HELLO

Care on different continents: The adventures of an Outreach Worker.

Abbie Gillgan is a volunteer outreach worker with Beyond the Streets Door of Hope project. Earlier this summer she took a break from outreach in east London to spend some time supporting Oasis India’s outreach teams in Mumbai. In this blog, she reflects on her time caring for women in similar situations on two very different continents.

The bright colours, breath taking smells and sticky heat of India as it neared the end of the dry season were a privilege to experience. But the greatest privilege I had during my short three week trip was the opportunity to spend time with and learn from the women and their children, who are working and living in some of the most desperate environments I have witnessed. Mumbai’s red light district, Kamatipur, is the largest in Asia. This informal settlement is a seemingly never-ending maze, lined with single-roomed shacks, in which the women ‘serve’ their customers as their children sleep under the bed. In this area, every woman sells sex and every man is a pimp or customer, giving the children who grow up here little hope or example of anything else.

Except there is glimmer of hope. Tucked away and unassuming, the humble premises of Oasis India in the heart of Kamatipur provides a safe space, schooling support and food for some of these children while their mothers work. Their outreach to the women in the area had elements of familiarity with what we do at Door of Hope, providing a non-judgemental ear, offering practical support and letting the women know that there can be a life for them beyond the streets.

Spending time in both the slums of Kamatipur and the mega-brothels of Grant Road, was a humbling and welcome reminder of our shared humanity. Despite my undeserved privilege, blindingly pale skin, and my total lack of Hindi, I was struck by the ease at which we could laugh and cry together. It bought to life Jo Cox’s mantra that ‘we have more in common than that which separates us’. While that may feel like a cliché, it’s nonetheless one that our Western society so desperately needs to embrace.

On one level I knew it already, but going to India definitely bought home to me that women experiencing sexual exploitation are not the passive victims that our media and our minds paint them to be. They are fierce, strong and are able to find joy within circumstances so unjust and beyond their control. These are traits I saw in the women in Kamatipur, traits I see in the women in Bethnal Green, and traits I want to see more of in me.

Abbie works for the NSPCC in their Child Safety Online team, which is allowing her to use some of the research she did for her Masters on the harms of online pornography to work to prevent young people from seeing it. She’s been volunteering with Door of Hope in East London for about 8 months, and is passionate about the need to do more to tackle the systemic causes of sexual exploitation.

Speak up for the fierce, strong and able women experiencing sexual exploitation in our communities by standing in solidarity with women this #NOvemberCamapignSign up.

 


Care on different continents: The adventures of an Outreach Worker.

Early on Thursday morning, our Door of Hope Project began an exciting new chapter with the launch of early morning outreach on the streets of Tower Hamlets, London.

Door of Hope exists to offer hope, support and routes out of prostitution for women. As we develop, we are keen to ensure that our activities are intuitive to the context and community we seek to serve. We don’t want to immediately set off on the path we are used to taking without regularly reassessing against the golden question; is this path the right one for the women we journey with?

Over the last few months we have been asking this question of our outreach activities in dialogue with the local council, police and the women we work with.

For twenty years a team has walked the streets of Tower Hamlets, armed with hot chocolate, sexual health packs, a friendly face and a listening ear. Increasingly we’ve noticed that between the hours of 1-2am, as our team are preparing to finish outreach for the evening the women we work with are only just beginning their night on the streets. We know that safety and support Door of Hope offers women is invaluable for the women we work with. If our support is appreciated at the beginning of the night, how much more valuable would it be towards the end, after hours exposed to the elements and the distressing realities of selling sex on the streets? Informed by these realities and inspired by conversations we’ve had with the women we work with, we made the decision to begin with one to two early morning outreach sessions a month, in addition to our regular evening outreach.

Last week, we were delighted to launch early morning outreach in Tower Hamlets. At 5.00am our team began their first early morning shift, carrying Door of Hope’s twenty year legacy into an exciting new season. Reflecting on these new beginnings, Door of Hope’s Co-ordinator Rebecca told us, 
“We have spent the last few months re-examining the activities of Door of Hope, looking at what we do and why we do it. We want to keep our work in tune with women’s lives, shaping our activities according to their needs and requests. Launching early morning outreach is us tuning into the lives of the women we exist support, ensuring our activities compliment the realities of their lives. If that means waking up at 4am, that’s what we’re going to do…”

The Door of Hope is a project run by Beyond the Streets in the east end of London.  To hear more about the work of Door of Hope, you can visit the Door of Hope website here or you can sign up to the Beyond the Streets newsletter which regularly features updates.

Door of Hope Volunteer Nikki Burnhope during morning outreach.