Fleeing abuse in Zimbabwe, Farisai arrived in the UK in 2008. During Black History Month, her story of hardships and resilience is worthy of recognition and celebration. She has made Wolverhampton her home and strives to help her new community, inspiring others by drawing on her experiences as a Black migrant.
After arriving in the UK with her son, Farisai worked in Dublin for two years as a mental health professional. Unfortunately, history repeated itself and she was once again forced to leave her home behind to protect her family. Homeless and dealing with ‘internal torment’, she came to Liverpool where she waited in a hostel for an update about her asylum application.
During this time, it became clear her son was not well, suffering from trauma as a result of the abuse they had faced. To help support them, they were moved into a house in Manchester for a while longer whilst her application was processed.
“I hope this sheds light on the realities of why migrants leave their homeland and family”
After several months, Farisai was finally granted leave to remain! She moved to Wolverhampton to look for work, as she had an old friend that offered to help with accommodation. Nonetheless, the abuse that she had faced and the journey she was forced to take, had left Farisai’s mental health in poor shape.
In Wolverhampton, she recalls how her greatest barrier to integration was initially her state of mind. Feeling rejected and scared, she found it “easiest to shy away from everyone and everything”.
“It felt like the World was rejecting me and my son”
Not having her own accommodation for another year, Farisai – like many asylum seekers – found herself further depressed and vulnerable to exploitation.
Finding MiFriendly Cities
In Wolverhampton, Farisai faced yet more obstacles. Unfortunately, she was involved in a car accident, and told she would not walk the same again. Fighting daily pain and unable to find suitable employment for her condition, Farisai turned her attention to identifying services that would help her to recover from both the physical injury and the depression that accompanied her struggle to heal.
“I found myself praying that no one would ever have to suffer the way I was in a community full of people whose skills, wisdom and knowledge would have saved me quicker than mainstream services”
Farisai now believes we all have the spirit of survival, and that this is what got her exploring new, creative ways of healing. As a mental Health professional in her previous career, she remembered the advice she would administer to her clients: ease your pain by diverting your focus through doing things that would bring pleasure in normal circumstances. This time, she would need to practice what she had preached.
“It was a very difficult time for me financially, emotionally and mentally, but with MiFriendly Cities I have come a long way”
She began to structure her day in a way that would help her to achieve her recovery goals. First, she would ensure that she took part in a creative activity a day such as journaling or making accessories. Next, she would spend time researching how to support her own community. Then she would invest in her recovery process and her desire to help those around her by studying subjects that would improve her ability to do this. Finally, Farisai would continue with the recovery plan her Medical Team had provided following her accident. This involved physiotherapy, daily exercise, counselling and prescribed medication.
During one of her daily research activities, Farisai came across the MiFriendly Cities project. This particularly caught her attention as she felt she could better identify with other migrants and she was passionate about integration as she believed her own limited integration had made it hard for her to get the help she needed.
“I had lost a lot of confidence and self-esteem through my immigration process… I was slowly losing hope… MiFriendly cities offers a lifeline to migrant communities and I had to grab it”
First Contact: Media Lab
Farisai’s favourite memory from her time participating in MiFriendly Cities’ activities is the first session she attended – Migrant Friendly Media Lab training. These Media Labs are offered by MiFriendly Cities partner Migrant Voice. This organisation promotes migrant voices in the media, training clients to tell their own story. Empowering migrants in this way allows them to have their voice heard, to feel valued and to breakdown stereotypes and preconceived assumptions about migrants in the West Midlands.
“It was the first time I was able to speak about my pains and passions unapologetically”
At these sessions, Farisai has learned writing skills, how to make and edit videos, photography, interviewing skills, and social media management, to name a few. She has regularly attended similar events, even remotely during lockdown, that have helped her to continue to develop her community journalism skills. She hopes the ability to tell migrants’ stories will improve integration on both a local and national level. She has put this into practice by interviewing fellow MiFriendly Cities participants, some of which have been uploaded to the project’s YouTube channel.
Farisai has also used her new skills to support MiFriendly Cities social media campaigns. As part of Refugee Week 2020, MiFriendly Cities launched ‘Symbols of Home’. This campaign aimed to show that no matter where we come from, whether we are refugees, migrants, or have never left our home town, we share the same need for a safe and welcoming home that we can fill with family, friends, food and treasured memories!
Farisai is grateful for events such as these which have allowed her to celebrate her real family, alongside her ‘MiFriendly Cities family’!
“By acknowledging my culture without judgement, I have regained my pride in who I am and who I can be”
Having gained confidence by attending Media Lab sessions, Farisai enrolled on the accredited MiFriendly Cities’ migrant Health Champion course. This trained several leaders from traditionally ‘hard-to-reach’ migrant communities to deliver key health messages to their peers. With the subject of health close to her heart as a result of the injuries she was dealing with, Farisai wanted to help other people access the help they need. During the course, she developed a therapy idea that involved using arts and crafts to heal. For a while, she delivered these in her community.
More recently, COVID-19 has proven the need for migrant Health Champions, with these communities often hit harder than others (SOURCES). Farisai has used skills she learned at Media Lab sessions to pre-record relevant videos and post them to her Facebook page and several migrant-focused groups that she is an admin of. Farisai has encouraged her followers to take up walking and dancing to improve both their physical and mental health. These innovative suggestions have been welcomed warmly across the globe.
She has also collaborated with MiFriendly Cities partner City of Wolverhampton Council’s Public Health department, sharing accurate and informative health messages safely in her neighbourhood. Keen to support those who face barriers to integration such as limited English, she has also translated some information about COVID-19 for City of Wolverhampton Council.
“MiFriendly Cities saved my life… I was suicidal before I found it and now, I do my part to prevent it among others, regardless of their background”
Farisai will continue her craft therapy sessions safely in a post-coronavirus World. For now, she continues to encourage her community to stay active and discuss their experiences of abuse, injuries and trauma.
Inspired to support her community and empowered by her new-found confidence, Farisai pitched an idea for an Integration Hub to MiFriendly Cities staff in Birmingham as part of the project’s EVOLVE social enterprise programme. Staff from MiFriendly Cities partner CUSE (Coventry University Social Enterprise) loved her idea, and Farisai received both funding and 12 weeks of coaching to support her in setting up a successful social enterprise.
“My coach pushed when I needed pushing, listened when I needed a sounding board and never let me doubt myself… In the end I was with no doubt at all that I had been equipped well enough to face challenges and keep heading for my goals”
2 weeks before the opening of the Community Integration Hub, ‘Way Forward’, COVID-19 hit the UK, and Farisai was forced to postpone her plans for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, Farisai is determined to see this through when it is safe to do so. She hopes to use this platform to share stories of migrant and ‘host’ communities alike that remind people that no matter how hard you fall, there is always hope and you will rise again. She will coach people in the community to adopt this reframed mindset, so that they always see the way forward. This will promote the wellbeing of communities, and aid integration by promoting the voice of migrants, reminding others that everyone is a valuable human in our communities.
“I am hopeful that people will start to open their minds to the idea of accommodating each other, facilitating each others’ progress and recovery… I believe it will help us to be understood better rather than be judged on assumptions of us as migrants”
Watch this space!
The New Normal
Like the MiFriendly Cities team, Farisai believes it is essential that community integration and recognising the value of migrants are part of the ‘new normal’ post COVID-19.
“[Projects like MiFriendly Cities] are needed not only in the West Midlands, but in the whole of the UK”
MiFriendly Cities working towards making the region Migrant Friendly has provided Farisai with a platform to meet new people and to gain skills that help her to ensure that no one in her community is left behind. She is testimony to the strength of Black women, and continues to bring hope to the isolated, excluded and marginalised.Back to news posts
This project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative.