Farhanah Mamoojee, our cover star for this issue, is working to bring the history of Ayahs in Britain to light. Today, we chatted with her about her project and goals.
- What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?
I was annoyed that when I arrived at the historical house, there was no marking to show what it had been. I was expecting a sign or placard to signify the important history there, to show that countless woman had made the tumultuous journey across the ocean, to a place they had never been, to take care of colonisers’ children.
I felt extremely disappointed. The sacrifice these women made, should be made public.
As well as being an important area of the city for the women’s suffrage movement (Sylvia Pankhurst set up the Women’s Social and Political Union here), East London is also one of London’s richest areas steeped in migrant history. The story of the Ayah’s culminates all of this. These women who travelled as Ayah’s (were often forced to sleep out on deck throughout the long voyages) were then abandoned in London, with no money, no food, no promise of travel back to India and no language skills. There are countless stories of members of the public encountering these forlorn women at Kings Cross Station or begging in the streets. They were regularly mistreated by employers who broke their promises. The Ayah’s House was set up by the London City Mission to home abandoned Ayah’s. In 1921 it had to be relocated from 26 King Edward Road, to a larger property at number 4, signifying a growing demand for shelter for deserted ayahs in London. The new home at number 4 accommodated 80–223 women per year in its 30 rooms.serving as a historical marker. The scheme is run by English Heritage and has been running since 1866.
8. What is some advice you’d give to your teenage self?
9. What is your go-to coffee order?
10. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?