Lived Experience Activism – Sisters not Strangers: a Call to Action

The writer of this piece prefers to stay anonymous, but she wanted to write about the liberating effect of becoming an activist for asylum seekers. Despite 18 years separated from her family and children, she remains without secure status and dependent on others. Despite everything she is an inspirational woman. This is her introduction to her experience of joining the Sisters not Strangers Coalition.

On the morning of March 25th I woke up really motivated and really excited because that day the coalition Sisters not  Strangers were holding their first online event, hundreds of people had registered, and I was the chair of the whole event. I had never chaired anything before and I had been so nervous but we had planned and prepared for this event for months. I was ready and I enjoyed every moment of the event. 

Five years ago I could not have dreamed of doing anything like this. I came to the UK from Uganda 18 years ago and for 14 years I was depressed and lonely. I missed my family, I missed my children. I was just living and waiting, waiting for the Home Office decision. It was refusal, and another refusal, but I knew I could not go back. I felt empty. No one understood or listened to my voice.

Four years ago I got involved in writing and in activism. It has changed everything. It has given me confidence and strength knowing I have to fight for freedom. I joined a drama group in London run by Women for Refugee Women and we wrote poetry. Our group moved round the country to grassroot groups and talked about writing. We went to Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, lots of cities I had never been before. I met people like Loraine in Coventry, Mama Agnes in Birmingham. I learned to facilitate meetings and I did presentations with my drama group. I felt alive. This all led me to get involved with Sisters not Strangers a year ago.

Sisters not Strangers is a campaign led by asylum seeking and refugee women to build solidarity for women who have come to UK to seek safety but instead have been left isolated even destitute. There are 8 different groups from England and Wales and I love the attitude every woman brings to this space. It takes great resilience to go through the immigration system, but we remain optimistic – one day each of us will live a life of her own choice.

I had an amazing experience building up to our event on 25th march. We had been meeting on Zoom to learn from each other, to  support one another, to have fun, and contribute to decisions about our campaign. This meeting is a safe space where every woman appears as the individual she is. Each voice matters, each experience is respected. That space belongs to us it is very special, relaxed, no bad criticism – you contribute and everyone is listening to your words. It is true what we say : ‘we are sisters not strangers’ – and we are not victims.

Women for Refugee Women gave me a lap top and it was great. On the laptop you can see all faces and how they are looking. I could see all sisters behind the coalition engaging to their best ability, encouraging each other to stretch themselves to plan the event, and I’m grateful beyond words for their trust and support. This prepared me for the new chairing opportunity. Some of the support was painful but given in a respectful way and there were so many compliments, they were wonderful. 

I have taken time to reflect on and evaluate the event and now I’m prepared. Even while we are locked down I feel like my voice is strong and I’m looking forward to the next step where we shall be responding to the consultation about the government’s immigration plan and arguing for a world in which all our voices are heard and we are ‘sisters not strangers’.

For more information about Sisters not Strangers:
Images taken from the Sister not Strangers Manifesto:
The writer prefers to be anonymous.