June saw Refugee Week being celebrated across the UK as well as Baytree. Refugee Week is a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. In celebration of Refugee Week, the Baytree Centre held a number of events for our women and girls.

In the morning, our women attended a heartwarming speech given by a student who was welcomed into the UK by Herne Hill Welcomes Refugees (HHWR) a local community group working to settle refugees into Herne Hill under the community sponsorship scheme. In her speech she spoke about her experience and the wonderful support she received from HHWR as well as Baytree. After the speech, the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students performed their play, ‘The Journey’, as well as some songs they have been learning in their weekly singing session. In the gym featured a pop up photography exhibition from ESOL for Action and lots of stalls selling clothes, home made crafts and food from around the world, with proceeds going to HHWR. Women were encouraged to write postcards to different generations of members in their family.

In the afternoon, the young girls participated in several different activities. First, girls under 11 attended a session where they watched a video featuring five young refugees from Iraq. They discussed the video and wrote letters to the boys in the video. Throughout the afternoon, there were other educational videos about refugees playing in the gym. The girls and women were invited to hear about their first hand experiences of several refugees, where they have come from, what rights they have and who supported them in the UK.

The canteen was transformed into a vibrant hub, with multiple activity stations. Girls took part in a quizzes about facts and statistics relating to refugees, wrote letters to Syrian refugees and read poetry written by and about refugees and wrote some of their own. The girls especially loved a station where they looked at inspirational pictures then created their own protest signs advocating for the rights of refugees. Several girls spent most of their time at this station and made beautiful drawings. One poster depicted the Statue of Liberty holding a woman, and others featured political and inspirational phrases. On a large table in the middle of the room, people drew their family trees and added important events in their lives to a shared timeline.

Throughout the day and week, the girls and women wrote letters and postcards to refugees, family members, and UK citizens. While this started out as an exercise to just think about the perspectives of different people, the girls wrote amazing notes and poetry. We are currently looking for a place to send and/or publish these letters.

Once again, Refugee Week at Baytree was a great success – a celebration of refugees without failing to address the more serious aspects of forced migration.