I have been a foster carer with TACT for approximately eight years and have fostered many children from different backgrounds and circumstances. Like most people, I had seen the news about the plight of migrant children in Calais, so when I got a call from TACT asking me if I could give a home to a young unaccompanied asylum seeking girl approximately 13 years old, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The day she arrived at my home I opened the door to find a pretty little girl that looked very thin and scared. I was told she couldn’t speak English so I was mindful of my body language and facial expressions. I knew I wanted to provide her with stability and love, even if she couldn’t understand English, she would understand love.
Communication was a struggle at first, I found myself miming all of the time, but it wasn’t long before she started to speak a little English. She’s an exceptionally bright girl and very keen to learn.
During a Home Office interview a couple of months after she came to stay with me, I finally learnt the true horror of her journey from Eritrea, East Africa. Aged about 13, she travelled by foot with a small group of other villagers, through Ethiopia, then Sudan and through the desert, where she was captured by guerrillas who tied her up and tortured her, burnt her with a lighter and abused her.
After the group escaped the guerrillas, she managed to get a boat with other refugees that attempted to cross the Mediterranean, but the boat capsized. Italian coast guards rescued her and treated her for dehydration. After two months in Italy, she made a second attempt to cross and this time she arrived in Calais where she spent three months in the camp, sleeping rough and under the constant threat of attack as a vulnerable unaccompanied child. From Calais she managed to jump on a lorry which brought her to England, where she was found in a bedsit starving and terrified.
Now things are so very different. She is at an independent school to learn English, and about to experience her first real Christmas. She said she didn’t celebrate Christmas in the Calais camp because they didn’t really know the date as nobody told them, and they never had Christmas celebrations at home, she said it was just another day. The bright decorations and lights everywhere fascinate her.
Another new experience was her birthday in November. She has never celebrated a birthday and I didn’t know how exactly old she was as no one in her country celebrates birthdays, so as they get older they find it difficult to know their true age. She has never had a cake with candles or a birthday card. So I made sure she had a birthday to remember with a party at Nandos which, aware of her story, bought her birthday gifts and generously insisted on paying the bill for 6 of us and brought out a cake with candles on and all the staff sang happy birthday as she blew the candles out.
I am so looking forward to sharing Christmas with her, knowing she feels happy and safe, and feeling excited about her future. She is loved and feels loved. She laughs a lot, which is amazing considering her experiences. She calls me mummy, and I feel privileged to call her my daughter.
Debbie, TACT Foster Carer