Speak Out: Big Society, Poor Communities

Earlier this year, a young woman walked into our office in Hammersmith, looking lost, sad and old beyond her years.

“How can I help you?” I asked. She looked back and said she was not sure I could help for that matter, or where to start. After half an hour talking with her, I felt as if she was carrying the whole world on her shoulders. She was single mother asylum seeker, who arrived to the UK five years ago. She had so many shattered dreams– living for these years in London, away from her family and friends with no opportunities to build friendships or normal relationships with other people. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she had no time in between moving from one hostel to another and from one problem to next. She was overwhelmed with the formalities to enter her child into school and to have just the basics to live on. She was going round and round in a circle; she felt like she was swimming in a big dark sea, paranoid about her past and people who had hurt her. All of this brought her to our office, on that day, at the Iraqi Association – a place where thousands of Iraqis all over UK call home.

Today the building accommodating this home is going to be sold by the local authorities because of the mess created by the alliance government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. TheIraqi Association on Kings Street in Hammersmith existed for the last 23 years and was started by the people who needed a place where they could have quality advice and information as well as a place to rebuild broken souls by those who arrived lonely and miserable to UK, seeking a friend or a word of wisdom from people who might have been in a similar situation.

And that is exactly what the Iraqi Association has been all these years – thousands of Iraqis came through its doors, helped rebuilding their shuttered lives and gave so much to British society. Today the rug has been pulled out from under our feet as if we were the problem behind the British economy.

The Iraqi Association is one of the community organisations which have brought so much vibrancy, intelligence and aspiration to British society. David Cameron keeps talking about the Big Society – Does the Prime Minister know how many volunteers over the years we helped to get jobs? How many broken lives we have helped? And how many have been placed in the right direction? And how many more we will do even with very limited resources and even more cuts? I am sure he has no idea – if David Cameron knew, he wouldn’t strong arm cuts which could abolish our organisation and the work we do.

I would like to tell the Prime Minister that he should punish the failed Bankers who brought the world close to collapse – not the voluntary services.

Even in these difficult times, we are still trying to help people in very poor conditions, trying to provide all we can, to make a single mother with a young child in pain. We bring these people out from their isolation and depression and help to install their self esteem and become a valued part of the society. We encourage them to contribute in a positive way. Closing our office, in the present struggling economy will throw these vulnerable people out into the wilderness. I think they deserve the attention, help and the expertise of the Iraqi Association.

Unfortunately, there will be many more women, like the woman who walked into our office – lonely, depressed, frightened and lost. But next time there may not be the office on King Street to find a helping hand.

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