I came to London from Yemen in the year 2000, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and needed urgent treatment. He died within six months, so my children and I decided to start a new life here.
I never went to school or worked before coming to the UK, having spent my life looking after my family. Once in London, I enrolled into college, learned basic literacy and numeracy skills and went looking for a job.
I came to Heba Women’s Project to improve my English, and when I saw a sewing class, I asked to volunteer in exchange for some basic training and access to the machinery. I had never made clothes before – only very simple things, like blankets – but fell in love with the process and the friendly atmosphere in the workplace. After a year and a half, I was offered the opportunity to join the team.
I have visited Yemen twice over the past decade and a half, but after recent political events, it’s no longer safe for me to return. I miss my brother and sister, my apartment in the city, but most of all, I miss the countryside. In the past, my family spent every summer in a mountain village, where the fields were green, food was fresh and people were kind. It’s not the same in a big city.
I rent a small apartment in East London, but spend most of the time visiting my children and their families: one household for each day of the week. On the weekends, the whole family comes together, sometimes nearly 30 people. I cook traditional Middle Eastern food – zurbian, asida and various pastries and drinks – and we share news, often chatting late into the night.
I have 15 grandchildren, all born in the UK. I teach them Arabic, and they help me practice my English; by supporting each other, looking after each other, we stay strong.