How cooking together is helping victims of slavery

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SURVIVORS OF modern-day slavery have cooked up a way to increase their confidence with the help of a Sheffield-based charity.

Kathijee Wood, HR administrator at the anti-trafficking charity City Hearts, has been utilising her culinary skills to help women who have been rescued from exploitation.

The 47-year-old mum-of-two, who is originally from South Africa, lives in Sheffield with her husband and their two children.

Growing up in the city of Durban she developed a love for cooking with her mum and sisters and this bonding has now inspired her to share her passion. “I couldn’t see myself being a counsellor, but I wanted to give something to help others and what I can offer is my cooking, so I try to use that to make a difference,” said Wood. “I thought of cooking because it brings an element of fun and takes their minds off their trauma for a few hours.”

SURVIVORS

Wood and her husband moved to the UK 23 years ago.

She was appointed to the role of HR administrator at City Heart 11 years ago, taking care of every element of the recruitment process as well as delivering training to new employees.

“People often ask us why the survivors can’t just go back to their home countries. Sadly, it’s not that easy as there is a risk they could potentially be re-trafficked – even by their own families.

“Some could be killed,” she said.

Throughout her childhood, Wood saw first-hand the hardships women could face. “I saw a lot of physical and sexual violence growing up. My desire to help women was sparked at a young age, but I didn’t know exactly how I could help until later in my life,” she recalled.

PICTURED: Bunny Chow, a South African dish

The women come from countries far and wide, including Africa and Vietnam as well as the UK. Soon after joining the team and seeing the difference the charity made to the lives of trafficked women, Wood decided to volunteer.

“I notice when I go in every second Friday, the atmosphere quickly changes. Often when I meet the women who are new clients to our service, they are understandably very hesitant,” she said.

“They look up as I come in, then carry on with what they are doing. I go into the kitchen and once the sounds and smells come out someone always says, ‘Do you need help? What can we do?’ Next minute they are laying the table and putting out the tealights.

“Some of these women are malnourished when they join us, so I always provide a starter, main and dessert. It’s a proper dinner party once a fortnight.”

Government funding initially covers the survivors to be in the safe house for six weeks, so they get three of her delicious meals before they move into other accommodation.

Wood chose to hold her sessions on a Friday because it is a time when people might be thinking of socialising.

She said: “People love going out to celebrate the weekend on Fridays. They miss their friends and their old lives. I see how I can help bring a bit of that excitement back. “By the time we get to dessert, they are laughing and talking to each other.”

For more information, visit cityhearts.co.uk.

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