Friday, May 11, 2012
by PAVAN AMARA
Holloway councillor Rakhia Ismail: ‘We really struggled’
WHEN she was 11, Rakhia Ismail fled northern Somalia after her father was imprisoned and her mother struggled to make ends meet.
Last week more than 2,000 of her neighbours elected her as Holloway’s new Labour councillor, and she has big plans.
Her focus will be on jobs, integration and instilling new arrivals to the borough with the confidence and skills to do more for Islington.
Now happily settled in Bunhill with four children, she recalls how her mother was forced to think of innovative ways to keep her family’s finances afloat.
First, by making a modest wage selling textiles, and then exporting and importing material and jewellery to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
“That’s when I realised what women are capable of when pushed,” said the 46-year-old.
“My family had been well-off, my dad ran a small business and owned property, but then there was the 1969 coup and he couldn’t be there. We really struggled.”
Rakhia’s mother took her children to Abu Dhabi, where they attended a Pakistani international school.
After school, Rakhia came to England, and studied textiles and print design at City and Islington College’s Shepperton Road campus.
Rakhia wanted to improve the area she lived in, and the lives of refugee women living alongside her.
So she started Back-to-Basics Create, a charity based at Manor Gardens, Holloway, which opened its doors in 2002.
Eight part-time members of staff and 10 years on, and the charity’s latest mission is teaching refugee women English, and a new skill while they’re at it.
“I knew there was so much they could do, so much potential,” she said.
“Often they were seamstresses who were better than any of the young designers I’ve seen in London.
"Many were brilliant cooks, or they made jewellery that would sell very well in Topshop.”
Dozens of women now attend the English class, which started in November.
Now, Rakhia plans to open a fairtrade shop in Islington selling the goods the women make, and maybe a stall at Chapel Market.