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“Don’t be scared to trust your intuition”
Taban Shoresh’s story is so remarkable that it reads like a film.A true WYLDE Woman who has escaped terrifying ordeals and ill health, her passion and positivity have led her to a position of strength. Here,Taban talks to us about facing death, starting a new life, and the driving force behind her work today.
How did your story start?“When I was four, Saddam Hussein carried out a genocide campaign in Kurdistan, where I am from. Any Kurds who were rising up and fighting for their rights were automatically added to the most-wanted list and this included my dad.”
What about the rest of your family?“Soldiers showed up at my grandmother’s house, where we were staying. They captured me, my mum, and both sets of my grandparents. They took us to prison and interrogated all of the adults to get information about my dad who was in the mountains, but no-one gave anything away. Then they took us to a second prison.”
Is it true you were nearly buried alive?“After about three weeks, some names were called out and we were on that list. That list named all of the families who were about to be buried alive. There were buses to take us to the mass grave – of which there were a lot across Iraq. Our bus driver switched and the new driver, who was there to take us to the graves, was actually there to rescue us. He opened the doors of the bus and told us that from now on we had to pretend that we were dead because the next time they captured us, they would kill us. We ended up walking to a road and stopping a taxi. Amazingly, the driver was an old student of my grandad’s.”
“From day one, my body has been in fight or flight mode, because that’s all it understands. It doesn’t know rest only danger.”
How did you escape?“We stayed with my mum’s stepsister for three months then fled from village to village helped by underground networks. Not only were my family trying to escape because we were on Saddam Hussein’s most-wanted list, but there was a war being fought so we were literally dodging bullets. Eventually, we were smuggled into Iran on horseback at night. My dad was still in Kurdistan and planned to follow us weeks later, but Saddam Hussein hired a team to poison a group of men, and sadly my dad was amongst them. He drank enough of the poison to be paralysed and made critically ill. Thankfully, he and two other men were taken to Iran where Amnesty International flew him to the UK for medical treatment.”
What was life like in the UK when you first arrived?“It was our first time on a plane and our first-time seeing people from different backgrounds, different ethnic groups and different skin tones. It was a whole new world. Things like the tube were so surreal and overwhelming. But we picked up English very quickly and life became what life is here.”
Did your traumatic childhood affect you as an adult?“As an adult, what happened to me has come out in many different ways. I remember as a child, I knew that something bad was happening and that I needed to be invisible. As a result, I was very quiet. From day one, my body has been in fight or flight mode, because that’s all it understands. It doesn’t know rest, only danger. I believe that’s come out in my illness, Crohn’s Disease. Recently, after one of my surgeries, my wound looked like a shotgun wound, which brought back a memory of a man we saw on the side of the road who had been shot to death. Memories can be triggered and come out in different ways.”
What gives you purpose?“I’ve gone through a lot of healing, which is why I think I can talk about what we went through. My mum doesn’t remember a lot of it. I think the trauma of it has blocked it from her mind. The work I do today is supporting women and girls impacted by conflict. I don’t just talk about what I went through for the sake of it, there’s a purpose and that makes it easier.”
Taban Shoresh at “The Lotus Flower”
Tell us about your charity The Lotus Flower?
“I set up The Lotus Flower from my living room. I raised £25k which helped us start. We needed a safe space for women in Kurdistan to learn, heal and grow.
We’ve got a women’s business incubator where women can start their own projects within the camp. We’ve got baking sisters, boxing sisters, sewing sisters. There’s a café, supermarkets, and hairdressers. We provide therapists for those who need them. We’ve started working with men and boys to stop systemic gender-based violence and we’ve started an initiative called Peace Sisters where we are training mediators from the ground up at the community level so that their voices can be heard. We’ve gone from one project with just me on my own, to having 30 staff members and a few of us internationally. It’s just phenomenal. to see the growth and how we’ve impacted over 30,000 women and girls to date.”
Why do we need to trust ourselves?“Everything I’ve experienced has taught me the power of resilience. From my childhood, I’ve learnt to trust myself to make the right decision, to make the change. It’s all about trust, resilience and intuition.”
What advice would you give your younger self?“Don’t be scared to trust your intuition. I do everything by intuition. There’s something innate in us all, but often we’re scared to trust it. I’ve had so many lucky escapes from death that I trust that there’s something out there protecting me.”
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