Despite the unfolding tragedies of Kabul and Afghanistan, and our response to that, we all have to continue our endeavours in the Colchester and RA-C community. A number of our refugee friends have been able to help with welcoming the Afghans and interpreting for them, which reflects the fact that we are truly a community. This growth in involvement of clients with one another has been a very positive part of our development.
Since the end of Covid restrictions we have had three Community picnics which have been well attended. Whether we will be able to resume indoor monthly Community Meetings is still uncertain owing to aspects of Covid precautions that need to be followed by us and by local venues. The 3 picnics have been very warm reunions and we have been able to welcome new community members to them as well. What has happened in Afghanistan has alerted many more people to the reality of asylum and migration but of course we have had refugees and asylum seekers from at least 10 countries at each of our picnics and our cllients come from over 50 countries.
The joint project with Wayne and Together We Grow, whereby refugee and asylum-seeking men come to the Big Garden and work and enjoy the outdoors, has developed during the Summer with the involvement of a counsellor and the men requesting that the day goes on for longer. Some of the men now take a major role in the cooking of the vegetables we grow and I have been their sous-chef and they have been mine. Our large paella pan has enhanced our ability to cook interesting food and some great salads and salsas accompany these dishes. We have even been able to cook a Summer Fruit compote for dessert and this has been particularly popular. Over the weeks it has been pleasing to see men become more relaxed at the garden and forge trusting relationships with one another, with us and with Wayne’s volunteers. Some have also taken delight in seeing vegetables that they themselves planted being eaten and enjoyed and they always want to carry a job through from beginning to end. We hope that funding will enable us to continue this valuable project into the future.
We have been very grateful to 3 of the 6th Form college teachers being prepared to go into college on 3 occasions during their Summer holiday, with our table tennis volunteers, in order to enable us to have some table tennis sessions for our clients, and regular weekly sessions should resume in the Autumn term.
Another Summer holiday project has been Puppet-Making for 8 women from our community. This was organised jointly by RA-C and ‘Snapping The Stiletto’ whose funding from the Lottery Heritage Fund and ECC, along with a donation to RA-C , enabled it to take palce. As a group concerned with the stories of women in Essex STS approached us to see if they could gather some stories of Refugee women in Essex. One of our volunteers suggested the involvement of an artist/therapist who elicits stories by teaching people to make puppets and the project began with the understanding that the women may or may not want to tell their stories. A very positive aspect of this project was giving the women involved two and a half hours on 6 mornings during the holiday to meet with others, to talk, make friends and learn something new without any other demands being made on them. Only one woman involved doesn’t have children so it provided us with up to 20 children to look after and provide with activities and fun.
We hired two large spaces at the Mercury Theatre and eight of us volunteers committed to attending each session to be with the children, which included 3 young toddlers, and 2 others gave occasional help when an absence was unavoidable. It is a testament to our wonderful band of volunteers that there was never less than 7 RA-C volunteers along with 2 workers from Snapping The Stiletto. The women and children enjoyed the experience very much, new relationships were forged within both groups and it was a very worthwhile. Not all the women speak fluent English and they do not all share a first language but for all of them there was someone who could translate and enhance their relationships. At the end of the first session one mother of four beamed and said, ‘ I had a cup of coffee and for the first time in my life i drank it before it went cold!’ What more could we want. An offshoot of this project is that i now have a group of women wanting to continue to meet, to share their needlework skills and to take their skills further, and some volunteers happy to meet regularly with them. If the puppets are exhibited in the Autumn I will let you know when and where.
We hope to be able to resume some drumming sessions in the Autumn as Hassan our teacher recovers from an illness and Forest Schools should resume in September.
Any photos used in this report have been given permission.
Best wishes, Elizabeth Curry, Community and Volunteer Coordinator