13th December at Carrs Lane Church in the city centre.
John: How do you feel our Rotary Club can help? (This covers Rotary in general as well)
Amy: I know that Rotary clubs do excellent work within local communities. Our clients are often some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals in society. Factors such as the language barrier, as well as low self esteem and high levels of fear and anxiety, mean that it can be extremely difficult for them to advocate for themselves and access services, such as GPs and other medical services, benefits, legal services etc., so that very often we find that they ‘fall through the gaps’. In 2013, we published a report entitled “The Poverty Barrier” (http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/document/reports/7466 ) which revealed the findings of research carried out with 85 clients of Freedom from Torture.
The research found that:
• Over 50% of respondents were never or not often able to buy enough food for a nutritionally balanced diet.
• Fifty-three of the 85 respondents were never or not often able to buy clothes to keep clean, warm and dry.
• Over 50% were never or not often able to buy items such as medicines, toiletries, cleaning products or nappies.
Raising awareness of the fact that there are survivors of torture living here in the West Midlands, and funds to support our work, are incredibly important activities that are carried out by local supporters. There are many other ways to help as well. For instance, we meet many survivors who are destitute; that is, with little or no access to basic necessities such as food. Donations of food can help to ensure that clients are able to have a safe and healthy daily existence. Even for clients who do secure asylum status and a place to live, the first months in a new place often pass without furniture and with very few resources. In this case, donations of household items such as bedclothes, toiletries, cooking implements and other day-to-day items, as well as practical help with locating, moving and assembling furniture, can help to make their houses homes, even if they are still far from their families.
We also run a holiday hosting scheme where individuals and/or families with space, time and compassion for our clients’ situation, can apply to become a ‘holiday host’. Many of our clients go on holidays each year, which provide them with a fantastic opportunity to have some respite from the pressure of their daily struggles, to see new places and build relationships of trust with new people. This can help greatly with clients’ confidence, self-esteem and sense of hope.
Follow more of Amy’s story here on 30 October.