Verena Hewat, one of our training leads talks about her recent work with Somali elders in East London…

Somali Womens group dancingWe have recently been working with group of around 18 female Somali elders in East London. They are part of an organisation called Women’s Health and Family Services (WHFS) who are a multi-cultural community health charity focused on health and empowerment issues for disadvantaged women and their families.

Most of the women in the group came to the UK after the Somali Civil War in the 80’s and 90’s. Many of them have lost their families but have since formed a warm, supportive network in Tower Hamlets that they have been welcoming us into every Friday morning for the past three months.

The aim of the work we are doing is to consult and work with the women to develop an effective approach to raising awareness around end-of-life rights that is appropriate for their community and to inform them and the staff and volunteers from WHFS about the importance of planning ahead. As well as writing a report, we also plan to use some of the learning from the women with other groups where English is not the first language.

Many of them have felt powerless in a country where they are unable to communicate the complexities of what is important to them, where there is a lack of interpreters, appointments are rushed and there is very little understanding of what a ‘good death’ means to them…

Many of the participants come from nomadic families and preparing for end-of-life is not something that they are uncomfortable with. Their Grandfathers will have carried their own white shroud around with them as a matter of course. The Hadith “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah” also resonated with them in the context of our group – they understand the value of being proactive in planning ahead for a good outcome and believe Allah will be by their side to ensure this.

In our community the special water we give people is called Zam Zam. We give people that are dying this holy water that is from a well in Mecca. Some people like to give water and honey or ghee to keep the mouth moist. When a person is going through the last stages of death their throat becomes dry. It is important to do that for comfort. Somali Elder Participant
…having a moist mouth means that they are able to say Shahada. This is an Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet. It is like the last testimony. It is the last prayer to allow you to go to paradise. It is very important for all of the Muslim faith to say Shahada before you die. It is an obligation on Muslims even if you can’t speak to say it in your head. Somali Interpreter