For each day of Refugee Week 2018, we will be sharing the stories of one of the five refugee and asylum-seeking women who were painted by the artist Caroline Walker in their accommodation for her latest series of paintings, ‘Home’, which was exhibited at Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge.
When we met Abi and started working with her on this project, she had been staying in the basement of her church for 3 years, because she was made homeless and had nowhere else to go. She tells her story in her own words:
“I was offered a space in the church where I worship in 2013. It is not too comfortable. Initially I was sleeping on the bare floor. Until I found a mattress outside that a neighbour was throwing out. I took it in and used it to sleep on in the church.
There is no privacy because people can come into the room where I sleep at any time. There is no private space for me, I sleep anywhere there is available space. And when they come in to do their stuff, I have to just pack up my things and move out of their way. Without any personal space it is difficult for me to get any rest. I do all the cleaning and tidying their rubbish away.
Initially, I felt safe but lately started to be harassed by male members. Not sexually but physically. They were taking my things without my consent. If I tried to ask them why they were doing this then they would turn against me. There was an event when one of the members smashed my head with a mop stick and I had bruises all over me. I couldn’t feel safe there anymore.
Before I had a little cosy flat where I lived but I couldn’t meet the finances so I came to the church. Initially I felt at home but as the days went by I began to see that no, this is not home. There is no space for my things, no closet, no kitchen to cook my food. It is like sleeping in a warehouse. It made me go into depression.
What kept me going was my children who are back in Nigeria. We speak on the phone or on WhatsApp and keep communicating. I also love games, I play them on my phone, it is my escape. It helps me to forget about my surroundings and pass the time.
I felt relieved when Caroline came. I didn’t think that anyone would care about my situation. I felt relieved that some people out there have love for us and are willing to accept us and help us feed our thoughts back into society.
I want the people who look at the paintings to see what less privileged people are going through. We are supposed to give the hand of care to everyone we meet, not minding their colour, race or religion. I wish we could live together in love and harmony.
My dreams for the future are to be free of fears in life, not to be scared that people are after me. I want to have my freedom. I want to go on with my work as a midwife. I want to fit in and to be able to help other less privileged people. I would also love to see my children again and to live together in peace.”
Since this project, Abi has moved in with a woman who had a spare room and wanted to offer it to someone in need of a safe place to stay. Abi is an active member of our drama group and regularly performs her own poetry at events.
Every week over 100 refugee and asylum-seeking women join our activities in London, if you’d like to support our work with women like Abi please donate here.
Above: Abi visits Caroline Walker’s studio to see the paintings in progress
Above: Abi flicks through Caroline’s initial sketches
Above: Caroline and Abi stand alongside her final portrait exhibited at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge