By Howard Grace
Thatcham is a small, lively town about sixty miles due West of London. Each year they hold a Festival at which I have been invited to make a contribution. Past years have included inspired events with friends such Imad Karam (focussing the film on Frank Buchman of which he is director), Letlapa Mphahlele, Jo Berry, The Balfour Project and other familiar names to IofC friends. This year there were forty-four events as part of the Festival.
I invited our ‘Refugees as Rebuilders™’ (RRB) colleagues to facilitate this year’s contribution. Thirty people participated, mostly a diversity of my local friends. One wrote afterwards, “Many thanks for a very inspiring, informative and absorbing meeting this afternoon! It was great to be able to play a small part in it and it will make a difference to the interactions I have with my Afghan and Syrian guys. A very good event and I’m very grateful to you and the others who worked to put it together so well.”
Dr. Muna Ismail, Programme Manager of RRB spoke at the event about her own experience arriving in the UK from Somalia.
Pragna Hay (right), with Maria Grace who, with a team, knitted a panel depicting the ejections of Asians from Uganda. Pragna spoke of her experience when her family was one of the 80,000 Asians ejected from Uganda when she was six years old.
Ira Mushkina played the piano to open the occasion. Ira is originally from Ukraine.
The piano playing and explanation of the pieces by Ira Mushkina at the beginning gave a heart-touching setting for the whole occasion. And I was so grateful that she invited her friend Iryna Stepanova to share with us her moving experience of fleeing to the UK, while her husband and other family members are fighting on the front line back home in Ukraine. People have to make such difficult choices. You see things like this on the news, but it lives so much when you meet with such a lovely person in a ‘room’ and hear her anguish firsthand.
Then each of the RRB participants – from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan & Ethiopia – contributed their inspiring stories and convictions. Also, Pragna Hay, a local friend of Asian heritage spoke very meaningfully. She was six years old when her family was one of the eighty thousand Asians ejected from Uganda by Idi Amin fifty years ago.
In introducing RRB Dr. Muna Ismail, the programme manager, spoke about her own experience of arriving in the UK as a refugee from Somalia. “Like many refugee individuals, when I had first arrived, I didn’t have much social capital, in fact, I didn’t have anything. I had to negotiate my way through the urban diversity of London. I had to rely on the guidance and kindness of strangers, who helped with my self-development and education.”
In describing what drives the RRB programme, she said, “We live in a world where millions of people are displaced, across borders, and, in many cases, continents. And despite the magnitude of this international challenge, a coherent global response to the migration crisis is missing. Initiatives of Change’s response to this global human crisis, is values-based. It speaks to and for transformation of the person. We believe that anyone who wishes to bring change in the world starts with the individual. Therefore, our vision, is a vision based on the 4 standards of Honesty, Unselfishness, Love and Purity of intention.
She added, “In addition, the RRB programme works towards empowering refugees, when possible, to return and rebuild their countries of origin, with a renewed confidence, strengthened capabilities and enhanced self-reliance.”
Gemma Perkins very ably facilitated the programme, which included break out groups where people could engage in more personal discussion. Participants were able to reflect on how what they had heard had resonated with them, which led to rich sharing and appreciation.
Mel Taylor, representing the Thatcham Festival spoke of her real gratitude for this contribution to the festival. It is quite clear to me that there is great scope for this sort of initiative in other parts of the UK.