Tahara’s Story 

Growing up in Iran was a scary experience: the fighting, the bombs dropping on schools near me, the lack of freedom. My mum, dad, two sisters and I moved to London when I was nine because my mum had Leukaemia and needed treatment. 

Sadly, she died a few weeks after we arrived. We knew we couldn’t go back to Iran because our family there wanted to force my sisters and I into arranged marriages. So, we stayed in Hackney

Things were very tough. Because I didn’t know much English I was bullied at school. It was a really silent time. Then my dad remarried. At first, she was lovely, but that quickly changed. She took down all the photos of my mum, and stopped my dad from showing us affection - we couldn’t even have friends. We were so scared of her. On the day I finished my GCSEs, a family friend told me that they’d heard my dad’s wife making a deal with a 43-year-old man. They’d agreed for me to marry him.

I just remember feeling numb. My sister and I called the police, but they told me it was “just my culture”. There was nothing they could do. We panicked. I bundled our stuff into a bag and, with my two sisters, the youngest was just nine at the time, ran away.

I balanced studying with working and after a while, we got a little place of our own. But as my sisters grew up, I struggled with this newfound freedom. I had gone from being so controlled, to being so free. It was weird.

When my sisters left to study, I became very depressed. I had no money, no food. I was hungry, tired and embarrassed. I didn’t want to ask for help, because I didn’t think anyone really cared.

I remember just surviving. There was a moment though where I just snapped. I thought “no, I’m not doing this anymore”. I went to the library and applied for a job as a PA for an oil company. I cried when I found out I’d got it.

That job gave me hope. I got my own place and started seeing someone. Things were looking up. But the relationship turned sour quite quickly. He was violent, he would sleep with other women, and he’d control me. I became a recluse again.

It carried on for years, but one day I decided to leave. I went to live with my little sister and finished my university degree. Over the last few years I’ve been coming to terms with everything that has happened, and recovering.

That’s why being at Hestia is so important to me. At the beginning of 2019, I quit my corporate job. I needed a job that allowed me to give back. Every day, I walk into work grateful for the decision I made; it’s changed me. It’s given me a purpose. The passion that goes into our work supporting people in crisis blows my mind. Every day, I’m surrounded by superheroes. I spent so long thinking no one out there really cared. Now I’m here, I see it: people do really care.

When I hear from some of the people who need our support, who have endured the worst, it really resonates with me. I want to tell them how brave they are, how proud they should be. We’re here. We care.

This year, I turn 40 and I’m taking a trip to Asia on my own, and I’m starting a Master’s degree in art psychotherapy. I want to prove to myself that I really can do it. This is my time to give back to others, but also to myself.

I used to ask myself: is this it? Now, I’ve learnt that no matter what, you have to dig deep and keep pushing through. Better times will come.

Which book has impacted me the most?

Memoirs of a Geisha. When I was young, my mum and I would watch a Japanese series called Oshin. We were obsessed; it was very famous in Iran. I miss watching it with her. I came across this book and it reminded me of watching this Japanese series with her, but it also resonated with me and my story and struggles. It’s about a young girl and her sister – it’s a story of survival.

Which film has impacted me the most?

The Stoning of Soraya M. has stayed with me. It’s based on a true story and is incredibly hard to watch. It’s so very true of incidents I have witnessed myself in Iran, the stoning of family friends who were accused of adultery. The film brings back images that can never be erased from my mind, but must be told to educate the world on the hardships that are still very much happening around the world.

Which song has impacted me the most?

Million Years Ago by Adele. The words resonate with a lot of people, on their past and their regrets. It gets me every time. I had the pleasure of watching Adele live and she sang this song. She forgot the words and swore. I just remember the silence, sadness and people in tears followed by just pure laughter, which just made me think that through the tears you should always find something to laugh or smile about!

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