Tag Archives: refugees

Doing IT?

29 Nov

IT Club has enjoyed it’s 5th successful session, with numbers steadily rising from 8 attendees at the first session to 17 at yesterday’s…  Volunteers are growing week by week as well, with three people now committing to attend regularly to assist members  with skills using email, web based publishing sites and reading.  As the activity develops the evidence of the need for  it is mounting up -so it seems like a good time to answer the question – IT Club –  why do it..?

On 11th September 2011 RASAG held it’s second “Happy Eid For Everyone” party, pictured above.   The majority of the budget was used on food making sure that there was a wide selection of dishes from around the world, freshly cooked with “whole food” ingredients, all suitable for our majority Muslim membership…  The party was open for everyone in the community and we aimed to cater for the enjoyment of a born and bred white Sheffielder, just as much as for a person or family from a different culture.

Our main intention in organising an event as a refugee/asylum seeker group, is to ensure that it is accessible to the hardest to reach people, including those who through the workings of the UK asylum system have been made destitute with no legal status to allow them to work and no recourse to public funds.  Good food, good music and the certainty of a friendly welcome all ensure that our parties are accommodating to someone living in enforced destitution.  Thanks to RASAG teaming up with the welcoming organisation Sheffield City of Sanctuary, “Happy Eid…” enjoyed a fabulous turnout of almost 200 people – African Arabic , Asian and Persian dishes were enjoyed alongside the sounds of DJ Ebo, and Shangra band Yakam Jar Bu – people danced, and laughed and were merry – even the tinned fruit and ice cream dessert was received with rapturous enthusiasm!  To the untrained eye the old school hall was the picture of affable comradery, but from RASAG’s p.o.v, the people who couldn’t raise a single smile, who’s foot never tapped to the beat and who didn’t exchange a word in sociablity were the only ones who mattered and they were dotted throughout the room like shadows in every corner.  Which raised the question – as a group, is it enough to simply afford a welcome to those most in need at occasional gatherings?  If the best we can do as a community group is provide a jolly a few times a year, are we really doing anything at all?  So IT Club was born.

The idea is very simple – four hours of high speed internet access on 11 PC’s, a box of additional resources including Flip cameras, ESL textbooks, dictionaries etc, a shared hot lunch and a small amount of petty cash to reimburse travel expenses for unwaged participants and volunteers – oh and printing is free with the room by default, although the line did have to be drawn when someone wanted to print a whole book!  There is no pressure  for people to prescribe to a specific line of learning, and in fact those who come along expecting a structured IT lesson are quickly put right.  The shared blog space (http://rasagcomputerclub.wordpress.com/) and encouragement to use email, Youtube, facebook and Twitter alongside learning basic IT skills, such as log on, shut down, highlight, double click, make IT Club more like a conversation club online.  Just like Sheffield’s highly successful conversation clubs, IT Club is not only open to refugees and asylum seekers, but to everyone who wants to talk and share, forming a community.

That’s what we’re doing – and we’re going to keep doing IT.

City of Sanctuary

10 Aug

RASAG is currently working on several initiatives to expand the group and to take it to the next level.  we are working with a BBC journalist on a feature about the City of Sanctuary, where she will be using case studies to dispel the myth that asylum seekers and refugees come to England for an easy ride…  One of the RASAG members who has agreed to talk to the journalist is Lemlem Hussein Abdu, the Eritrean lady who was detained and had a flight booked to a country that she does not originate from, but was given a last minute reprieve in the form of an injunction that halted her flight.  The Manchester court granted the injunction at the last minute because a document was located and faxed from Saudi Arabia that proved that Lemlem was from Ertitrea, not Ethiopia, despite the fact that she had been issued with an Ethiopian passport (which is far from unusual as Eritrea was historically possessed by Ethiopia – the root of all of the war and troubles there in the first place).  With the help of key RASAG member and co-founder, Firas Sharefy, Lemlem will tell her story to the journalist in the hope that it will help give a greater understanding to the Sheffield community about the violence and persecution that people are subjected to before they take that enormous decision to flee their own country and seek asylum elsewhere.  Lemlem is yet to be granted leave to remain in the UK so the campaign continues.  Please go to Sheffield CDAS at http://www.sheffieldcdas.org.uk/, or contact SYMAAC at dignitynotdetention@yahoo.co.uk for more information, or write to Home Secretary Teresa May at Rt Hon Theresa May MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA to make your views known.

Another project involving people’s own stories that RASAG is assisting with is one mentioned earlier in this blog, Chris Stone at FURD’s “Shared Sense of Belonging” project.  Firas has joined the steering team for this project to help to guide the direction of the research that will take place.  This project promises to be very exciting. as it explores the sociological implications of what creates a sense of home, ownership or belonging for someone who has been driven from their own place of origin to a distant place that often does not welcome them, persecutes them and plunges them into a world of misinformation and uncertainty.  This project will particularly focus on how playing, watching and talking about football play a part in creating a sense of belonging and home in people from disparate backgrounds, but it will also examine the role of other sports and activities by way of comparison.   Several RASAG members are also interested in forming a five a side team to play football at FURD, which would be very exciting as it would be one of the few city teams that would be made up of people from different nationalities, rather than being a “DRC team”, and “Iraqi team” etc…  This unity between refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities is one of RASAG’s great strengths.

More exciting plans in the offing include the creation of a RASAG identity card which would aim to give members a sense of belonging and ownership and could be used to enable them to interact with other community groups on an official level.  This idea came from the group when RASAG member Spag was asked to help with interpreting for an asylum case by Sheffield CDAS and was asked to show his RASAG ID – we had not considered the fact that  members would be offered opportunities based on their RASAG membership status before this point but it is a positive development.  We would also like to buy a laptop and some software so that we can start to create a database of our members and activities.

RASAG’s next event is planned to be a post Eid community meal where we will tell stories, perform music and provide attendees with food from around the world…  This event will be used to create a space for the group to meet with the wider community and to promote our activities and ethos.  We are all also looking forward to the end of Summer of Sanctuary celebrations planned to take place later this month – Summer of sanctuary funded our Legends project and in fact RASAG was formed to take part in this unique three month event.

Finally I am very pleased to announce that I have been offered the role of Communications and Administration Worker for Sheffield City of Sanctuary.  As the only member of RASAG who is not an asylum seeker or refugee I am keenly aware that this prospect is a real privilege and  an opportunity that is sadly not available to many of the group members who have hitherto been denied the right to work.  However, following the court judgment that asylum seekers who do not receive a decision within a set time should be given the right to work, I hope that this will be the start of many RASAG members finding gainful employment within the sector.   In my role at the City of Sanctuary I will be supporting a groundbreaking grassroots organisation  key to the sector of people seeking asylum in Sheffield.  I will be helping to advance the aim to promote a positive image of refugees and asylum seekers in the city and provide spaces for encounters between the community and the wider Sheffield population, which is also embedded in RASAG’s constitution.  Of course the work with RASAG will also continue.

As always, RASAG can be contacted of katelyn_mckeown@yahoo.co.uk, or at Learn For Life Enterprise on 0114 2559080.

Katelyn 🙂

Festival Legends

5 Jul

Six members of RASAG turned out on Saturday to perform at Gleadless Valley International Festival and Sharrow Fringe Festival.   We entertained festival goers with varied content including our resident Iranian artist’s “Hello Salaam” song which calls for Freedom for everyone and a sad story which ends with the teller being left in the middle of nowhere with a dead child in a suitcase…

Performing at Sharrow Festival

At both festivals the MC’s introduction left alot to be desired, but we attracted a respectable ammount of people and made it clear who we were, what the aim of our group was, that we were funded by Summer of Sanctuary and what that initiative is all about.

As usual, Firas was the star of the group, telling his own stories with confidence and ease.  Everyone put in a great performance however, joining in the singing and drumming and supporting each other on the stage.  It was great to see colleagues and students from Learn For Life where the RASAG group formed supporting us in the crowd.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Learn-for-Life-Enterprise/37068300402?ref=ts

These performances have taken us to the end of our Summer of Sanctuary funding which has been used very successfully to engage over 20 refugees and asylum seekers over the entire project, with at least 15 more expressing an interest in taking part but not being able to this time around.  Out of the 15 expected to attend the workshop nine made it on the day made up of six men and three women and a fabulous seven different nationalities.  Only one of the workshop attendees never performed and this was very understandable due to immigration issues – he told me he had cried when he saw the pictures of performances that he had not been able to attend and he was truly missed on every occassion that we performed.  However, as we accomadated people who had not been able to attend the workshop but wanted to be involved in performances, we had 11 different performers over our seven performances – a very pleasing turnout!

Legends has acheived a lot on many different levels, but the most notable and pleasing changes in the participants are the unquantifiable “soft skills” – from responding to the compere at the Assist Concert shouting “how are you feeling?” with “Confident!”, to a member who felt isolated realising that he now has friends – these things may not be measurable, but they are so valuable.

The Legends exhibition will be available to view at the RASAG Big Lunch which is happening on 18th July at the Sharrow Old Junior School in collaboration with the Summer Flea Market and Sharrow Chef of the Year – more on that to follow soon.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/event.php?eid=113963548647447&ref=ts

Details of both the RASAG Big Lunch and the overall event can be found on page 11 of July’s Sharrow Today.

http://www.sharrowcf.org.uk/sharrow-today

Legends in the Library

16 Jun

Legends will be performed in Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield on 21st June 2010 at 12.30-1.30

We will perform at Ecclesall Library, Ecclesall Road Sheffield on 21st June at 17.30-18.30

Storying Sheffield

12 Jun

I was very pleased to be able to attend the Storying Sheffield showcase yesterday, an innovative project with remarkably similar aims to the Legends project. (http://www.storyingsheffield.com/).  I was impressed and somewhat envious of the scale of the project both in terms of the multimedia exhibition and the crowd, who were packed in by the hundred.  The exhibition was vibrant and varied, with features including a mobile of comments about Sheffield, photo stories, video footage of interviews and arrays of items representing participant’s image of the Steel City, from cutlery to boiled sweets, ale to art.   Regrettably, I was unable to reach the short film exhibition space, as forcing my way through the crowd with a sleeping toddler in her pushchair was inhibited by the announcement of the live presentation, a review of the project’s achievements with plenty of humour and some excellent poetry. 

Although enjoyable and informative, the presentation was somewhat inhibited by numbers, as I could neither see the stage nor hear all of the speeches – some people at the back of the room started to filter out as a result.   The presentation was curtailed by the prospect of the Lord Mayor’s imminent arrival, and this being the third event I was to see him at in 10 days I began to fear stalking accusations and set to promoting the Legend’s performances.

On the whole the promotion went well, although I began to see the flaw in my leaflet, which simply gives the name Sheffield RASAG, without explaining that it is a refugee and asylum seeker community group…  I found myself repeating this fact to people over and over while both relishing the fact that I hadn’t blown the whole printing budget on the flawed design, and regretting that I didn’t have more printed to cover the numbers at Storying Sheffield and have some left for Peace in the Park (http://web.peaceinthepark.org.uk/) and and the launch of the Summer of Sanctuary, Together at Devonshire Green (http://www.eventsheffield.co.uk/event/14525/summer-of-sanctuary-together-in-sheffield).  With a miniscule budget of £20.00 to cover the entire project it is a constant dilemma of whether to spend or save and I left this event feeling that I had underestimated the levl of potential to promote Legend’s this weekend.

Having thouroughly enjoyed Storying Sheffield and been convinced that their aims and ethos is noteably similar to our own, now’s the time for RASAG to see if they can offer us any help with promting our events and extending our lifespan, which is hanging in the balance after the rejection of an important funding bid…  Like Storying Sheffield we intend to be back bigger and better next year, so lets find out if there’s any potential for collaboration and stand united, narrating in the face of adversity!

“Football, a shared sense of belonging?”

11 Jun

RASAG were out in force last night to support FURD at the launch of their 3 year research project into whether football and other cultural devices provide a mutual sense of belonging for refugees and asylum seekers.  The project, led by FURD’s Chris Stone, will provide a platform for refugees and asylum seekers to discuss their thoughts through football.  Chris says “Many football fans see the game as a way of bridging communities, bringing individuals closer together and as a brilliant tool for social change.” (copyright FURD http://www.furd.org/default.asp?intPageID=498)

Yesterday’s event was hosted at City College and despite power cuts and rain was a great success!  Attendees ranged from City of Sanctuary and Northern Refugee Centre representatives, to the Lord and Lady Mayor, to players in FURD’s annual All Nations tournament (20th June, Goodwin building, Sheffield Hallam University) and of course, team RASAG!  A sub-Saharan feast was laid on and a panel of experts including ex-Blade Brian Deane and FURD’s own Desbon talked guests through their own and our (gathered by survey) predictions for South Africa 2010, thus removing the need for any of us to watch the games – Phew!  On the whole the panel and audience were in agreement in our predictions, although the audience didn’t note Serbia as a contender in group D and there was a whisper of controversy when the panel put through the Ivory Coast over Portugal in group G.  The eventual winners were, or should I say will be,  (look away now if you want to wait til the final) – Brazil – no surprises there then!  Fear not though, England put in a sterling performance and make it all the way to the semi-finals (or was it quarters?), but are eventually knocked out, possibly due to the arrival of team WAG and Wayne Rooney’s filthy language….

All in all, the launch party marked the start of what will be a very exciting project and an excellent opportunity for refugees and asylum seekers in Sheffield to get involved in research, share their experiences and get skilled up at the same time.  On our way to the event I was talking up the party element of the evening and, most likely, getting very excited over the prospect of some nice food!  I was brought back to Earth and reminded of the level of committment to self improvement and education the RASAG group have when a member named Fuad turned to me very seriously and said “We must learn something this evening.”  Well, we certainly did and I am sure we are all very excited and very much looking forward to being involved in this project and contributing to it in any way we can.