No comments yet
31 January, 2018

A ‘Pioneers of Change’ workshop for refugees took place in Derby on 9th December 2017. The workshop was one of a series that took place, looking at the themes of ‘Dialogue Facilitation, Trust-Building and Reconciliation’ for Eritrean British organised by Dr Lul Seyoum, director of ICERAS (the International Centre for Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers) in partnership with IofC.

The main aim of the ‘Pioneers of Change’ workshops is to provide a safe space for people of different backgrounds to be able to discuss key issues together. And part of creating ‘safe space’ is story-sharing.

Bob Smith, a retired resident of Derby, hosted the event in the Hope Centre, a church-run community centre in Derby city centre. In his welcome, he told how for most of his life he had had nothing to do with refugees, but due to a personal encounter with a refugee, he had been moved to start offering assistance, and had since become very engaged.

Among the participants were a group of Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees from Derby invited by Bob Smith, and a group of Syrians who have been settled in Nottingham as part of the government’s resettlement programme for Syrian refugees.

Other IofC hosts were Adeel Younas, a Nottinghamshire Special Constable and owner of a recruitment agency for vulnerable young people, Mohammed Ahmadi, an Afghan engineering student, Robert Mrozek (a Polish construction team leader) and Bob Campbell-Lamerton all from nearby Nottingham. Adeel told us about the challenges he had faced from his own and the host community, and how he had overcome them. There was a screening of the short film ‘From War to Reconciliation’ about the reconciliation of two Lebanese former militia commanders. And John Bond, former Secretary of the Australian Sorry Day campaign, spoke about its work for national reconciliation, together with a video clip of the apology to Aborigines by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Peter Riddell led an exercise in ‘Good and Bad Listening’ which caused much amusement - one wife said it was the first time she had felt listened to by her husband! A Syrian husband and wife duo got all the Syrians joining in with traditional Arabic songs, accompanied by the ‘oud’ (traditional Arabic guitar) and tambourine. And a good meal provided by an Ethiopian restaurant did a lot to bond people too.

The situation was complicated by the fact that none of the three groups spoke much English, or anything of each other’s languages! So there was some heroic improvised translation. Berhane Woldegabriel whispered in Amharic for the Ethiopians, and Redi Aybu translated everything first into Arabic for the Syrians and then into Tigrinya for the Eritreans! And of course, anything said in any of those languages needed to be translated into all the others!

There was a marked difference in situation and educational background of the different groups. The Syrians had been accepted as refugees, and settled under an official programme. Some of them had worked in trades, and one was a university professor and another a nurse. Whereas the Eritreans and Ethiopians were waiting to hear if they would be granted right to remain; one of them had just been refused, and was facing a very uncertain future indeed. What they most wanted was help in understanding the procedures for accessing legal and financial help. They were, on the whole, less educated and articulate than the Syrians. Yet they were all open 

And what did they think of the day? Here are a few reflections:

  • 'It was great. We expect more in future because I feel people are still there for me to talk to about my problems and to try to bring solutions.'
  • 'We learned that we need to smile more and say ‘please’, ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you!''
  • 'We learned that if we unite, we can initiate change.'
  • 'We were touched by what Bob Smith said - he only learned about refugees four years ago, but is now helping them.'
  • 'This was very useful for us, making a mix of Syrian, Eritrean [and Ethiopian] and British people. I would like there to be other similar events.'

Lul Seyoum concluded by inviting everyone to become ‘a symbol of hope for the wider community’.