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Embracing our differences

You're welcome regardless of what you look like, what you've been through or what you think will make you different from every other woman.

Last year we had a family who only stayed for one night and returned home to a very dangerous situation. Moving to a refuge is a massive step and there is always a risk that a woman doesn’t feel that she can manage and leaves. The team at I Choose Freedom wondered what they could have done differently to help this woman to want to stay at the refuge. The woman had told someone that she didn’t think she fitted in here as she thought the other women were “too posh”. All the women that lived here at the time were asked to come together so we could discuss what we could have done differently. Each woman was asked what her thoughts were when she moved in here. Almost all of them said that they didn’t think they fitted in but all for different reasons:

One woman said that she was the only black woman here and that was her difference. One woman said that English was her second language and she felt the other women would judge her as being stupid. Each woman had a different reason for thinking they wouldn’t fit in and in some cases, this could have been enough to make her go home.

It was suggested a board on the wall could be created, where every woman who lives here now and in the future, can anonymously write what she thinks her difference is and how she overcame it and managed to stay at the refuge.

Since the board has gone up we have noticed new women standing at the board and reading the short notes from women who have lived here. All of the women have wanted to say what their difference was since we started this and we hope that this small thing will help.

We give the woman a paper butterfly to write on and ask her: What was your difference/fear about fitting in? What did you think others would judge you on or not understand about you? What could have made you leave?

And importantly how did you overcome it? How did you feel when things weren’t as bad as you thought? What surprised you about how you felt when you realised you did belong and had become part of the I Choose Freedom family?

Below are some examples of the butterflies we have received that are displayed on our “Embrace our Differences” board:

“I was the only black woman here when I arrived. I felt I stood out and I was different from everyone else. We had a Women’s International Day and we were asked if we wanted to cook something from our culture for the table to share. I realised that other women had felt different and yet when we all came together to share our different foods, we all had something in common. We all enjoyed cooking and feeding others!”

“English is my second language and I felt the other women would judge me as being stupid. “The support I have received here has been amazing, I now attend English lessons at the local college and volunteer at a charity shop, where I practice my English. My confidence and independence is growing every day.”

“I’m not the person I was. I used to live life to the full, now I’m a downtrodden person. I wanted people to like me but I was too sad to be me. Everyone was welcoming, I made some friends and over time I felt like I was getting back to myself, happy and chatty.”

“I am a Muslim, When I arrived there were no other Muslim women, just Sikh. I felt like I stuck out that they wouldn’t talk or socialise with me. Over time and through the support of the staff here, I made friends and felt part of the house.”

“I have a posh accent and I didn’t think the other women would like me. I wanted to leave and thought I couldn’t fit in and get through this. I felt they would judge me. However, the other women were all so supportive. They helped me through this terrible time. I made a good friend here and we helped each other. I know we will keep in contact in the future”

“When I arrived, I thought I’d be judged on my look. I had tattoos and piercings and dressed differently to the other women who were here. Over time one of the women began to ask me questions about my make up and asked if I would help her and teach her with her makeup. I struck up a good friendship and we shared all our top beauty tips on a budget!”

“When I arrived, I realised I was the youngest mum here and I already had 3 children, I felt the other women in the house judged me because of this. Over time I realised that they weren’t. One woman took the time to show me how to cook healthy meals on budget which really helped me to be able to feed my children while I was here. Living here has saved my life and my children’s lives. “

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