This article is written by Jacqueline, one of Hestia’s committed volunteers. Jacqueline visited one of Hestia’s refuges, to find out about the work that goes on behind the scenes.
It is the first Friday of October and I am off to meet a fellow Hestia volunteer, Sarah, at one of Hestia’s 32 refuges for women and children who have fled from domestic abuse. I am given the address by Hestia staff while they explain how important it is to keep the address confidential; otherwise those living at the refuge could be put in danger. As I arrive outside the refuge, I notice it looks just like any regular house; nothing stands out about the place. I knock, confirm who I am with the staff, and the door opens. As soon as I walk in, the first thing that catches my eye is the hallway, plastered with leaflets and posters; posters with empowering quotes, job adverts and flyers for workshops to help the women learn new skills. I am shown to the communal kitchen where I am greeted by Sarah, a Hestia volunteer who is based at this refuge. As we get talking, I learn that Sarah works for a recruitment agency in London while studying for a MA in Health and Social Care, but has been volunteering with Hestia alongside her work and studies for over a year. When I ask Sarah why she volunteers at the refuge, she explains how passionate she is for helping others; how it gives her great joy to put smiles on the faces of a mother and child who have fled domestic abuse and are working to turn their lives around. I can see how important it is to her.
I want to learn more about Sarah’s experiences while volunteering. I ask her to tell me about one of her strongest memories of working with women who have fled from domestic abuse. Sarah describes recently accompanying one of the women to see a potential new home for her and her son. The woman had been subject to severe psychological and physical abuse from her partner for many years. She felt she could no longer stay at home; she feared for her safety and the safety of her son, who had just turned four-years-old. One night, as her partner slept, she fled from her home with just a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits for her son to snack on. She left everything behind; her house, the familiarity of her bedroom, her son’s toys and all their friends. The property that Sarah and the woman went to view was a tiny one bedroom flat with no furniture or furnishings to be seen. As soon as the women saw the flat, she broke down and began to cry. She tried to control herself and hide her tears as she didn’t want to worry her son. Sarah sat with her, fetched a glass of water, comforted her and asked her what was wrong. The woman explained how overwhelmed she felt by the enormity of change in her life; how she realised she had said goodbye to her old life and had to start again from scratch. Sarah reassured the woman that she had done the right thing – for her and her son – by leaving such an abusive relationship. Sarah helped to build the woman’s confidence by explaining that she was capable of navigating such a change, and explaining that Hestia would continue to support her whenever she needed them the most.
Sarah described working with women like this on a regular basis. Her main role is to support and empower women by providing the courage they need to transform their lives after fleeing abuse. We continued to talk and Sarah kindly explained more of her role to me, and shared more of her stories.
A little later on, as I prepared to leave the refuge, I found myself reflecting on the experience with mixed emotions; I was angry and sad, but hopeful for the women after hearing how far they’d already come. My understanding of domestic abuse and its consequences had become much clearer. I had seen how much Hestia helps the victims of domestic abuse; not just by providing a safe place to stay, but by teaching them new skills to become independent, too. It was inspiring to learn about Sarah’s work and how she supports the women from Hestia’s domestic abuse refuges to find a new, safe place that they can call home. Above all, I now feel full of optimism and hope. It’s important to know that there are truly wonderful volunteers, like Sarah, working across Hestia’s network of domestic abuse refuges. Each volunteer works tirelessly to support, empower, and change the lives of women and their children, at a time when they need it most. It was such a privilege to have the chance to speak to Sarah about her role.
Jacqueline, Hestia Volunteer