Boats, cable cars and three-legged races

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14 Sep 2016

With autumn nearly upon us now, the long, hot days and light summer evenings are all too easy to forget. But for some of the young refugee children here in the UK by themselves, who come to our weekly drama therapy group, there’ll be memories of fun and games in the July sun and a breath-taking Cable Car ride high above London. Refugee Council Children’s therapist Sarah Temple-Smith takes up their story.

It’s a scorching July day –probably the hottest day of the year so far. As they arrive at our offices in Stratford, East London, the young people flop down into chairs, sweating and red-faced, swigging soft drinks and speaking to friends on their mobiles, while we, myself and my drama therapist colleague Nardine, tick off names and file their foster carers’ Consent Forms. 

It’s hard to motivate them –and us!- to strike out into the baking heat, making our way to the tube which will carry us all down to the banks of the River Thames. And by the time we arrive at North Victoria docks, every one of the bottles of water we’ve bought for them on the way are empty.  

Luckily as we exit the station and walk towards the water we’re greeted by a delicious breeze, and for the first time, the young people start to look a little excited, asking questions and snapping shots of the cable car swishing just above our heads. Ten minutes later and we’re all sitting in one of the pods, being whisked up, up into the burning blue sky. “Look – there’s a beach down!!” is the unlikely cry from one of them, and sure enough, there far below, on the North Greenwich bank,  is a virtual tropical fantasy – white sand, sunbathers, sparkling water and, remarkably, several water-skiers.

The ride ends all too soon, bringing us all back down to earth.  As we make our way outside we come across a huge interactive world map, where the cable car sponsors advertise their global flight paths. The young people are on it in a matter of seconds, finding their homes and pressing buttons to show each other video of famous tourist attractions. “That’s Lake Victoria, that’s in my country” one of them exclaims proudly, while another searches South East Asia, to trace with his finger the route of his perilous journey to the UK.

I am reminded again, as so often, of the depth of the loss these young people are suffering, away from everyone and everything they’ve ever known, and impressed by their willingness to share this with other group members- and us.

Next on the agenda is a short hop downstream to Greenwich, via the river bus. The Thames is like a millpond today and the vessel is wide and solid. Nevertheless, I’m impressed that they chose this particular outing from all the options we offered, as some of the young people have survived terrifying and dangerous boat journeys from their homes. Going back on the water but re-experiencing it in a safe, secure setting, which they’ve chosen, they’re taking back some control, which can help them move forward psychologically.

Arriving at Greenwich it’s hot and crowded, and although interested in the sites, the young people. soon ask to go to the park, where we picnic on sandwiches and fruit drinks before playing Frisbee on the grass. At this point I introduce some relay races, starting with the egg-and-spoon or in this case, ping pong ball!

Then I explain about the 3-legged race.  Although a lot of fun, this activity has some important trust-building and therapeutic benefits. Not surprisingly, within moments young people are sprawled on the grass, helpless with laughter. But it doesn’t take long for them to get the hang of it, working out that unless they work collaboratively to take into account their different  heights and body shapes, negotiating these to achieve an optimum speed while not pulling each other over, they won’t win the race.

Later, sitting together in the shade, blowing the bubbles they won as prizes, it occurs to me that, as well as being a whole lot of fun, the 3 legged race has bonded the members of our little group together – both emotionally and literally.

Support our work with unaccompanied children here.

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