Another year is coming to its close, the nights drawing in, the season for remembering friends, with us once more. In a year when political, economic and climate turbulence, not least the sadness of the war in Ukraine has touched most of us, your help matters more than ever. Street Talk is still here, thanks to you, friends Susan and Marty who sent dollars from Cape Cod, Simon generously sharing his experience at the highest level of law and banking to give Street Talk a wise steer, your donations, the big ones and the little ones all equally valued, above all the encouragement and interest in our women. We could not do any of it without your help and what keeps us going on those days when the injustice we witness overwhelms, is knowing that you are with us.
Life got harder this year for people on the margins, on our streets. All our women want is to live in safety and with dignity, how can that be wrong? Yet there are those who want to punish them, lock them in prison or detention centre (no difference), fly them to Rwanda, scare the bejeebers out of people already terrified.
Let us not lose heart, we are not powerless, we can do something, however small. The women on the street, even those living in hiding have not gone unseen. We, all of you who have supported our work have stood by them. Each year there are women who say to us, “I wouldn’t be here now if it hadn’t been for Street Talk”. It’s always hard to hear those words, coming from a place of such vulnerability. Even though it is sad to hear, I want you to know how much difference small things, perhaps nothing more than a few kind words can make, sometimes the difference between life and death. And whenever one of our women says that, it seems everything we have done together over the years has all been worth it, if only for that one woman in that moment. Just as Wilson Bentley was moved by the unique beauty of each snowflake, so I want to give you a sense of the beauty and grace of each woman who has come to Street Talk this year.
Among the bravest women I have ever come across is Amal. She had a good start in life with a career in journalism in Africa, but everything changed overnight for her when her father died. While she was grieving, her grandfather subjected Amal to FGM, then forced her into a marriage against her will. She was held prisoner with her husband’s other wives, never allowed to leave the house, lonely, in constant fear of a beating. After some years she saw an opportunity to bribe her husband’s chauffeur with her wedding gold to help her to escape. She found her way to London where a factory owner in East London enslaved her, knowing she had no choice, in his wig factory. One morning the factory was raided by immigration officers and Amal, not seen as a victim but as a criminal, was sent to prison. Like a lot of our women, she came to us when she got out of prison and one unforgettable day we accompanied Amal to her asylum appeal. The judge wiped the floor with her for hours while she wept, repeatedly accusing Amal of lying, of spinning a story, “like something from the Arabian Nights.” It was harrowing for us all to watch, that was a day when the injustice was overwhelming. Amal was promised a decision within a month, but had to endure three more years of fear and uncertainty, surviving on £5.35 a day, not allowed to work, before she was given leave to remain in April this year. And here is the beauty, the grace. Amal is now planning to use what she learned when she was enslaved in the wig factory, to set up a charity making fine wigs for cancer patients. The miracle of the human spirit. That gives all of us hope doesn’t it?
Sarah moved us all when she made a spectacular recovery after seventeen years on the street in South London, tangled up in that cruel, unforgiving lobster trap of trauma, addiction and violence. Against the odds, she got herself out of all that and brought her daughters home from the state care system. That was some years ago, but Street Talk still supports Sarah and the girls who are joining in with everything at school, blossoming. Sarah took them on holiday to a caravan by the beach in Wales in the summer and if I could share just one moment from this year with you, it would be hearing all about the holiday and seeing the photographs of two little girls running in the waves. Sarah has shown that the cycle of abuse and suffering, that heinous baton, handed down from one generation to the next, can be broken. Not only are Sarah’s girls loved, but the love will reverberate down the generations to the children’s children. That is all that matters for any of us in this world, love.
No matter what shenanigans are going on in the world around us, love is something nobody can take from us. There is some comfort in that in these troubled times. Thank you for your love for this little charity.
From all of us at Street Talk, Alison, Amanda, Beata, Catriona, Charlotte, Karl, Oliver, Rose, Sandy, Shirley, Tuesday and Vera, we wish you a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.