Last week saw a special session of our regular bi-weekly therapeutic group session in our North London office. We were celebrating Eid, but we’re always happy to find an excuse to get together and enjoy some wonderful cooking from Farida and Fawzia! The office hosts advice services for adults and children, as well as a new welcome desk staffed by volunteers and a wide variety of regular and occasional activities including English classes, therapeutic casework and health befriending support.
On Tuesday, the psycho-educational therapeutic group in collaboration with the Health Befriending Network brought together a self selected group of around 30 asylum seekers and refugees. The participants were wonderfully diverse in every way; different ethnic and national backgrounds, ages and abilities were represented, and most people had made the effort to dress up in their traditional cultural outfits, creating a truly spectacular impression! The group was founded in January 2013 and is funded by The Stanley Johnson Foundation with the aim of disseminating useful information to empower clients thereby offering them a wider range of healthy choices in life. We were proud to welcome the Foundation’s Director, Dr Judith Safford, who visited Finchley Road and experienced one of the groups earlier in the year.
This project has become an important resource for our clients in promoting their self awareness and wellbeing through sharing experiences, and in helping them to develop better coping mechanisms as well as getting access to health services. Clients also share what inspires them to carry on with their inner power of resilience. The group provides a space for clients to explore their own narratives, and use dance, movement or singing to release emotional distress or trauma. We often collaborate with other professionals to offer learning based on their expertise; In March 2013 Dr Shaka, a psychiatrist, came to speak about mental health from a cultural perspective, symptoms of PTSD and how to manage these on a day to day basis.
Clients and volunteers spoke from their own experiences in an empathic environment, and learned that they were not alone or going mad! The feedback we received reflected how this alleviated their anxieties and normalised their experiences. Other themed topics have included sexual wellbeing led by a senior nurse from the Royal Free Hospital.
We kicked off with participants sharing stories and questions about seeking asylum. It’s wonderful to see how our clients offer support and learn from each other. The session was facilitated by Dilek from Refugee Womens’ Centre, who was able to draw on her own experiences as a refugee and also as a naturalised Brit to help draw out some of the issues facing clients. She said: “Sometimes I still feel like a refugee, but I welcome all parts of myself!”
The emphasis of the session and the group dynamic was fantastically positive, some participants bravely contributed stories about some of the emotional and practical challenges they face as asylum seekers and were immediately offered practical suggestions and generous encouragement about how to persevere and overcome their obstacles. For asylum seekers the trauma of separation and isolation can be so overwhelming that it prevents them from being able to cope with daily life in UK. The message from the day was “You can’t put your life on hold!” “Don’t wait, be proactive!” Dilek put it succinctly “Don’t make things impossible”.
Many asylum seekers lack confidence to talk about themselves in English, so we try to help them to build up their confidence and also improve their English through these workshops. After a magnificent lunch, we spent the afternoon in charades, connecting with some of the issues and concepts faced by asylum seekers, and practising some of the dances of different nationalities, enthusiastically facilitated by Neda, herself a volunteer and asylum seeker.
Here are a few of our clients’ comments about the day, highlighting the positive and practical benefits of the session:
What did you enjoy?
Able to share who I am and where I am from as I am always in my own world, but today I am in the world of others.
What did you learn during today’s workshop?
The value of every refugee. One word on everyone’s tongues. The cry for help. Our mental well-being.
How to focus on the present and the future. Not to let the past ruin (though you can’t change the past, but you can change the future).
What is the most valued thing you learned today?
To respect the views of others and as refugees crying out. We all have different journeys.
I am happy today I came outside. For one month now I have been indoors. Thank you people for the lunch.
We received some lovely texts from clients afterwards:
Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity. Today’s workshop will help me through out the week.
The client who sent this message is a highly educated woman. She lives in Croydon but always joins the group.
Back home, whenever I was depressed, I used to go to my mum’s house, I knew she was the only one in my life who listened to me and gave me hope to continue my life, and now here in the UK, when I make my way to RC to join the group, I have the same feeling. Please keep it up, God bless you all.
If you’ve been inspired by the work of the Therapeutic Casework Team and the Health Befriending Project you can help by volunteering with us or making a donation. Find out more.