Refugee Week 2020: A Safe Haven
A Safe Haven
Imagine this: after months, and perhaps years of struggle, persecution and living a life of fear and need, you now find yourself in a safe harbour (literally)! How do you feel? … Relief, disbelief, sorrow for those you left behind? Hope, trepidation about where you are and how to communicate…? Uncertain about what to do now? Probably all of these and many, many more emotions. What makes all of these feelings even more unsettling and hard is that you are still a child, not quite a man… and yet you have had to take responsibility for seeing yourself safe.
This is the situation of almost all the residents at a Kent Reception Centre where unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugee boys under 18 are accommodated once they arrive in the UK. They will remain here until they have been ‘processed’: case files, interviews, social workers, a place to live, and, if they are lucky, a place at college, while they wait for a decision from the Home Office. Boys come to the Centre from most of the strife-ridden zones of the world including Africa, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and some European countries. The number of residents fluctuates from a dozen to many, many more on occasion.
It was in this setting that, thanks to the funding and support of the Huguenot Museum in Rochester, the outreach team from Phosphorus Theatre delivered a drama workshop for the residents of the Centre. It would be a tough gig, I thought, since the boys had probably never done anything like this and not many of them spoke much English.
I was in for a surprise – as the team of two from Phosphorus were completely up for the challenge. It transpires that most of the members of the theatre group were once refugees like their current audience and completely ‘got it’. The workshop was well thought out, nicely structured and perfectly paced. It started out gently with a fun icebreaker game where we changed seats if we had things in common, followed by an activity where they had to show the activity and feelings without words. Then they had to contribute just words and finally asked to speak, each to his own ability, in the last task.
There were two particular activities that stood out. The first was the Human Rights exercise… for an imaginary character (Assad) created by the boys. They were asked what he needed to be happy. Slowly at first the boys started to give words: ‘ food’, ‘shelter’, ‘safety’, ‘money’, and then more enthusiastically ‘freedom’, ‘car’, ‘house’, ‘family’, ‘friends’. Then the question was asked – ‘How do you feel when you don’t have these things?’ and one of the boys answered: ‘you are like an animal’. I thought this was a very powerful way of helping to give the boys a voice and perhaps a way of thinking and speaking about where they have come from and why they have made their journey, in a very safe environment.
From their enthusiastic response, I think they particularly enjoyed the last activity where the floor was strewn with images snipped from magazines. The boys were invited to find some presents to give to their imaginary friend ‘Assad’ on his arrival to the UK. The boys were very generous and thoughtful with their gifts. One boy gave him a series of gifts, in the form of an aspiration, a hope and a prayer. He said something like ‘I will give you a home, and then you have a job and a car, you will marry and have children and one day you will be a grandfather in your new life’. It is very special to be able to help teenage boys articulate a dream in a foreign language, far from home and loved ones.
Although diffident to begin with, the boys were happily getting involved and contributing by the end of the session, even venturing a joke or two. For example, in the final task when they had to show someone around their town, they very enthusiastically pointed to the serving hatch in the dining room venue and said something like: ‘this is the best restaurant in town which serves the tastiest food!’ This was received with peals of laughter.
The workshop was made even more powerful since one of the workshop leaders shared that he had been through a journey similar to that of the boys at the Centre. The participants enjoyed the workshop very much. The staff commented on this afterwards and a couple of the boys mentioned it when I went back to teach a few days later.
About Kent Kindness
I got involved with the Centre and its transient residents about three years ago when I came across a tiny charity called Kent Kindness. Initially, I was a volunteer teacher; now I am also one of the trustees. The aim of the charity is to offer support and hope to young asylum seekers and refugees who are living in Kent. We do this through the classes we organise at the Centre teaching life and cultural skills which will prepare them for life in the UK and basic English. Additionally, the charity also offers a range of other educational, sporting and social opportunities, such as helping to organise weekly football matches with local secondary schools, funding sports equipment, holding occasional social gatherings and providing small Christmas presents. In brief, we try to offer a warm Kent welcome to the boys for as long as they are at the Centre, and we help to prepare them for life outside. We are lucky enough to have an amazing group of teaching volunteers – although more are always welcome! Our funding comes from a small group of generous supporters as well as from the funding applications we make to other grant-making bodies such as churches, other charities and occasionally corporate organisations.
To find out more about Kent Kindness or to donate to our work please visit our website: www.kentkindness.org.uk.
Trustee, Kent Kindness
Thank you to Mina, all at Kent Kindness and of course the boys who took part. Thank you to those who came to Phosphoros Theatre’s performance of Pizza Shop Heroes and generously donated to support this workshop.
We are really grateful to Phosphoros Theatre for coming back to run this workshop. They have a new show coming in 2021 and lots going on in Refugee Week 2020: 15-19 June.