Sharma Begum - Breaking the Cycle (BtC) Practitioner in Tower Hamlets, London  

Sharma has been a Breaking the Cycle (BtC) practitioner since 2012. Growing up in Tower Hamlets, Sharma saw the rise of substance misuse around her and felt she had to do something to help.

This is her work story:

“One of the key parts of my job is supporting people who cannot otherwise access services.  That could be down to language, cultural barriers or other factors like having small children, which can prevent people form getting to services.  
 
In Tower Hamlets most of my referrals are for Bangladeshi women who are married to British Bangladeshi men. These women are isolated as they move to the UK for marriage, live in new family units and often don’t speak English. They have no awareness of drugs and alcohol and when their partners misuse substances, they don’t recognise the signs. Often, these women cannot open up to their in-laws because of cultural taboos and have no idea how to access services outside to get the help they need. 
 
A majority of these women deal with their partner’s substance misuse alone and are extremely vulnerable and isolated. They have never seen heroin or crack use in Bangladesh and find it difficult to comprehend what effects these have on their partners and on their children.  
 
Although BtC has been working in Tower Hamlets for over eight years, it has supported the Bangladeshi community for over five years. It helps enormously that I speak Sylheti and can talk with women in their mother-tongue. The language barrier for these women is huge.  
 
When I first start working with families, it is often difficult to get people to open up because there is a lot of mistrust of services, especially if someone has been referred to us via a statutory service such as Children Social Care. However, slowly things start to change because people realise that BtC does not judge. We work with the resources within each family and give them control to make the changes that will help them move on from their situation.  

BtC has done a lot to help people here. Even when a case has been closed, it is not unusual for us to get a call from the family we worked with. We try to help by signposting to other services, such as with our free English classes where a volunteer ex-head teacher teaches one-to-one and by taking parents to children centres, if they are not already involved. We also help these mums make use of other courses that are delivered within the borough such as sewing, knitting and healthy eating. 
 
In an ideal world, it would be interesting to have a male Bangladeshi BTC worker here too, as it would definitely help the men in these families. Initially on referral they deny that they need help but after we built a rapport by visiting their homes, they start coming into sessions and opening up. It is difficult for them because they are not used to opening up about their problems to women. They become apologetic, but I encourage them to talk more, as this is them letting out emotions. It is clear to me that people who use drugs are often using them to disguise their feelings, turning to drugs when they are happy, sad and angry. It is good for them to realise that crying and feeling different emotions is ok.  
 
This week, we are starting a group therapy session for women who we have helped through BtC and another drugs agency in the borough. We realised that these women need a space to relax together and somewhere they can get mutual support. BtC and NAFAS, the drug treatment charity in Tower Hamlets have organised weekly group sessions where women can come and eat together and use some of the facilities that are available at NAFAS in a group therapy atmosphere. This is a brand new six week initiative that we feel will be an important part of recovery. I am excited to see the changes in these families, as they change their lives.”