How artistic expression is helping towards my healing process

Josephine Apira tells us how she began to release by sharing her journey from Uganda to the UK as a refugee through artistic expression, and how it has helped her to communicate some of her experiences. What happened to her family 30 years ago is still happening now in Uganda and her hope is to empower other refugees to use art to tell their individual stories this World Refugee Day and beyond.

As well as collaborating with St Ethelburga’s this World Refugee Day to host a conversation and workshop exploring how we navigate with simplicity and purpose the global impact of climate change and migration on local community, IofC UK are holding an art exhibition, in collaboration with Hope in the HeART, at 24 Greencoat Place, London, to showcase the work of participants who have attended IofC UK’s Refugees as Re-Builders™ training course and Hope in the HeART workshop. Josephine Apira is one of the artists who will be featured. She came to the UK from Uganda as a refugee over 30 years ago to escape the brutality and devastation occurring in her country, and to fight for human rights.

Photographed: Josephine Apira shares the art piece she created during the Hope in the HeART and Refugees as Re-Builders™ collaborative workshop to depict her journey from Uganda to the UK

Photographed: Josephine Apira shares the art piece she created during the Hope in the HeART and Refugees as Re-Builders™ collaborative workshop to depict her journey from Uganda to the UK

Josephine’s art piece depicts her most vivid memory: the moment she left Uganda and parted from her parents. She states: “I remember saying goodbye to my mother and father, with the hope to be back after a few days. My mother was wearing a long blue corduroy skirt with a light top and my father was wearing khaki shorts with a white top. Later in the same year, November 1986, my mother was killed with 21 other people in one attack by the army. Many other family members were forced into camps and died due to lack of food and medical care. In my painting I have depicted the moment I left my home and when arrived in the UK to start fighting for human rights. I have also added the mountains and bridges I crossed on my journey out of Uganda as they remain so prominent in my mind. The process helped me to reflect on my experiences.”

Photograph: Josephine depicts the poignant moments of leaving home and arriving in the UK

Photograph: Josephine depicts the poignant moments of leaving home and arriving in the UK

Photographed: Josephine has added a bird soaring high above the mountains and bridges

Photographed: Josephine has added a bird soaring high above the mountains and bridges

Dr Muna Ismail, Programme Manager of Initiatives of Change UK’s Refugees as Rebuilders™ programme commented: “Josephine’s courageous story gives me a deep admiration for her journey in coping with loss and living with dignity while on the path to healing.”

Josephine believes, amongst the knowledge and skills she has learnt through the Refugees as Re-Builders™ course and workshop with Hope in the HeART, the ability to express herself through simple art has helped towards the process of healing the wounds of the past. She states: “Keeping my story inside was a recurring nightmare, one of many refugee experiences. If you cannot share your story, you cannot address it and begin a new chapter. I know my mother and father did not receive a proper burial and I know the people I left behind, village people, people I know, were killed too. There is too much trauma in the community to process, finding a way of showing, telling and communicating my story to those who listen can help me to navigate through and take care of myself.”

The message Josephine would like to deliver by sharing her painting on World Refugee Day is one that aims to ignite courage in the hearts and minds of all refugees struggling to tell their story. Her hope is it will help to highlight the plight of Ugandans, especially the current Human Right status of the people of Karamoja and Apaa, who are unable to migrate, and also be a call to action to end the silence on Uganda.  She states: “It is not easy to speak up but once you do begin to tell your story people begin to look up to you for leadership and management.” Josephine explained that the IofC teaching of ‘change starts from within’ has helped her to get to the stage where she felt ready to do so. She found the Refugees as Re-Builders™ training course to be a useful tool in her human rights activism journey.

Dr Muna Ismail added: “We were so impressed with what this collaboration with Hope in the Heart unravelled. The art workshops demonstrated a commonality of human stories. We hope to deliver more partnerships like this as we launch the RRB full Curriculum this July.”

Photographed: Josephine with Joseph Micallef, facilitator and training coordinator of IofC UK’s Refugees as Re-Builders™ Programme.

Photographed: Josephine with Joseph Micallef, facilitator and training coordinator of IofC UK’s Refugees as Re-Builders™ Programme.

Josephine’s story is one of a selection of personal stories to be depicted at the exhibition at Initiatives of Change UK on World Refugee Day 2022. The exhibition preludes the Refugees as Re-Builders™ Curriculum Launch event happening on 16th July which will outline the Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced levels of IofC UK’s Refugees as Re-Builders™ programme. For details of how to attend the art exhibition and Curriculum Launch, and to find out more on the Refugees as Re-Builders™ training course visiting the Initiatives of Change UK website. See the Hope in the HeART website for more information on their work and visit St Ethelburga’s website to register for the curated conversation and workshop.

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