Episode 81 From Genocide Survivor to Global Advocate: Taban Shoresh OBE. A Journey of Resilience and Empowerment

On: Jun 4, 2024

Trigger Warning
This episode contains discussions of trauma and sensitive war-related content, including experiences of genocide and displacement. Listener discretion is advised.
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Welcome back to another episode of The Scrumptious Woman. I’m your host, Juliette Karaman, and today I have the honour of speaking with an extraordinary woman, Taban Shoresh. Taban is not only an OBE recipient but also a genocide survivor who has turned her experiences into a beacon of hope for many. Prepare yourselves for a deeply moving and inspiring conversation.

Episode Summary:

In this episode, Taban Shoresh OBE, shares her harrowing yet empowering journey from surviving genocide in Kurdistan to founding The Lotus Flower, a charity dedicated to supporting women and girls impacted by conflict and displacement. Taban recounts the traumatic events of her childhood, the strength she found within herself to overcome these adversities, and her mission to create meaningful change in the world. Her story is a testament to resilience, purpose, and the transformative power of compassion.

Key Takeaways:

Resilience in the Face of Adversity: Taban discusses how she reframed her traumatic experiences to find purpose and strength, rather than letting them define her negatively.
The Importance of Purpose: Finding and dedicating oneself to a cause greater than personal suffering can lead to profound healing and impact.
Community and Support Systems: The role of family, community, and compassionate strangers in Taban’s survival and success story.
Establishing The Lotus Flower: Taban’s journey in founding her charity and the significant impact it has had on over 84,000 women and girls, as well as their communities.
Overcoming Personal Challenges: From escaping a war-torn country to facing health issues, Taban’s story highlights the ongoing battles and triumphs in her life.
Empathy and Action: How listeners can support refugees and those affected by war through donations, introductions, and community actions.

Thank you for joining us for this powerful episode. Taban’s story is a reminder of the strength and resilience within us all. Reflect on how you can bring your story forth and make a positive impact in the world. If you’d like to support The Lotus Flower or learn more, visit their website at thelotusflower.org.

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Transcription:

The Scrumptious Woman

[00:00:00] Juliette Karaman: Good morning, good evening, good middle of the day. We are back with another episode of The Scrumptious Woman. And with me I have the most incredible woman who has survived genocide, has overcome so many things, and now is leading this most beautiful life. Beautiful organization to help others. Taban Shoresh, you are an OBE as well.

[00:00:25] Juliette Karaman: We’re going to go into that. Thank you for coming on. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Ah, you are the epitome of a scrumptious woman, someone who has completely overcome The cards that were dealt to her, right? The hand that was dealt to her and that it was like life happens to me, but you’ve actually turned it around where life happens for you.

[00:00:52] Juliette Karaman: Would you go into a little bit what’s happened here? You’re a genocide survivor, first of all.

[00:00:59] Taban Shoresh: Yeah. No, thank you. The way you’ve described it, it’s, I always say I think there was a point in my life where I just went, okay, too many things have happened. Too many bad things have happened.

[00:01:12] Taban Shoresh: And I either accept bad things are just going to happen to me, and then I focus on the negative and dwell on that energy. Or, do I go, okay, they’ve happened to me. How do I turn it into a reason that they’ve happened to me for? So how do I switch it around? So I gave all the traumatic experiences that I’ve had a purpose.

[00:01:35] Taban Shoresh: So it’s easy for me to digest it and cope with it, but also it allows me to create impact. And so now I think anything that’s thrown my way, I’ve got the lens of, okay how can I turn it into something purpose?

[00:01:50] Juliette Karaman: Purposeful. Completely. And that’s what you’re doing with your charity, right?

[00:01:56] Taban Shoresh: Yeah.

[00:01:57] Taban Shoresh: And it starts from my childhood experiences of being a genocide survivor. And I think in this day and age, where we’re repeatedly seeing it happen in all parts of the world it’s quite sad to witness it still happening. And so for me, it gives me even more. Drive to support, especially women and girls impacted by conflict, displacement and traumatic events.

[00:02:23] Juliette Karaman: Would you take us through a little snippet of your history, how old you were, where exactly you came from and just what you’ve had to overcome? And then there are lots of different segments we’ll go afterwards.

[00:02:35] Taban Shoresh: Yeah. Okay, so I’ll try and, to give context, I’ll try and describe the journey, which is the best way for me to do it, for people to understand what it is.

[00:02:45] Taban Shoresh: how it happens. So I’m Kurdish. So I’m, I was born in Northern Iraq, Kurdistan. My father was a political activist. He was also a poet. So I guess under Saddam’s regime, we were wanted because he was active in politics and for the Kurdish cause and the Kurdish identity and all the persecution that we were facing.

[00:03:10] Taban Shoresh: I guess as a child, when I was born into this world, I was born into conflict. The 1980s with the Iran and Iraq war, so that was happening at the same time. And then being Kurdish, we were being persecuted for being Kurdish. In actual fact, we were judging two conflicts at the same time. And this becomes relevant in my story a bit later on, but That’s the context that I was born into, and my dad was always in the mountains with the cause defending her as being being a Peshmerga, which is what we call them, a freedom fighter, and my mum more or less looked after us like a single mother, but she was never, they were still together, he was just following the cause, and she was looking after the kids.

[00:03:58] Taban Shoresh: But she was also working. So she was working full time. She was working as an accountant in a really, famous factory in that time. And we lived with our grandparents. I was living with my mum’s grandparents at the time. And at the age of four, I was in the garden one day, and playing with my doll like normal children do.

[00:04:20] Taban Shoresh: And I remember like a really loud thump at the garden gates, and I froze. Froze because I didn’t know who was there, and I didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want to go anywhere. So I waited for an adult to come out, and my uncle came out, and he ran to open the door, and I ran towards him because I thought, being safe with an adult.

[00:04:40] Taban Shoresh: And I stood in front of him as he opened the doors, and as he opened the doors, there stood two Iraqi soldiers, and they looked down at me and looked at him. I asked my mum, and he knew what was going to happen, so he tried to deter them. In doing so, he didn’t realize that he’d actually what’s the word, he put his foot in it, but he did realize.

[00:05:02] Taban Shoresh: So when they said, can we speak to my mother my uncle said, oh, she divorced him, me and my dad, because of her patting me on the head. And he thought that story would deter them, and not get them to ask any more questions, but they looked at him instead and looked down at me and said, so this is the enemy’s child.

[00:05:26] Taban Shoresh: And at that point I could feel his hand grip. And he realized he’s given away too much already. And so from there, my other uncles knew what was happening and they hid my older brother. So they didn’t know that he existed as well. So my mum came out, they took my mum and they took me as well, and, the adults in the family all begged and cried for them not to take me as a child, I was only four years old at the time but the soldiers were told that if they followed the car that they would be killed on the spot.

[00:05:59] Taban Shoresh: So we were taken to a prison and the adults were interrogated in the prison to try and find out as much information as they could to see where my dad was. They didn’t give anything away. After a few hours we were taken to a main prison and there was like a men’s building and a women and children’s building.

[00:06:20] Taban Shoresh: So when they took my, I forgot to say, when they took my mother and myself. To the cars before going to prison, my grandparents and my paternal parents, my dad’s parents were already in the car. So they interrogated them as well. And so when they took us to the second prison, my mom, my grandma and myself were taken to the women and children’s building.

[00:06:43] Taban Shoresh: And my dad was, my granddad was taken to the men’s building. And we stayed there for a few weeks. It was really absolutely packed and crammed and the conditions were horrible. And I remember I remember things like not eating because of a particular smell. So I don’t know if that’s when all my issues with my physical illness that I have now started because I remember it so clearly.

[00:07:10] Taban Shoresh: I just refused to because of the smell from the stench of the bathrooms. So we stayed there for a few weeks and the men we could hear would be tortured and I always worried about my granddad And he was actually, we found out later on, he was tortured as well After two, I think it was three weeks, two to three weeks, they called out some family names And we were on that list, and everyone thought that we’d been set free, and we’re gonna be set free.

[00:07:40] Taban Shoresh: But when we went out of the building, there was diggers in front of the buses, and the adults instantly knew what those diggers were for, so they all dropped to the floor and started wailing and just screaming, begging the soldiers not to kill us. But everyone was herded onto the buses, and from those screams and wails, it just turned into really loud.

[00:08:01] Taban Shoresh: silent whispers of prayers. So you could hear them reciting the Quran just quietly to themselves. And we were being driven to our death, basically. And the plan was for us to be buried alive. Yeah,

[00:08:15] Juliette Karaman: and just let the listeners also just take a breath. I want everyone to ground yourself a little bit because this is a very intense story.

[00:08:25] Juliette Karaman: I know you’ve told it a lot, but for us to hear it, it’s Incredible. All right.

[00:08:31] Taban Shoresh: Yeah it’s surreal to think that’s the way that we were meant to die. And I think many years later in my adult life, I actually, cause they used to film it and I found footage on the internet of how they would bury people alive.

[00:08:50] Taban Shoresh: And that is the moment that really killed me because for me it, It was a moment of realisation of how lucky am I. And there was a child there, and all the adults had they were all lying down, they knew what was coming, there was nothing they could do. But the child was trying to stop the soil from going over him.

[00:09:10] Taban Shoresh: And for me, it just reminded me of myself, and what would I have done if I was in that hole? So for me, It’s part of the reason why I do what I do, because of all the people that died, like I’m lucky that I managed to survive. So what can I do to help people, but also stop things like that from happening?

[00:09:32] Taban Shoresh: Because it was so close, so very close. And then I’ve seen the miracles of the universe, divine, all intercept and rescue us. So we were meant to be driven to be buried alive. And the way that they would do it is part of seeing the diggers is part of it. So you see the diggers and you’re preparing yourself that this is going to happen.

[00:09:58] Taban Shoresh: And then they take you to the location and they dig the holes in front of you and they make everyone lie down. And they shovel soil over you very slowly, so they’ll take the smallest piece, a piece of cardboard or a small shovel, just so it’s a slow, torturous death. Halfway through driving we stopped, so the buses stopped, and we could hear that there was something happening outside, and there was a deal being made.

[00:10:26] Taban Shoresh: Didn’t know what, but something had happened, and then the buses carried on driving, and then the buses stopped again. But when it stopped the second time, the doors opened, and these two Kurdish men appeared and said, we’re Kurdish, we’re here to rescue you, and we’re not going to kill you. But you need to disappear as if you’re dead.

[00:10:43] Taban Shoresh: Because if you’re caught again, you’ll be killed on the spot. You won’t have another chance. So we were rescued. That, that for me, like for me, I will always, I don’t know who the drivers were. I don’t know if they’re alive. I don’t know if they were killed. But I know that their act of strength and courage and compassion rescued a busload of people.

[00:11:07] Taban Shoresh: Thank you. And it was, yeah, that for me, there’s like moments of my life where I’m going, okay that’s my, that’s another pillar for me. That’s another driver. I pull in all these moments where. I draw strength from it and see how others have managed to do something and put their lives at risk to help others.

[00:11:28] Taban Shoresh: So I’ve got lots of moments like that and that for me was a definite critical moment. And from that we, after we, we walked to a road and my granddad stopped a taxi and it happened to be one of his older students. Of all people in the world, all people in the world, the taxi was one of his old students.

[00:11:51] Taban Shoresh: And he recognized my granddad and asked, what are you doing in the middle of nowhere with your family? And at that time, you couldn’t really speak to anyone. So he said, I’m not going to say anything. Don’t ask any questions. Just sneak us back into the city. So we went back and we went to my mom’s step sister’s house.

[00:12:12] Taban Shoresh: So my auntie, because it’s the least likely place that they would search. If we went back to my grandparents, then there’d be a chance that they’d have searched there. But when we walked in, they were all wearing black, they were all mourning, because they’d heard that we’d been buried alive. So it’s almost as if you walk into your own funeral and it’s the most surreal.

[00:12:36] Taban Shoresh: I don’t know how my mum would have felt or how they would have felt, like those are particular memories that I don’t remember. But just the thought of walking into your own funeral, walking out from the dead. I can imagine was unbelievable a shock, a relief but also at the same time a fear of, okay, we’re here but we can’t stay here, what do we do?

[00:13:03] Taban Shoresh: And so my dad has sent a message for us to go into hiding in the south of Iraq where it was Arab populated and we wouldn’t be searched there. And my mum had a brother there, so she decided to leave my older brother because, in their eyes, he didn’t, they didn’t know he existed, so he, it was, we were, she wasn’t going to put his life in danger, so we left him, and then we went to the south, and went in hiding for about three months.

[00:13:29] Taban Shoresh: As a child, I only spoke Kurdish, I didn’t speak Arabic, so I was not allowed to go out the house, and no one was allowed to see me, because I would have given it away. My mum could speak Arabic, and so for her it was a lot easier, but after three months of just being stuck indoors, I think that’s when she put her foot down and said, I just can’t kill myself or my kids for this.

[00:13:54] Taban Shoresh: You have to find a way out of this country for us. And so that’s when my dad, I think it took some time, but he finally agreed. And that started a 12 month journey of just fleeing. So we went and picked up my brother. And then we went from village to village in hiding. You’ve got to remember, during the same time it was the Iran and Iraq war.

[00:14:18] Taban Shoresh: So all the bombs from that were dropping in the rural areas. Which is where we could only go. There was nowhere else for us to go. So you’d be stuck in villages with bombardments and fighting for weeks. And we’d be the only family there. You couldn’t go into the cities because the cities you’d be searched for and more likely for the regime to fight you.

[00:14:39] Taban Shoresh: So we were trying to survive two conflicts and deaths at the same time. After, that journey, things children shouldn’t see from ancient bodies. to bombings, to lots of things that we just should not experience. And I think after 12 months we were smuggled into Iran at night time on horseback.

[00:15:02] Taban Shoresh: And I remember the horse because I remember being at the back, sitting on one horse with my mum, and the horse slipped and the sensation of falling back and, just nearly falling off the horse on a mountain, on a steep mountain. And that feeling is still stuck with me of, oh, we’re going to fall off.

[00:15:24] Taban Shoresh: So even that was dangerous, but we managed to get into Iran and we waited for my dad. Now Saddam Hussein had hired a husband and wife to poison a group of men, and he was part of that group. And so they hired this husband and wife that were Kurdish, and they laid out a massive feast for all these peshmergas, the freedom fighters.

[00:15:42] Taban Shoresh: And nobody suspected anything because food is so big in our culture, and you open your doors and you feed everyone. So nobody suspected anything. They all sat down and ate. We have a yogurt drink where they put the the poison in the yogurt drink. The men that gulped down the the drink, I think a few died up the two died on the spot, but my dad and two other men had drunk enough to make them critically ill, so if they didn’t seek medical attention then they would have died as well.

[00:16:15] Taban Shoresh: So their friends managed to get them to Iran, and we, saw him on the first night that he was brought in, but by the morning, Amnesty International had picked up on the story. And so they flew him to the UK to get medical treatment and he stayed in hospital. And I don’t know if anyone knows or remembers that Russian spy that was in hospital, Litvienko, and he looked like him when he was in hospital for that long.

[00:16:39] Taban Shoresh: But we had to wait a year for him to recover while we were in Iran and then when he did after a year we reunited and that’s when I came to the UK as a refugee at the age of six. So that’s my very

[00:16:52] Juliette Karaman: short childhood. And and what you said is so much trauma for anyone to see at any age, but especially at that age.

[00:17:02] Juliette Karaman: And, no food. And now you also have an illness that isn’t visible. So that’s also a double whammy for you there, but that is probably something that was brought on by the trauma, right?

[00:17:17] Taban Shoresh: Yeah, I do believe that. All the trauma that I’ve experienced has almost stuck in my body. And we keep so much in our stomach area.

[00:17:27] Taban Shoresh: Can’t breathe. For it to manifest, manifest it into a physical illness. So I’ve got Crohn’s disease, but it got so bad that I’ve had to have my whole large intestine taken out, so I live now with a permanent stoma bug. And so for me, I definitely do believe that it manifested in that way.

[00:17:47] Juliette Karaman: Completely.

[00:17:49] Juliette Karaman: Fast forward, you’re in the UK. Speaking Kurdish, learning English, at an age of six, right? We all have to learn it at one point.

[00:17:59] Juliette Karaman: How was it growing up in a completely different country, having gone through all the stuff that you did?

[00:18:06] Taban Shoresh: I think it’s very hard for people to comprehend when you go from such an unsafe place to come somewhere safe, people automatically assume you’ll be happy. And that’s, your life sorted. Actually, you’ve left loved ones behind. You’ve left your family. So all I knew was my extended family, my grandparents, my uncles, my aunties, my cousins, and they were our support system.

[00:18:36] Taban Shoresh: They were my mum’s support system. You’ve left loved ones behind. You’ve experienced a lot of trauma that you can’t even explain to people. And you arrive somewhere that looks completely different. Everything’s different. The systems are different. The language is different. You don’t understand anything.

[00:18:57] Taban Shoresh: You don’t understand anything anyone’s going through. And I can give you two examples of two stories that kind of highlight that. So in primary school, we didn’t know English, so we’d come here and we’d learn a little bit, but just words here and there. And I remember in primary school there was an incident and in the lunch line and this girl turned around and said, your dad’s Saddam Hussein.

[00:19:23] Taban Shoresh: So as kids can be mean sometimes it was a moment like that. But for me, I remember, I knew what your dad was and I knew what Saddam Hussein was. I put them all together. But I was so angry because I couldn’t explain, do you actually understand what my dad means and what Saddam Hussein means to me?

[00:19:47] Taban Shoresh: What I’ve gone through. So I couldn’t verbalize it because I couldn’t speak English. So I just pushed her. I think I was, I must have been around eight or seven, but I pushed her. And the teacher saw me push her, so I got told off, and the teacher came over to me and told me off, and said, don’t do that, you’re not allowed to do this, and, but again, I couldn’t verbalize why I had done that, and so I got punished, sent to the back of the line.

[00:20:15] Taban Shoresh: And I remember just crying there, because I couldn’t explain what I felt, I couldn’t explain what had happened, it was all new to me, and I just wanted to be back home with my family, and my cousins, and the children that were nice to me. Children that wouldn’t treat you like an alien because you were different from everyone else.

[00:20:36] Taban Shoresh: Children, it can be very lonely and people forget this. They forget that, when you’re playing these games and you have to pick teams. The child that’s different is always last and nobody wants them on their team. When you’re doing, they used to have these dance groups and you have to pair up with people, but you’re never picked because you’re the different person and nobody wants to be with you.

[00:21:02] Taban Shoresh: And one particular incident, I remember, I got picked early and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, oh wow, someone’s picked me as a dancing part early. So they do these hand holding, bulk dancing things in primary schools in those days, and I’m there going, this is really strange, why have they picked this?

[00:21:20] Taban Shoresh: And by the end of the dance, I remember everyone laughing, and I didn’t understand why they were laughing, but I looked at my hand, and the guy that, the boy that was my partner had put bogey on his hands, and so when he had held my hand, it had gone onto my hand. And even that moment for me was, oh, this, and I remember running to the toilet, crying, but again, not being able to share that with anyone.

[00:21:50] Juliette Karaman: Trauma after trauma and really getting, loading into the body, right? I work with a lot of traumatized people, so I’m just hearing again and again and again, things just load in and it’s layers upon layers of stuff.

[00:22:08] Taban Shoresh: Completely. And that’s not, there are other things, for example, our parents don’t speak English.

[00:22:13] Taban Shoresh: Yes, we never had help with homework. So you’d find that we would get told off for not doing our homework we didn’t understand how to do the homework. We didn’t have anyone to help us to do the homework So things like that, And this is why I do the work I do now because I don’t want children to go through that things like that I don’t want Women, girls, to experience the things I’ve experienced.

[00:22:37] Taban Shoresh: I don’t want to, someone’s coming to the UK, I don’t want them to go through those things. I don’t want them to not know the system or not understand the system or, I remember once even going to the, going shopping, food shopping, when you can’t read what these things are, you can’t see what they are and then use things in a new culture.

[00:23:01] Taban Shoresh: I remember once we had guests round and we noticed that some other families would put desserts as like ice cream or whatever. So we bought a tub of ice cream, or so we thought it was ice cream, and when the guests were there and we took the tub out, we were about to scoop and serve, it was actually margarine.

[00:23:21] Taban Shoresh: I love it. That’s a really funny story, but nobody, as someone who’s arrived here, you would never know that’s margarine because margarine does not exist in our food. So we would never know. I don’t know. So it’s those particular nuances that people forget that when someone arrives with new culture, new region, new language.

[00:23:44] Taban Shoresh: There are so many small things that we just take for granted and we forget. But we got, we learned English quickly. Yeah it’s a very relatable thing for most people around the world that go to a new region, right? And for me, especially when I see what’s happening now in the UK, my heart just breaks.

[00:24:01] Taban Shoresh: I’m there going, where is the compassion in all the systems, the policies? The government, like, where has that all gone? How do we not see beyond this? And how do we work to support people? Because actually You know, when you do have someone that comes to a different country, they want to get on their feet as quickly as possible, to be able to live their life and thrive.

[00:24:26] Taban Shoresh: And we’re a classic example of that. We came here, we had absolutely nothing, and of course the system had to help us, because we didn’t have anything. We didn’t know anything. But as soon as it did, we learned English, we started doing our stuff, my mom started working, even though she had four kids, she was an interpreter, she was a child of mine.

[00:24:44] Taban Shoresh: Anything that would be suitable to do at that time, and then slowly, and like all of us, as in all four children, the offspring, we’ve managed to take our experiences and thrive. So I think the perception of how people are viewed when they move to another country and how much they will need forever.

[00:25:05] Taban Shoresh: That’s not true. It’s more, yes, you need a little bit to get you on your feet. But once you’re on your feet, it’s in our human nature to want to do more, to thrive, to be our best version. But that’s not going to happen if tools aren’t in place.

[00:25:19] Juliette Karaman: And that’s the beauty, right? So fast forward, you were in school and How did you start the Lotus Flower?

[00:25:28] Juliette Karaman: Wow

[00:25:29] Taban Shoresh: I think the Lotus Flower started me, to be honest. It really gave me my, it gave my purpose, it gave me, if we rewind I ended up getting married at quite a young age, and it wasn’t an arranged marriage, but it was, I’d say, a kind of diaspora reaction, an unhealed trauma marriage, which is I’ve experienced all of this.

[00:25:57] Taban Shoresh: I’ve not had time to heal. I’m between two cultures and I’m a diaspora, completely confused. What do I do to make myself feel loved? I know I’ll do what we know and what it will be accepted and what will be, It was a reaction when I looked back, it was a reaction to all of that. So I got married at a young age, but it was quite a purposefully abusive marriage.

[00:26:27] Taban Shoresh: From being here, going to school, doing all those things, building up my personality.

[00:26:35] Taban Shoresh: The marriage stripped everything, and completely stripped. So I came out of it very broken, very fearful. My confidence was stripped. My self worth was stripped. I was scared to speak to people. I was scared to look at people. I was scared to do anything.

[00:26:52] Taban Shoresh: Yeah. So you become quite ashamed and embarrassed of how you’ve got to this place. And for me, I remember feeling that so deeply and, but I could still feel a fire in my belly.

[00:27:06] Taban Shoresh: Like it was a little twinkle, the flame. Thought how do I reignite it? How do I reignite it like a bonfire and not just a little candle fire? And so I set out to rebuild every part of me that I’d lost and that meant my confidence, that meant my self worth, meant starting a healing journey, that meant doing things out of my comfort zone, that meant moving beyond things that I could imagine, opening up to new things.

[00:27:37] Taban Shoresh: And so I did, just one step at a time, one thing at a time, and I remember in August 2014, summer 2014, April 2014, I delivered a talk about my genocide experience publicly for the first time, and this was in the House of Lords, and the reaction that I got was something that I never really expected. And so for me, When I saw the reaction, I realized, wait, something clicked, a spark had happened, and I realized that I wanted to do something connected to my past.

[00:28:17] Taban Shoresh: So I was a digital project manager at the time in an asset management firm, and it was a great job, it was a great salary, it supported me and my son. I was very secure and stable, but there was a part of me that it wasn’t feeding, and that talk made me realize that I should be doing something connected to my past.

[00:28:34] Taban Shoresh: I still didn’t know what. So I had a meeting with my CEO after the event and I asked him for life advice and started off with, I’ve never had a working relationship with him. So our meeting, I just went, this is actually just career advice and life advice. I need your advice and every talk that I’ve done, I feel like I should be doing something else, but I’m a little bit scared and I, it’s almost as if I needed to hear the words from him.

[00:29:02] Taban Shoresh: Reaffirm or give me that confidence that what I was about to do was safe to do and I could do it. And I think, for some reason, I feel like my angels just spoke through him because his line was very clear. He just said, Taban, you’re too special for that corner desk, can you please go and fly? Yes!

[00:29:24] Taban Shoresh: Good advice,

[00:29:25] Juliette Karaman: thank

[00:29:25] Taban Shoresh: goodness for that! So that’s another moment where I’m like that person believed in me and saw something in me that I could not have seen at that time. But I felt, yeah, I could feel it, but I could not see it. So after that I left my job and I ended up on a helicopter in Kurdistan when ISIS was in the region.

[00:29:48] Taban Shoresh: And I was working for a foundation here, and on my first day, delivering aid and rescuing people trapped on a mountain that was hemmed by ISIS. And I guess the next 15 months was very frontline, and I experienced just so much that was related to my past. The Yazidi genocide happened. I was working with really traumatized women and girls.

[00:30:15] Taban Shoresh: We were, it was a humanitarian crisis, delivering aid, building things, distributing. So for 15 months, I think I worked seven days a week, 25 hours a day. And for me, when I came back to the UK, there was nothing in me to go back to a normal job. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t readjust. And it was hard.

[00:30:38] Taban Shoresh: So I decided to set up Lotus Flower in my living room with absolutely no money and no connections, but I knew exactly why I was doing it. So I thought, The how will

[00:30:51] Juliette Karaman: come. So beautiful. You knew your why and you so invested in it because it’s your story and you’ve lived it so you just didn’t want the same to happen to others.

[00:31:04] Taban Shoresh: Basically,

[00:31:04] Juliette Karaman: yeah. And now that’s what, six years ago? How many years ago is that? Seven. So

[00:31:11] Taban Shoresh: 2016, is that seven years? Yeah. Yeah. Eight, seven, eight years. Nearly. Wow. It was 2016. And since then, set it up in my living room, no money, no connections. And then I managed to get a regional manager. I didn’t even have money to pay her salary.

[00:31:32] Taban Shoresh: But I said, just trust me on this, believe me, we’ll find it, we’ll work it out. So she managed to get a burnt cabin, renovated the burnt cabin, because we couldn’t afford a new cabin. So we had a cabin in a camp that we’d renovated. And I managed to fundraise. 25, 000 at that time for that one project. I don’t even know how, again, that was a miracle.

[00:31:58] Taban Shoresh: But that allowed us to start our projects and I knew that you had to start your projects. I’m going to go back to prove what you’ve done with money, where it goes and how it impacts people’s lives. So slowly, it just became more structured and I would prove everything. And for about, I’d say three years, I did that full time as well as having a full time day job, as well as being a single mom.

[00:32:23] Taban Shoresh: So I didn’t have a break at all. Wonder Woman. But then I left the full job after 2018 and just went, I need to focus on this. And it’s now grown into a phenomenal organization.

[00:32:37] Juliette Karaman: So up to date, can you give an estimate of how many? It’s woman and, um, and daughters, right? It’s, I was going to say woman and children that you help mostly, right?

[00:32:49] Taban Shoresh: We started out with women and girls, It’s grown beyond that, because to support women and girls and create a safe environment where they can thrive and be leaders in their community, you actually need the whole community within that.

[00:33:05] Taban Shoresh: You do. So we work with children, we do child protection programs with UNHCR, we work with men and boys, we work with religious leaders, we have programs aimed to support women and girls, but we include. Community members in different programs to ensure that we’re creating that environment. So it’s very holistic in the way that we do it.

[00:33:26] Taban Shoresh: So we’ve got four pillars, education and livelihoods, peace building and human rights, health and safety and climate change. And within that, we’ve got various projects. And today we’ve managed to impact 84, 000 women and girls and community members. And that’s

[00:33:43] Juliette Karaman: direct. That is the direct impact of your story, of what happened, right?

[00:33:50] Juliette Karaman: That moment where you decided, okay, I’m leaving my job, or all the little steps that took you there, right? You really have had some angels and some, some kind of protection. I definitely do. You’re so much, you’re bringing it forth. And just to see how many, Thank you Women, children and men and community leaders and everyone that it impacts.

[00:34:16] Juliette Karaman: You were saying at the beginning of the interview we came on that you’re in Iraq now.

[00:34:21] Taban Shoresh: I am. So I come out to visit our projects and see, our team has grown. We’ve gone from like just me. So now 200 150 according to project so it goes up and down. So I visit projects and make sure that we’re all doing projects aligned to our mission.

[00:34:42] Taban Shoresh: But the team here are phenomenal. They’re all local team really intelligent, really passionate, really. Enthusiastic about and dedicated about the work. We’ve also started our work in the uk so for me part of that is, going back to my child and how we ended up in the uk. Yeah. I think there’s a big piece of work for us to be able to do to support women and girls in the UK as well.

[00:35:06] Taban Shoresh: So we’re gonna be starting our work there as well. We’re based in Hastings at the moment, but we’ll grow out as we grow. Beautiful.

[00:35:15] Juliette Karaman: Wow. What a story. What, if looking back at yourself now, looking back at that five year old girl, what is the one piece of advice you would give her or anyone else in a situation that just feels, yeah, my life is ending?

[00:35:35] Juliette Karaman: How, what are the nuggets that you took away?

[00:35:39] Taban Shoresh: You’ve come to this earth for a reason. There’s a reason why everyone’s here. You’re valued, you’re loved first and foremost. You have to love yourself. And you’re protected. Your mission in this world is way bigger than you can imagine. And I think that’s the, that’s finally sunk in is now I’ve just completely surrendered and gone, okay, you clearly want me to do something here.

[00:36:09] Taban Shoresh: Use me as a vessel, whatever it is that you want me to do, whatever it’s meant to be for me, allow it to come easily. So I think it’s really, you’ll be protected. Even if you’re not in that moment. And have faith. I think for me, having a deep belief that there’s got to be more. Yes, bad things happen.

[00:36:33] Taban Shoresh: Horrible things happen. And they’re very traumatic, but it can’t stop there. Don’t allow those bad things to stop there. Turn them into a reason why you’ve lived an amazing life.

[00:36:48] Juliette Karaman: Beautiful. Now one last thing, actually two last things. You received an OBE. Do you want to tell us about that? What does it feel like to have been given this, an it’s a big deal, right?

[00:37:01] Juliette Karaman: It’s a big award for someone who’s done an incredible service to mankind.

[00:37:08] Taban Shoresh: It’s, it was very, I guess it was unexpected, but also

[00:37:13] Taban Shoresh: it’s nice to be recognized for the work that you’re doing. Although that’s not the reason why I’m doing it, but for someone to see, or not just someone, I guess the king to see what you were doing is needed in the world, and it’s valued. I think it’s great, and I hope it does help the charity.

[00:37:31]Taban Shoresh: And I hope it opens doors for the charity. I think for me, I’ve almost not taken myself away from the equation, but more like there’s a reason why all this happens. And it’s not just about me, it was for the charity. I’m actually, and this came true when I was very ill. So when I was very ill, I nearly died, I think, on a few occasions, but what that made me realise is.

[00:38:00]Taban Shoresh: I need to make sure that I set up the charity, that it’s built in a way that it lives beyond me, so it’s not attached to me. So that’s why I take things and go, I hope it helps the charity, and I hope it helps the women and girls, because there’s a purpose and there’s a reason behind it. The same way that I share my story.

[00:38:19] Taban Shoresh: I never used to share my story before. The one time was on that stage at the House of Lords. But that triggered me to do what I’m doing now. Me sharing my story has always had a purpose, and the purpose is beyond me. It’s for people that are in need, it’s for women and girls that are in need, it’s to make sure that we can continue doing what support they need, but also raising awareness in terms of this is still happening.

[00:38:48] Taban Shoresh: It’s very much happening around the world. Yes, I can’t solve all the problems in the world, and yes, I can’t do everything, but it’s happening. But I choose to do what I can do and where I can do something and I will do it.

[00:39:00] Juliette Karaman: I love this. And for our listeners that are listening and are like, you’ve so inspired me, I want to help.

[00:39:08] Juliette Karaman: How, what is one of the ways, obviously they can gift to the lotus flower, but what is, what are the small things that they can do or the big things that they can do in their community, say that they’re not in the UK?

[00:39:21] Taban Shoresh: I think Everyone has the potential to make an impact in somebody else’s life. If you want to do something that you lead and create impact, you can do that in your circle, you can do that in your community, you can do that in your region.

[00:39:36] Taban Shoresh: And you choose how you do it according to what life you’ve experienced and what you enjoy and what skills are best for you. So I would never say one size fits all, I say a lot of awareness and inward talking is needed for you to figure out what impact you can create within your community. In terms of Lotus, there are so many other ways obviously supporting through donations, but that’s a classic that most charities say.

[00:40:03] Taban Shoresh: I would actually say. Introductions are some of the best ways to support a charity. An introduction to a corporate organization, to a company, to someone you might know. Especially for smaller charities because we don’t have that bandwidth to go out there completely. Introductions are vital because you never know what it leads to.

[00:40:26] Taban Shoresh: So if anyone wants to make an introduction to me to organizations or anything, then please contact me because I think that’s the best way. And it’s such a simple ask. You go, actually, I know a corporate organization, or I know this organization that might be, or I know this person, and you never know what that triggers.

[00:40:45] Taban Shoresh: And the impact from that is attached to your impact. Because it’s a ripple effect.

[00:40:50] Juliette Karaman: That’s it, right? And this is why, for me, I started this. I’m like, so I can interview incredible people like you, and then your voice gets heard, and then it impacts more people, which in turn impacts everyone else in the world.

[00:41:05] Juliette Karaman: So I am so pleased that you are on. Oh my goodness. What a story. I’m like gripped on my feet, on my seat. Everything will keep show notes. The Lotus Flower. You’ve had TED Talks. If people go onto the lotusflower. com It’s the lotusflower. org Okay, it will go properly into the into the show notes, but really have a look at what Taman is doing.

[00:41:38] Juliette Karaman: You will find so many beautiful stories of women, children, of men, of everyone being helped by you and by the organization. It’s heartwarming to see. Thank you.

[00:41:52] Taban Shoresh: Thank

[00:41:53] Juliette Karaman: you very much. Thank

[00:41:54] Taban Shoresh: you for coming. It’s been great

[00:41:55] Juliette Karaman: to have a conversation. Thank you. And that my listeners is the end to this incredible conversation.

[00:42:04] Juliette Karaman: I’d love you all to ground yourself because we did talk about some deeply intense trauma and just to notice how can you bring your story forth and how can you really entice people to want to hear it and better their lives too. See you next time.

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