Community Activities – Update

Whilst so many more Sanctuary Seekers bring their stories and pleas for help to Refugee Action Colchester there are positive things happening in our RA-C community. Befrienders continue to give tireless support to their families and volunteers contribute to many other necessary activities. The Community Meetings have gone from strength to strength and it has been rewarding to see so many people (from Colchester and other countries) become regulars while new ‘clients’ join us and usually find someone to talk to. Recently we have had a health visit from ACE and another drumming session which revealed that a new 6 year old arrival has latent talents as a rapper!

A young couple from Afghanistan had a baby son 3 weeks ago. The father, an interpreter for the British Army in Afghanistan who cannot go home, suffers from PTSD and they are very sad that they cannot show the baby to their families. However, they welcomed Maria, McKenzie (a university student on a placement with RA-C) and me (Elizabeth) into their home to meet the baby and his proud 3 year old brother and provided the usual hospitality of endless cups of tea, nuts and sweetmeats. During this visit I was reminded of their endless generosity when having admired a beautiful scarf I became its owner and there was no way I was allowed to refuse it.

In September Taghreed, a Jordanian woman with 3 children and an M.A. in Computing, started teaching a computing course in our office on 2 mornings a week. I attended regularly as a facilitator and student and was impressed by her skill as a teacher and although I use a computer regularly she enhanced my understanding of what I am doing.

The 4 Syrian women who attended were keen students and developed their friendships in the neutral meeting place and despite the fact that there were 2, and sometimes 3, children in the room, playing, breast-feeding and sleeping, concentration was never lost.

In recognition of the interventions I was asked to make in order to provide vocabulary, or English explanations of certain things, they asked if we could continue as a group learning more English through teaching and conversation. At the last computing session Taghreed was showered with flowers and presents and now we have had 2 English sessions and have discussed English customs, education, town versus country living and elitism – and tenses!

Some of you may remember Juliet Farnes, a cellist who teaches and plays in orchestras, attending 2 Community Meetings and enchanting children and adults with the beautiful tones of the cello. Since then Juliet and I have had a few meeings and she has received a grant from ‘Music For All’ to buy small cellos to teach children in her local primary school and from our sanctuary-seeking community.

In November we had our first session with 5 children (which is as many as she can teach all at once) who are really keen to learn. Juliet has now had 3 classes and has also been helped by Floran, a 6th form member of Friends not Foes, and last week they were joined by Izzie, an ex-6th former, who is helping Maria and Philip in the office when she can.

The sessions take place in the large office big enough for gatherings, like the other classes, and the day and time varies to suit Juliet’s commitments. She and the parents talk about times and the flexibility is working.

Last year we had 20 complimentary tickets for the opening night of the Colchester pantomime and were able to take a number of children to see it. This year we were offered 4 and these were used last Friday by a mother and her 3 children who are old enough to stay up that late and sit through a show. We and the Mercury Community officer hope to extend our collaboration when they return to their refurbished buildings next Autumn.

Future Plans

In January the large office will be used one morning a week for a women’s social meeting, with craft activities available, and  this will give isolated women a chance to meet and chat and become more integrated into the community. This will be run primarily by a group of Essex University Students who are members of STAR – Student Action for Refugees-  but they will welcome other women with a skill to share or who have a particular interest in playing with the children who come. Hopefully the learning will be two-way with the women sharing any expertise they have. The STAR organisers are a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable group and this is an exciting new project.

We also intend to set up a group for men in the Spring, about which we are negotiating with another university post-grad student who has psycho-therapy experience. And it is hoped that some volunteers with high level Computing skills will do a course in basic computing  for men.

Any other ideas for Community action are welcome for discussion.

Elizabeth Curry