Since Bakhita House first opened its doors in June 2015, it has hosted 30 women who have been victims of human trafficking. The house is an essential part of the Bakhita Initiative, the Church’s response to combatting human trafficking in England and Wales. Bakhita House offers care and rehabilitation to women who have been victims of what Pope Francis has described as a ‘crime against humanity’.
Women escaping human trafficking are referred to Bakhita House through the police and other agencies, and they stay at the house for around three months. During this time, guests receive pastoral and spiritual care, therapy, and legal and employment advice. When necessary, staff at Bakhita House provide emergency and short-term respite care for women in crisis.
Activities that are available to guests include English lessons, IT lessons, and a course focusing on empowerment and building confidence to attend job interviews or other life skills. Art sessions and baking classes, although primarily therapeutic, teach valuable skills and reinforce a sense of achievement and value that is essential for their recovery. Guests are invited to cook a meal for the house if they wish to, and many take the opportunity to practise their cooking and share their national dishes, resulting in an array of interesting and unusual meals for guests and staff.
There is a strong sense of community and support amongst guests and staff of Bakhita House. Although guests come from diverse cultures and ages and many speak little English, they usually choose to spend meal times together and attend a voluntary weekly prayer meeting. In addition, women who have been at the house for longer often support newcomers in simple ways that help them settle in and make the most of their time there.
After their time at Bakhita House guests move on to a variety of different futures. Some are repatriated to their home countries through coordination with agencies in those countries. Others move on within the UK, either to National Asylum Seekers accommodation or secondary housing provided by other specialised NGOs.
Dedicated volunteers are an essential aspect of life at Bakhita House as they contribute valuable time and skills that enrich the care given and the opportunities on offer. Their generous contributions take many forms, whether it is providing pro-bono legal advice, translation, English lessons, accompanying guests on days out or maintaining the garden.
What is most striking about Bakhita House is its calm and welcoming atmosphere. It feels like a home, and it is a credit to the staff that guests feel safe and comfortable here. For Karen, the Bakhita House Manager, the progress made by guests is visible through the small steps they make which show their growing confidence and understanding of their inherent worth. Although seemingly small to the external eye, their progress is a major breakthrough and brings them closer to achieving independence and rebuilding their lives. This is made possible through the care and support of the staff and volunteers at Bakhita House who have created such a welcoming and safe environment for these women to begin their recovery.
Reflecting on the first nine months, staff, volunteers and guests have achieved a great deal, and their work is having a positive effect on people’s lives. However, there is always room for improvement. Staff and volunteers are keen to continue developing and adapting the service that Bakhita House offers to meet the needs of women escaping human trafficking as effectively as possible.