Gascoigne Ward Councillor and Deputy Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Saima Ashraf is a very inspirational lady. She is actually, an amazing role model to women across the country who have faced hardship and turned their life around and made it a success. Having been a councillor for just over ten years Councillor Ashraf has dedicated her life in helping youngsters, especially girls achieve success in the borough.
In an interview with the London Daily, she tells us what made her become a councillor and how her life has changed so drastically.
Councillor Ashraf grew up in France and fled the country having been a victim of domestic violence. Having faced challenge after challenge, she decided to help others and it is this that has led her to the path that has now made her the amazing role model she is.
“My journey to becoming a councillor was a long one and very challenged. I fled France as a victim of domestic violence and found myself here in the borough with three very young children and not knowing how to speak English. I was in a homeless hostel in Barking for a year, I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t able to speak to any of my extended family.
“I used to walk through the town centre everyday on my own after bringing my children to school and saw that they were looking for volunteers in a charity shop. I applied in the hope that I would meet people and have the chance to speak better English. Sadly my abusive husband was still making life difficult for me and I was having to call the police practically everyday.
“They were amazing and really helped me so I decided to join the Met as a volunteer and here I saw a different side to the world. My husband had always stopped me from talking to people and when I joined the Met as volunteer, I realised how nice people were and this really helped me, it made me more confident. “
Saima’s life slowly began to change and as her confidence grew, her opportunities grew as well.
“I met Margaret Hodge one day outside of a school where she was handing out leaflets. I decided to ask her for help with my divorce and she kindly helped. I then wanted to do something for her in exchange of all the help she gave me and began to leaflet for her and from there bring her case work from people who needed help.
“Margaret then suggested I should stand as councillor which surprised me at first as not having English as first language was always an issue for me. I began to run coffee afternoons and started to listen to people and their issues locally. Residents were eager to share their concerns and tell me about the changes they wanted to see. 2006 was a turning point for me when I joined the Labour Party and in 2010 I ran as a councillor and actually won with the biggest amounts of votes.”
Now Councillor Ashraf is not only a much respected councillor in the borough but also the deputy Leader.
“I never thought I’d be in politics but here I am. I look back at how my life was and sometimes I can’t believe how much I have achieved and where I am now.
“This is a fantastic borough and the history we have here is amazing. It has so much potential and we have so much to offer. This is the first time that I actually feel like I belong, that I am at home and part of a community.
“Now I want to help our girls achieve the most that they can out of their life. To raise their aspirations, to make sure they have access to education and skills that they need to have a good life. I strive to raise our pride here and make sure people know just how much we have to offer. They key is to encourage a person to make sure they have self respect and achieve everything they set out to.”
Councillor Ashraf is an amazing lady who has overcome endless challenges to now become an inspirational lady who has made it her mission to help our youngsters also achieve the best they can.