Jamima Fagta is a force of empowerment. Having migrated herself to the UK fifteen years ago, she works today passionately and tirelessly to help so many others, making a truly inspiring impact. Here, she shares with us her story:
Jamima suggested we meet at a coffee shop near Tower Bridge, as the cool mist that settles there early in the morning makes it her favourite place during this time of day. In the midst of the grey London fog, she immediately brings warmth- greeting me with a huge smile and hug, despite us having never met before.
It quickly becomes evident how this warmth unfolds into passion, as we start to discuss her work. Jamima is a project officer at Kanlungan, a charity consisting of six Filipino community organizations who work together to support the Filipino community in Britain. They aim to relieve poverty through education and training programs that provide the necessary skills to obtain employment in the UK. She draws from her own life and experiences to serve her meaningful role here.
Jamima came to London in 2000 as a victim of human trafficking from the Philippines. Because of the lack of information available to her, she did not know she could claim asylum and instead purchased a false passport. For this, she was caught and sentenced to 24 months in prison. Here, she met other young women like herself; vulnerable people who were desperate to improve the conditions they were subjected to in their country of origin. Jamima thus describes prison as being an “asylum and sanctuary”, where she was able to bond with other women and ultimately become aware of her right to political asylum. With the correct information, she then began the lengthy process of trying to obtain asylum and she now has her Indefinite Leave to Remain (permission to stay in the UK). She draws upon her own experience of being new to the country and not knowing the tools and information available to her to fuel the work she is doing today.
We begin discussing one of the specific issues Kanlungan commonly deals with; the trafficking of domestic workers who are swept into a system of secret slavery. “The employers go to the British embassy and say ‘ok this is my family member’, we’re going to pay them this much, treat them this way, but they don’t show that to their domestic worker.” As a result, these workers are often kept in the house of their employer, their passports taken from them, forced to work with little food and pay well below the minimum wage. Jamima goes on to explain that, “to get out of this system”, they need the information, support, and confidence to tell their story.
To address this goal, Jamima leads a campaign called the Empowerment Projects for Kanlungan. Through a range of acting workshops, digital storytelling sessions, and leadership training, they aim to provide migrants with the necessary skills to communicate with the media and campaign for themselves. “Why is it that the people who are suffering can’t get the coverage?” Jamima poses. She adds that Kanlungan thus also focuses on pressuring the media directly to better cover and represent migrants in the public discourse.
A large part of Kanlungan’s work is done through campaigning. Most recently this took shape in the form of Defend Our Nurses, a campaign focused on helping non-EU migrant nurses obtain permanent settlement in the UK. A new policy, which will be implemented from 2016, requires non-EU migrants - including nurses - to be earning more than £35k per annum if they want to settle in the UK. Realistically, the average salary of nurses ranges from 22k-28k per annum. This puts non-EU migrant nurses at risk of being forced to leave the UK, which would create gaps in the healthcare system. The workers themselves have thus launched a petition that gathered over 60,000 signatures and support from employers, as well as organizations like Kanlungan. Jamima tells me that the task here is to “keep on drumbeating this campaign by putting pressure” on the government to change the proposed policy.
I ask her what about her role is most special to her among all the work she is involved in. Jamima easily replies; “the thing that I like is that it’s promoting change. We see the fruit of our labour… and it’s very, very laborious”. Despite the hard work, it is evident her tireless passion and drive are a force to be reckoned with.
Outside of her busy involvement with Kanlungan, Jamima explains to me the personal growth she has experienced as a result of transitioning and living in London. I ask her if she has enjoyed the city, to which she begins to eagerly nod. “The thing about London, it helped me develop this attitude of frankness… and also being true to yourself. Being honest and just saying things and not getting criticised for it.” In the same way that she has been there to empower others then, Jamima sees the city as a place in which she herself was able to feel empowered.
Kanlungan is currently organising a day event on December 20th which will exhibit the experiences of migrant domestic workers in the UK. This event will mark International Migrants Day (December 18th) and celebrate the positive contribution of migrant workers in the UK. For more information on the organization: http://www.kanlungan.org.uk/