Milk & Honey: A Platform That Provides Young Women With A Safe Place Like No Other

Ebinehita Iyere, Lead Project Co-ordinator at Juvenis spends her time creating space for the Youth of London. Initially she started her career working with young males in the justice system, where she identified a gap. Ebin identified there was a lack of support for young women affected by traumatic events which involved these young males.

What motivated you to curate Milk & Honey?

“I started my career working with predominantly with young males in the Youth Justice System and Community and every time an incident occurred such as an arrest, fight and or stabbing it would be a young female that would call me to explain who they were and also what had happened, this repeated itself for many incidents.

When I first started working with young women I never had a name for what I was doing I just did it until I read a poetry book called Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I connected with the poems deeply but also I thought about Women I grew up with and the young women that I was supporting. The book helped me realise that as women we never stopped to grieve from our losses and heal from our experiences because no one showed us how and that ripple effect was growing into the community with younger women and girls- but I wanted to show them that they could do so.

I remember giving one of them the poetry book and after reading (as well as posting the quotes on snapchat) she told me that all girls needed a space to read it and do what we did together so she named the project Milk and Honey, which offers young women a creative and expressive safe space that aims to allows them flourish and take ownership of H.E.R (Healing, Empowerment and Resilience) through 1:1 sessions and group projects.”

Knife crime in the UK has become a hot topic, however as mentioned the young girls affected are rarely discussed. How did you discover that this was an issue that needed to be tackled?

“During Summer 2016, a lot happened in London but this year changed my life and created my balance of working with both males and females, I had just graduated with a 2:1 in Criminology and Youth Studies, working fulltime and started an Organisational Psychotherapy: Introduction to Violence and Trauma course. Sadly, during summer, a special young man passed away and typically everyone was so worried about the incident rather than also thinking about the after math. His death touched me professionally and personally as I saw was my adolescence flash before my eyes.

 I saw many young women protecting, fighting, listening and putting the other young men in that community before themselves this was not new to me as for every boy that grows up around or involved in crime, every boy who is injured or passes away, there are older and younger women in many roles who are behind him trying to keep him off the road or sending ‘Are you ok & be safe’ texts or keeping him clothed and fed. Basically as a substitute for grieving, girls  wear this armour and protect boys, in other words, girls are spending more time mobilising for others than healing themselves.

Whilst having my support system, I supported the young women 1:1 and in groups containing their expression, taking them out to eat and play (as play has no age limit) ! The young women I was supporting also helped me to engage more girls and even some of the young males around them that where traumatised but refused to engage with services.”

How has creating this platform exposed you to challenges not addressed by the community?

“Milk and Honey has enabled me to understand that a lot of people do not really understand women and young women’s involvement in the communities they grow in unless it is from a victim stance. Milk and Honey is for young women who have experienced something traumatic this is because I never want young women to feel that they must label their experiences. Standing by this has helped me understand there a huge lack of understanding of trauma surrounding and impacting young people.

I learn every day from these girls they have taught me alot about the pressure they face due to mental health, education, social media and roles they play within society that we fail to look at unless she is a victim of something but then we blame women when they experience something as a victim but then also have the same energy when a woman does something that is not ‘woman like’.”

How do you think Milk and Honey has had an impact on the young women you have worked with?

“I get asked this a lot and I always say the same things, Milk and Honey is for them and designed by them every aspect of the project has input from young women past, present and future so let me hand it over to them so they can tell you…”

How has Milk and Honey impacted you?

Before I started Milk and Honey I was very lost, confused & was always willing to give up. I found it hard to even just attend session itself. Before I started the project I was always somebody to keep my feelings to myself and let everything bottle up and it got so bad to the point where I just let everything out in anger which caused a lot of harm to myself and people around me. I led myself to believe I was depressed and had mental health and actually thought I would eventually get sectioned. Being around other girls made me feel very anxious cause I was always thinking “wow but they might start judging me as a girl from the hood” because of how I looked. But not only didn’t Milk and Honey itself help me through my journey, the girls I worked with also helped me through my journey. Being around girls who go through similar things as me made me feel comfortable eventually because I knew they would understand where I’m coming from in situations because they could relate”- Baby J

How would you say the safe space has helped you put H.E.R first?

“Milk and honey helped me feel more comfortable within myself and grow as a person. They showed me a different side of life and ability to put myself first. Being in a safe space with other females where we could talk about topics like mental health, growth and created together this helped me come out of my shell more”- O

“Milk and honey opened the door for me to speak out about mental health issues. I was so used to being aware of mental health issues but never having the space to talk about it. Milk and Honey created a safe space for not only myself, but the other girls in the group to be comfortable enough to talk about mental health” –  Big J

How does the creative expression help with the healing process?

“I remember when we wrote our poems and recorded it in the studio, everybody listened to it, and their reaction made me feel like my words were so powerful and had an effect on everybody and myself. I never thought I would do something like that or reconnect with my love for books but it has helped. We are now doing a photography project and I love it because I am able to mix my passion with an expression.” – Baby J

“It has been a way of letting out my emotions in a way that comes easy to you while doing something that you enjoy. It has helped me grow as a person and find out more about myself. Milk and honey has given me lots of opportunities to be have fun and help my confidence has grown which very uplifting” – D

What has been the best part about Milk and Honey so far?

Everything, every day is a different day on the projects but the trips and events we go to have opened a whole new world for me as we have gone to educational and fun places and the best part is I got to do it with other girls –

“I didn’t even realise it was a form of therapy but it’s really helped me grow, I started seeing myself and life differently and felt way more confident in my abilities and career goals. I now work with them and to heal, empower and build resilience in other young women. it has helped me make a difference in people’s lives who come from where I grew up, I have a love hate relationship with my past there’s a lot of things I wish I could’ve changed so Milk and Honey helps me make that difference” – O.

Over the years we have seen youth centres and projects lose funding in the UK which has impacted the rise in issues such as knife crime – what do you think is a solution to this?

“It is so hard honestly and the cuts are abysmal and have had impacted the rise in Knife crime but also mental health of young people and those that support them. I remember growing up going to after school club and youth club during school and holiday terms but now that has gone or just very minimal.

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 Those that do not work in the youth sector often do not understand that sometimes 50-100 organisations are applying for the same pot of money for sustainability, staff as well as resources for young people.

Although I founded Milk and Honey it is supported by Juvenis*. Milk and Honey and Juvenis then partner with other organisations to deliver the creative element of the project, our current partner project is Photofusion**. ‘The Power in Me’ was created with Photofusion and Juvenis to enable young women living in Lambeth to find power within themselves through workshops and photography expression.

I would say that our generation are the change makers because as a whole, everyone is doing big things within their own industries and each industry can create this change by partnering and/or supporting projects however they can. Funding is important and I have faith that within our community we somehow will generate our own funding streams.”

What would be the ideal set-up for youth today, what do you think they need to be set up for success?

“My work with young people and through Milk and Honey my understanding of importance of expression, as there is a lack of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Therapeutic services for children and young people in general let alone those that have experienced loss, bereavement and grief in the communities affected by violence but my dream is to be part of the change towards imbedding this in the community through projects and likeminded practitioners.

I am currently studying Child and Adolescent Therapeutic Wellbeing, which is enabling me to develop therapeutic ways of working creatively. My placement in a primary school has really touched me because they are also impacted by a lot more than we even think. I have enjoyed working with the young girl and she has opened my eyes as even though she is so young her experiences have enabled me to learn, understand, contain and support her through creative expression whilst preparing for secondary school.

Young people need to be able to express, processing and heal in order to have the ability to thrive in successful environments. This however is not just about them but all those who are impacted by trauma directly and vicariously regardless of age race or gender it is our time to turn pain to power– believe me when I say it is a journey that I have and am currently on, embracing its up’s and its downs but I can feel the success within.”

One favourite poem in Rupi’s book is

“of course i want to be successful
but i don’t crave success for me
i need to be successful to gain
enough milk and honey
to help those around 
me succeed”

This resonated with me in 2016 and still resonates with me now, it sums up why Milk and Honey was created and why I believe in women and young women who are and have experienced loss and trauma whilst still protecting the males in their lives. We all deserve to put H.E.R first (Healing, Empowerment and Resilience) sometimes you just need to find what the Milk and Honey to you is.

Social Media: @MilkHoneybees (Instagram & Twitter)*Juvenis (@Juvenis) is a charity based in Lambeth that supports young people, to have more than one chance to fulfil their potential regardless of the things that have held them back previously.

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