When Umayma Elamin Amer ended up all on her own, nearly 10 years after moving to Malta, one of the things she missed the most was gathering for a meal with her loved ones.
This inspired the co-founder of the Migrant Women Association Malta to bring together women who were going through something similar – or even worse.
Coming together for a meal, she thought, could help migrant women open up about their trauma.
“I moved to Malta in 2014 with my two teenage children in search of a better future. But as we know, in life, not everything goes to plan.
"My children moved back to Sudan around the time the pandemic hit, and now that they are aged 24 and 26, they cannot return to Malta despite the escalation of the war in Sudan. I’m in Malta legally, but I’m not eligible for family reunification.
“My children – together with my relatives – have been forcibly displaced to the border of the country. My father and siblings are still in Khartoum facing a situation of war. I’m in Malta on my own. I miss gathering with family for dinner, sharing our stories.”
The association, with the support of WAVE (Women Against Violence Europe), started holding so called ‘cooking and self-care’ workshops in May. Nearly 25 women from Somalia, Nigeria, Syria, Gambia, Cameroon, Colombia, Ivory Coast and Guinea among others participated in the project, held at the Ħal Far Open Centre.
The women came together to share a meal, but at the same time, they shared their experience and received professional psychological tips on how to take care of themselves. During the sessions, the association made sure that the women could just focus on their own wellbeing, providing childminders.
The project will come to an end this month, but the association is looking for partners or sponsors who can support it to expand the project to other open centres.
'I was not ready to relive the trauma'
One participant - Sofia from Syria – told a conference about the project that the meetings instilled in her a positive vibe that she had lost over the past decade.
“Some of you might know me from a photo, published by Times of Malta when in 2020, when we were evacuated from a reception centre in Marsa after a large fire broke out there,” she said in a recorded message.
Sofia fled her war-torn country to Sudan, from where she moved to Libya and eventually Malta four years ago.
“I faced many difficulties as we travelled across borders and the sea, and these challenges did not stop when we landed in Malta. I felt too much pressure on my mental wellbeing, and for four years I refused to relive the trauma by speaking about it.”
She recalled she once tried to go to Marsa by public transport but got lost on the way. Once she returned home, exhausted, she hurt her finger while preparing dinner and she could not understand how these two little incidents had made her feel mentally drained.
“It was only after opening up to Umayma that I started feeling ‘less tired’. When I started going for the cooking and self-care classes, I felt close to the people despite our different background and experiences.”
She explained that, in a way, since she spends so much time indoors, the project allowed her the opportunity to meet different people and build bonds in a safe space.
Nicolette Camilleri, who provided psychological help to the participants, said the women she met at the workshops suffered from post-migration trauma, and possibly, unbeknown to them, even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most of the women’s stories, she said, were about loss - of people, homes and past connections - and it was important to let them know that they had a right to ask for help and that their feelings of worry and anxiety were valid.