Aija’s story

 

Lyn, our art teacher, helps Aija during one of our classes

Aija’s story

 

Aija tells me that today is the best day of her week. Why? Because today, she attends our art class.

 

Come rain or come shine, Aija arrives at the Rhythms of Life headquarters every Wednesday to attend our art class. She tells me that the workshop is the one thing that takes her mind off her situation. Like all of our service users, Aija is homeless. When she wakes up, Aija doesn’t know where she will sleep that night.

 

An unassuming and kind-hearted character, when Aija comes in she tells our staff members that she doesn’t want a tea or coffee. But we serve her a milky coffee and a slice of cake, and it’s well received. Aija tells me about her childhood in Latvia. “I’m from Riga, a city of culture they say”. It’s there that her passion for art began.  But Aija says it was difficult to grow up in the totalitarian state. “Everybody hated communism. We dreamed of living in the West.”

 

After leaving school at 18, Aija got an office job as a secretary. “It was a very good job, the best job that I could have as a woman.” But she didn’t stay for long. After the fall of communism, work was harder to come by but she found a job in security.

 

Aija’s life was transformed when she met an American man in Riga. They began a whirlwind romance, and Aija followed him back to the United States, where they lived together in New York. But they didn’t stay put for long, and Aija travelled the world with her American partner, living for a number of years in Australia. Eventually, the pair moved back to Riga, got married, had a son.

 

Sadly, the marriage broke down shortly after Aija gave birth. Aija lost custody of her son when her ex-husband moved back to the US, and she stayed in Riga. It was then that Aija struggled to pay her rent and fell into a debt crisis.

 

“I started to gamble everything I had. I could not find regular work, whenever I made money, I gambled it instantly and lost everything. It is a bad habit, I have ruined everything by gambling.

 

Because of her addiction, Aija ran out of people in her life that she could turn to for support. In desperation, she scratched together enough money to fly to London, where she hoped to turn over a new leaf.

 

But old habits die hard, and Aija is still homeless ten years later. She has recently left supported accommodation because she could not fulfil the debt she owed for missed payments.

 

Since January, Aija has been finding regular work as a cleaner, and dreams of returning to Riga. She has patched up relations with her mother, but she can’t help herself from gambling her earnings.

 

“The only time I don’t think about gambling is the art class.” She confides to me. “Most of the time, I am only thinking of how I can earn money, how I can gamble. But here, I only think about my art, and what Lyn [our art teacher] is teaching me.”

 

Read more: Our service users surprise Ryan on his 50th birthday!

Read more: The life stories behind some of our former service users

 

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From the archives: The life stories behind our former service users

Ron’s story:


Having gone from eating our food to distributing it himself, Ron knows Rhythms of Life better than most people who pass through our doors.

Shortly after our charity was founded, Ron, who was sleeping rough at the time, came to our attention. Over several years, Ron forged a close relationship with the team at Rhythms of Life, and learnt I.T. and financial management skills from our classes as he rebuilt his life.

Ron now lives in a council flat in Hackney. As recently as last year, Ron was a regular volunteer who collected food from our partners and prepared it for distribution.

 

Steve’s testimony:


“My name is Stevie, I’m 59 years old, and people say I look like Fagin from Oliver Twist. I don’t know if you agree.

“What keeps me going is my dog, which I found in a terrible condition. I feel less lonely because of him. He is my only real friend.

“Yes, I am homeless. It’s really hard to live like a normal person. You get used to living in the street and sleeping on the ground. I used to live in different countries and places like France, Germany, and Sweden – I was fluent in French and German when I was younger.

“I never expected to live like this. I just want to settle down. I want a bed to sleep in, a shower to wash myself, my own room and some food.

“Rhythms of Life help feed me, but I’m still miserable. If someone can help me get out of this situation, I would be so grateful.”

Jojo’s story:

“I first came across Rhythms of Life a year ago or so, I get meals here three times a week. Sometimes I get food from other charities too.

“I’ve been offered volunteering opportunities, but I prefer to look for paid work. I want to prove that I’m socially acceptable, and to improve my lot in society.

“It’s tough – I’m trying to find work as a driver, but I don’t get many hours at all. But, I won’t give up.

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Andrew Faris speaks to Reel2Real Talk about Rhythms of Life, London’s homelessness crisis, and his incredible life story

This week, Andrew Faris, founder and CEO of Rhythms of Life, spoke to Reel2Real Talk about how our charity was founded, homelessness in London, and his own experience of rough sleeping.


Check it out here: