City Gateway Women's Programmes


City Gateway Women's Programmes


Organisation Type:

East-London based charity working with disadvantaged women to build confidence and skills

Project Brief:

  • Organise and conduct interview, ensuring student is relaxed and at ease

  • Write up case study


See below

Photo credit - Mwabonje
Photo credit - Mwabonje

press to zoom
Photo credit - Mwabonje
Photo credit - Mwabonje

press to zoom

Photo credit - Mwabonje

Nova grew up in Chad. Her father had several wives, and she grew up as one of 23 siblings. She says she often felt isolated growing up, but loved listening to Cuban music!


Civil War sadly erupted in 2005. ”There was conflict in Chad – it was very hard. Before the conflict I lost my Dad in 2003 [he had a heart attack], and I lost my Mum [she had two strokes] in 2004. I was the oldest, so I had to be responsible for my brothers and sisters” – all 22 of them!


Nova got a job in a hotel as a receptionist to support the family – “it was too hard”. She also had a job working for a politician, supporting with admin and the logistics of organising meetings.


Day to day life became increasingly hard as war broke out. She had to walk up to three hours just to get food for the family. Shortly after the war started, the police and the army came to take away the politician she worked for - she was working at his house that day. “His bodyguards told me to hide, I hid in some other room and watched everything through the keyhole”. She saw him being taken away, and later found out that he had been killed. She managed to run away, running three hours to get home.


Unfortunately this safety and freedom was short lived. One week later she was called to speak to the police who were convinced that she was involved politically.


“The police caught me and they tortured me and questioned me – I have in my breast some cigarette burns…I told them I only organised meeting rooms and I didn’t have any papers. They […] put me in prison – I was there for six or seven months. The prison was [in a] dry swimming pool they built cells in”.


“They raped you, they burn you when you protest.” Nova lists some of the wounds she has: a scar from a knife wound in her back, scarring on her legs, cigarette burns on her legs and torso and breasts. She uses a walking stick now due to one of the injuries she sustained which left her with her a gap in the cartilage in her leg. She has also lost most of the vision in one eye due to an occasion where a guard hit her across the face.


“One day – I think it was my lucky day- they took me out to cook under a tree.” She saw an old school friend who was in the army – he signalled to her and they were able to speak briefly. I told him “you can help me to leave this place, or I will kill myself. [That is when] he told me they had killed the politician I used to work for. My friend started to make a plan to rescue me.”


A few days later he helped her to escape by pretending to the others that he was taking her out of her cell to rape her, as the military often did. Instead he took her out of a back prison door. “He took me to the river that borders Cameroon. He gave me about £5, and had organised someone to take me across the river in a canoe at midnight.”


She stayed in Cameroon for one week with someone she knew who sold seafood. This friend had looked after Nova’s gold jewellery from before the war – she gave it back to Nova and she sold it to get money for the journey to Nigeria where she stayed with an aunt. In Nigeria, after working for one month she organised to come to the UK.


When she arrived in the UK in 2008 Nova went straight to apply for asylum at the Home Office. Many tried to discourage her, and recommended that she hide – but she was determined to go and apply. She was asked many questions at the home office, and became more traumatised as a result of the constant questioning – she was referred to the hospital for counselling and therapy.


After a long fight, she was granted asylum and given somewhere to live in Tower Hamlets.


“It was very hard. I couldn’t speak English. And for food – I couldn’t read the labels on food so I didn’t know what I was cooking with and kept choosing unhealthy foods because I couldn’t read. Friends would write down bus numbers for me to help me travel to appointments – but in Chad traffic is on the other side of the road, so I kept waiting on the wrong side of the road for the bus and travelling in the wrong direction! And the snow – that was very hard for me!”


Nova started a relationship with a man in East London. “He was a protector for me, I thought. But then I saw him with another woman.” She split up with him, but found that she was pregnant.  


She was invited to Chrisp Street Health Centre for medical support. It was there that her midwife told her about City Gateway. “She knew I wanted to learn English, and that I needed confidence – so she took me to City Gateway, and when I had given birth I started studying.”


“ESOL helped me. Before I couldn’t be near people. My confidence was…low. When I started classes I couldn’t be close to people, but now I can have discussions in class. Today I can read my bills, I can read books, I can listen to the news, I can communicate with my doctors. Today I can communicate with people, I have confidence, and independence.”


“I enjoy the classes. All the staff are very helpful, they do everything to support.” Her son also attended the on-site playgroup, Gateway Tots - without this provision she would not have been able to start her studies due to childcare costs and the worry of leaving her son at a playgroup far away from her study location.


“Sometimes it is very hard for me to keep studying – I have to try very hard to keep coming to class. The things that have happened to me make it very difficult to get out of the house and to put myself with people.” Nova also explains the struggles of juggling being a single parent, studying and the physical health complications that she has – not to mention the strain she is under due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She often struggles with memory loss, flashbacks and nightmares due to her experiences.


“But City Gateway has helped me. City Gateway helps me keep studying, when it feels too much to come to class they keep encouraging me to come. Now I can go into offices and speak to people, speak to strangers” She now has confidence too.


Nova is currently working on completing her ESOL Entry Level 3, and plans to then enrol on a Functional Skills English Entry Level 3 class.


*Name changed to protect identity