At first glance, Kahaila looks like a regular London café: customers tap away on their Macs or chat with friends, sip on hot drinks and eye up cakes. But this Brick Lane hangout isn’t just another hipster coffee shop.
The “coffee shop with a conscience” is actually a non-profit charity that runs local community projects helping vulnerable women. One such project is Luminary Bakery, which uses baking classes as a tool to break cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty, by restoring women’s confidence and empowering them to build future careers.
Halimot is one of these women. She was trafficked as a child from Nigeria, across Europe and eventually found herself in the UK. Now, after being supported by Luminary Bakery, she works at the café and has launched her own baking business.
At the age of nine, Halimot’s father died and without his protection, she was left vulnerable to human trafficking.
“My life changed, my dreams where gone,” she explained. “In Nigeria, women don’t really have a say.”
Still a child, Halimot was taken away from her mother and trafficked across Europe. She was subjected to physical violence and sexual abuse, arriving in the UK when she was just 15 years old.
Thankfully, she managed to escape from her trafficker by running away as fast as she could when her trafficker was distracted at a train station, but life was still difficult.
“When I arrived in the UK my life wasn’t easy at all because I didn’t know anybody. There was no financial support,” she said.
“The truth was I wanted to die, because I was tired of life.”
Later that year she became pregnant and registered with a GP in the UK for the first time.
“The midwife who attended to me saw a lot of scars on my body and because I was young, 15, they wanted to know what happened to me,” she said.
Doctors called social services to try and help Halimot, but at the time she was too scared to accept help because of threats she’d received in the past.
“Any time they [social services] called me, I just cut the phone and changed my sim card. A lot of people and a lot of charities tried to help. But I didn’t know they wanted to help,” she explained.
“During the years I was with my trafficker, she said any time you go to the police or try to get help, we will know, and once we know, we will find you, and once we find you, we will kill you.”
It wasn’t until years later, in 2015, that Halimot found the courage to open up to another doctor.
“I really broke down, I had depression, anxieties and my flashbacks came stronger,” she explained.
“The GP said: ‘If you could trust me and tell me a little bit about yourself I might be able to help’.”
Halimot took a chance and started to tell the GP some of her story. The GP explained to her what child trafficking was, after figuring out Halimot didn’t know there was a name for what she had experienced.
The doctor put her in touch with the British Red Cross who offered to help find her safe accommodation and help her figure out the immigration system.
She was then directed onto another charity and eventually, was offered a placement at Luminary Bakery.
Halimot said the baking course was like “a second chance at life”.
She met kind people, gained confidence and the skills to set up her own catering company, Haliberry Cake and Catering.
Alongside selling her baking masterpieces to the public, Halimot now works in Kahaila café, the place that helped fund her fresh start.
“I see Kahaila as part of me, because they really helped me to get back on track,” she said.
“They support me physically, emotionally, everything. I enjoy coming here because any time I come, I feel wanted, I feel loved.”
To find out more about Kahaila or make a donation, visit the website here.
Kahaila also set-up Ella’s Home, which provides accommodation and support for women who have experienced trafficking and sexual exploitation, and Reﬂex, which works with women in Holloway prison, equipping them with the skills and confidence to realise their full potential via outreach sessions, mentoring and accredited education courses. The cafe supports a range of other projects, too.
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