The Radio 4 Appeal for next Sunday, Easter Sunday, will be for an organisation called Freedom from Torture, formerly known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of the Victims of Torture – the only organisation in the UK dedicated solely to the rehabilitation of torture survivors.
Purely by chance, next Sunday was also the day when we had planned to ‘announce’ that FoodsMatter and the FreeFrom Food Awards would, for the first time, be ‘adopting’ a charity for the next year – and that that charity would be Freedom from Torture… I hope that this is a good omen and that our support will prove helpful to them.
So, who are Freefrom for Torture?….
‘I know when I die I will still have the pain in my body from my torture. I live with it every day. Freedom from Torture is trying to help people out of the dark and into the light. They speak to me with respect and like I am a person; where else can I find this?’
Ahmed, Sudan, Freedom from Torture Scotland
Freedom from Torture grew, just over 25 years ago, out of Amnesty International’s Medical Group. Operating at first from a hut in the yard of the AI office, the six founding members, under Helen Bamber’s directorship, began documenting evidence of torture and campaigning against human rights violations. Once the group had been granted charitable status in 1985 they were also able to provide torture survivors with medical treatment, counselling and therapy. The 45 clients they saw in the first year had grown, by the early 1990s, to 2,000. Constantly running out of space, they finally raised the money to build their current home in north London,one of the few purpose-built treatment centres for torture survivors in the world.
The organisation provides support to adults, young people and children who have survived torture and organised violence, the majority of whom have been targeted due to their race, ethnic origin, gender, religious, cultural or political beliefs. Political activists and journalists are often selected by the authorities for exercising their freedom of expression and vocalising their opposition to government policies. Many people are tortured during conflicts, where torture is used to instill a climate of fear and to force people to flee. Family members are sometimes targeted simply by association in an effort to get to someone else.
Freedom from Torture also helps the children of torture survivors who have been through great trauma. They may have witnessed violence and abuse or been forced to interpret the stories of their parents to the authorities in the UK, causing them to digest and repeat information which can have a traumatising effect.
The vast majority of Freedom from Torture clients are asylum seekers or refugees who have secured their status in the UK.
Over 60% of the analysts, therapists, counsellors, fundraisers and administrators who work with Freedom from Torture clients volunteer their time and their skills.
For a detailed and fascinating, if horrifying, review of their work over the last 25 years see their 25th anniversary booklet here on their website.
Why are Foodsmatter adopting them?
Although there does not seem to be any obvious connection between the work of Freedom from Torture and FoodsMatter, the food that causes so many problems to our site visitors can also be both a means of inflicting torture (by deprivation) and a means of rehabilitation (through programmes such as the Bread for Life programmes) – thus, in a way, linking our work.
But that is not really why we are ‘adopting’ them.
I have such respect and admiration for those who have suffered torture, especially for those who have continued to work for human rights or political freedoms in the all-but sure knowledge that they would be imprisoned and tortured, maybe several times. What kind of courage does that take? Certainly more than I would ever be able to find.
So it seems dreadfully unjust that, having gone through these horrendous experiences, torture survivors so often seek refuge in the UK, or other ‘safe countries’, only to suffer the further rejection and the trauma of waiting for uncertain asylum, not to mention poverty and isolation in a strange country whose language they do not speak and whose customs they do not understand.
Which is why the work of Freedom from Torture seems so hugely worth supporting. The one-to-one therapy and support that they offer torture survivors; the many programmes they run (from bread making to writing, to painting to football) that allow survivors to create relationships and externalise some of their pain. Almost more important is the skilled advocacy, in terms of medico-legal reports, they can offer to torture survivors seeking asylum and recognition of their experiences. All of these seem to be services that everyone of us should be supporting in any way that we are able. And so we are…
I have just linked all of the FoodsMatter sites to the Freedom from Torture website and donations page, liked their Facebook page and followed them on Twitter. Please, any of you who have Facebook or Twitter accounts, do the same. If you feel inclined to make a donation as well, that would be brilliant.
And, at the FreeFrom Food Awards presentation party on the 16th April, I will announce that next year (the 2014 awards), we will be donating 10% of all entrants’ fees to Freefrom Torture – and inviting entrants to match our donations. It would only take one entrant to match our donation to ‘buy’ an hour of counselling for a torture survivor; if four entrants were to do so we could pay for a whole month’s worth of counselling for that torture survivor.
This is the first time that we have done anything like this, so we have no idea how it will work out. But even if we do not manage to raise that much cash (although, of course I hope that we will…) we will at least be able to make a few more people aware of the work that Freedom from Torture do – and of the desperate need that there is for their services.