Cold had just arrived to Brussels and the sun had left some hours ago. We wait until we are all ready and we go inside. L’Îlot is a temporary crisis shelter for women in need. Volunteers go there every Wednesday at 20:00 to spend some time with them: they have games for their kids and offer some self-care treatment for women in the center.
As part of this social project, we offer to do their nails. Sometimes they don’t want to because they are tired or have other things to do. But this time Marta (ndlr: the name has been replaced) was free and took a seat with us. She picked a very intense dark blue that looked great on her pale skin. Spontaneously, she started talking about her past life. She really needed to talk and this is the reason we are there. She used to live in a little town in Belgium, far away from Brussels. She owned a nice house, where she lived with her husband, near her workplace. Without changing her face, as if she was just talking about something irrelevant, she tells us that her husband tried to kill her once. She was traumatized for a while, and that impeded her to take any decision at that moment. However, she finally decided to leave her house. She moved to a small apartment in the same town. Nevertheless, as it is not a big city, she could easily run into her ex-husband on the street and she was clearly too afraid to let this happen. So, she took an even more difficult decision: she moved to Brussels, where she didn’t know anybody and had nowhere to stay. She had no choice if she wanted to keep herself alive. Moving meant starting from zero: she lost her job, her house, her family. It even meant to live in the street for some weeks. “I ended by losing hope”, she says. All I could think about while I listen to her is that what might be even harder than living in the street is not to have expectations of improving her life conditions, to think that your life might just end like that.
Fortunately, her hope came back when she found out about L’îlot. Once again, she had a bed to sleep in, a blanket to cover herself from Brussels’ cold and some warm food on the table. She recovered hope of having a worthy life. Hope of working, socializing and having the possibility to live her life with dignity. She is extremely thankful for what L’Îlot has given her. She only has words of gratitude towards the project and their workers. “She never complaints and never stops smiling”, added the cook, who had just arrived. The story of Marta is one of courage and resilience. Despite the obstacles she has had to gone through, she keeps her smile and her hope of getting back the respectable life she once had.
What happened to Marta could happen to any of us. There is no specific profile of gender violence’s victims. The only common characteristic is that they are women; but among this group, any of us could suffer it. Gender violence is not always easy to perceive as it can be greatly subtle, sometimes silent. As it happened to Marta, you might only realize it when you are just a few steps away from death. She had never thought about being a victim of gender violence, and even imaging herself living in the street. But unfortunately, it happened. Besides gender violence, there are a lot of other issues that could lead a person to live in the street, such as being a victim of fraud, losing their parents at an early age, divorcing, losing the job, drug addiction, etc. And we, any of us, could be victims of any of them.
L’Îlot means islet in French and that is exactly what this center is. For Marta and many other women, it meant a second opportunity in their lives, and not giving up from a hopeless life. It is a safe place where to stay in an environment of fear. In the middle of a sea of anguish and hopelessness, they were able to find an oasis, an islet, of help and safety.