It seems that many days have passed since last June when we met together in Seville at the FHA Conference, united by the desire to help others. The memory of the testimonies and stories we have heard remains intact in our hearts.
On this particular day, World Homeless Day, we would like to share Feth’s story with you once again, so that her words can be a starting point for reflection, prayer and action at the service of those who suffer throughout the world.
Feth’s words remind us that millions of people risk their lives in search of a better future, away from wars, conflict, natural disasters and persecution.
We are compelled to give a voice to this suffering, to not only ensure that the right to a dignified life is guaranteed to all and not a few but to also ensure that no one continues to be.
Homelessness is a complex issue and rough sleeping is just one of many manifestations. The OHCHR definition includes people living in open spaces or cars; those in temporary or emergency accommodation such as camps, or accommodation provided to internally displaced people, refugees or migrants; and, people living in severely inadequate and insecure housing, such as residents of informal settlements.
We need to take action and both promote initiatives that aim to break the cycle of poverty, and enable projects to pursue systemic change. Only then will people who experience homelessness be able to live a dignified life.
The Daughters of Charity in Seville know this very well since their 13H projects, ‘Alma Vicenciana, ‘Historia de un Abrigo’ and ‘Ruth’, help many men and women who are refugees, victims of human trafficking and asylum seekers to break the cycle of homelessness and start building their lives again.
By providing housing, language classes, access to food, healthcare, employment support, training and education, the Daughters make sure that their needs are met.
Feth is just one of the many testimonies of the remarkable women the Daughters help every day, ensuring they keep themselves safe and away from the risks of human trafficking and the streets. The project has given Feth a safe space where she can heal from her trauma and continue to follow her dreams.
WARNING: The following story contains material that may be distressing to some audiences.
Feth’s story began in Nigeria where she was born. After her dad left the family, and her grandmother and mum couldn’t afford to take care of her any longer, Feth had to move with her stepfather who was violent and abusive.
On her 18th birthday, her stepfather tried to force her into an arranged marriage to an older man. Feth couldn’t bear the weight of the suffering and she left home with nowhere to go. Feth said, ‘I felt sad and lost’.
Whilst she was on the streets, a woman offered to take her to Libya, assuring her she would find a job and a place to settle down. With no other option, Feth started the perilous journey. The trip lasted 7 months, often traveling at night in vans full of people. Throughout the journey, Feth suffered abuse and the theft of her belongings. Feth said, ‘It was part of the price to pay for that journey’.
Once they arrived in Libya, Feth was told that she had to pay all the money the traffickers lent her for the trip. For more than 6 months, Feth was forced to sell her body to pay off the debt – ‘I felt sick…I had to escape’.
One day, she managed to escape but three men raped her, leaving her unconscious. On that awful day, only one passer-by asked how she was and helped her. That passer-by is now her husband, and together they went on a journey to Europe full of fear, danger, courage and hope.
It is difficult to express with words the dangers of such a journey, but we can try to understand what people went through when we reflect on the following: it is estimated that, throughout 2021, over 123,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe, 29% more than in 2020. The vast majority arrived via sea crossings on which 3,130 people died or went missing (UNHCR).
The 13H projects, like the one the Daughters run, help people who are refugees, victims of human trafficking, and asylum seekers, to secure a space where they can recover from their trauma, study, apply for jobs and live a dignified life.
Feth is now living in Seville and she is a mother to three beautiful children. She is working on her training and education to get a job that will allow her to gain her independence. Feth said, ‘I am happy every day when I see the faces of my children and I know that I will be able to achieve my dreams and theirs, with patience and God’s help’.
By reading Feth’s story, we can learn of her pain, are while it is not only a shocking and moving account, it also fills us with a great sense of admiration for the courage of an amazing woman who never gave up, who got up despite the difficulties and who found a safe haven where she can start rebuilding her life.
At the end of her speech at the FHA Conference, Feth addressed all women across the world with these strong words: ‘I address myself to you, women of the world, who have fears, who are suffering, get out of there. Your happiness depends solely on you, it is in your hands. Thank God and you who are listening to the story of my life’.
We hope that by reading this story again you can find a moment to reflect upon the suffering of the many refugees and victims of trafficking worldwide, so that you keep them in your hearts, prayers and actions.
These and other stories of suffering and hope are the beating heart of the 13 Houses Campaign, and the reason we are at the service of those in need worldwide.
We would like to take this opportunity to share with you the 13 Houses Campaign’s call for proposals. Please share our initiative with your networks and contacts, in the hope that we can reach more Vincentians and more countries in need. The call is aimed at projects addressing the needs of people who are refugees, asylum seekers, slum dwellers and victims of human trafficking. No matter the size of the initiative, together we can walk together to end homelessness.
As Yasmine Cajuste, FHA Project Development Manager, reminded us at the FHA Conference: ‘We do nothing, you do everything. We are here to support what you do on the ground, we are here to provide financial support for your 13H project and we are here to help you to build capacity…it’s not ‘us’ doing, it’s ‘you’ doing, but we are here to support you to build systemic change projects.
Find out more about the 13H Call here. Join us. One house at a time.