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An update from the Chickpea Sisters’ kitchen

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Klevis Kola Foundation’s in-house catering group. The Chickpea Sisters have been rushing around the city delivering food to a wonderfully diverse range of new clients. Our first event was with Right to Remain, a national human rights organisation who campaign for justice within the immigration and asylum system. Guests at their Annual General Meeting were presented with a Congolese, Eritrean and Algerian feast and devoured it within minutes.

The following week, we were lucky enough to cater for two events in a row! Our first was an 18th birthday party where we prepared an Arabian feast for twenty adults hiding away upstairs. The next day we got up bright and early to set up for our very own KKF/CARAS’ launch party where we served a mixture of finger foods for lunch. On Sunday we popped down to Tooting Foodival next to Broadway Market, where local food businesses were giving out free samples. We brought some Somali biscuits and Iraqi Basbousa, both of which were very much appreciated by the locals. On top of all of this, Fayrus has been attending weekly training sessions with Wandsworth Council on the benefits of healthy eating, gaining knowledge that she plans to share with the rest of the group: “It’s really useful to know how to eat healthily, I’m sure it will benefit the business as people in London love health food.”

With no time to rest, The Chickpea Sisters have two more exciting events to look forward to this month. To find out more, follow us on twitter: @Chickpea Sisters or find us on Facebok: “The-Chickpea-Sisters”

Trips to The Grange: “this place makes me happy”

Two groups, involving 20 young people, have recently returned from KKF’s first visits to The Grange, a beautiful home-from-home in Norfolk, which offers a safe space of learning and respite to people of refugee background.
We started off nervous, not knowing each other well, and unsure of what the weekend would hold.  We have left behind art work for the house, a freshly painted shed, four new guinea pigs, and a nettle-free chicken run; we have taken with us new friendships, happy memories, and lots of stories to share.
Thank you to Ben, Sophie and Oriana for welcoming us to their beautiful home, to Daniel, Jamie, Jess, Maria, Jemeela, Zara and Molly for being such relaxed, supportive and thoughtful volunteers, and to everyone in the group for coming, joining in, and making the trips such a success.

The Chickpea Sister’s Day Out at The Spark

Several weekends ago, Klevis Kola’s in house catering company made their first public debut as The Chickpea Sisters, showcasing their culinary creations to a herd of hungry activists at an event called The Spark in Hackney. The Spark consisted of a week-long succession of workshops, films, talks, music, art, and poetry all geared towards encouraging participants to immerse themselves in issues surrounding social justice. The program was not for the one-track-minded. From ‘strategies for solving the housing crisis’ to ‘tackling every-day-sexism through song’, participants were able to satisfy every inch of their activist urges in an abundance of innovative ways. Unfortunately, The Chickpea Sisters were far too busy preparing a Congolese and Moroccan feast to take part in any of the workshops. They were, however, able to enjoy the sound of social-justice-in-motion from a rather precarious outdoors kitchen. With the aid of two wobbly gas stoves, Ngoné, Faoyzia, Fayrus, Dalya, Mizu, Julienne and Rahma conjured up two delicious meals that were practically inhaled by The Spark’s participants. All in all, the weekend was a huge success and we hope to reconnect with The Spark’s fantastic team for future events.

Refugee Week events celebrating cultural diversity: Croydon Heritage Festival

In our first post of Refugee Week 2014, one of our interns takes a look at events taking place in Croydon, host and home to many of the unaccompanied young people with whom we work…

Geography is often invested with meaningful personal memories, memories that are usually invisible to everyone but the owner of the experiences. I remember how my granddad couldn’t travel through Belsen because of his experiences in the Second World War. Where the casual observer would just see farm-houses and fields along a motorway, he secretly relived the horror of the holocaust.

As the home of Lunar House, the headquarters of the UKBA, Croydon is, for many refugees, emblematic of the trauma of the asylum process, a trauma veiled from the majority of the British public. ‘To you, Croydon is a place’, remarks Buba, ‘with shops, with people, with trams. But for me and almost asylum applicants, it is different.  Just hearing the word ‘Croydon’ takes you straight back to your asylum interview whether you want to think about it or not. It is not a geographic space for me. It is an emotional place.’ (The Poverty Barrier, Freedom from Torture).

Next weekend marks the start of the Croydon Heritage Festival (June 21st – July 4th), a week-long celebration of Croydon’s vibrant and cosmopolitan past, present and future. It is a memorialization of Croydon’s unique identity, uncovering the journey to modern Croydon through a palimpsest of architecture and oral history.

Populated by such a diverse mixture of different racial, cultural and social-economic groups, Croydon is a lattice of different voices and experiences. As a location populated with so many different communities, each stressing wildly different interpretations of Croydon’s history, the Croydon Heritage Festival is placing special emphasis on celebrating cultural diversity and contrast within Croydon. Rather than shying away from controversy, the festival is also hosting events that challenge the identity of Croydon, including lectures on the borough’s links with slave-ownership.

Perpanata, a refugee theatre group based in Croydon, is enabling young refugees and migrants to tell their individual stories throughout the Croydon Heritage Festival. Running since 2008, Perpanata has facilitated young refugees in creating plays about their experiences of UK life. Stressing open-mindedness and valuing inter-cultural dialogue, Perpanata has consistently created moving performances which voice the obstacles many refugees face in UK society. From the raucous and autobiographical Potato & Other Shorts, which comically portrayed one actor’s first experience of a trip to a dentist, to 2012’s Unifinshed Dream, a bold depiction of the limbo of refugee life performed within a city car park.

This year’s event, Somewhere Past, which has been created in collaboration with Attic theatre and Refugee Youth, promises to be an intimate and lively exploration of the hidden lives of young refugees and migrants in Croydon. Performances will take place on Tuesday 17 June at 7pm and Saturday 21 June at 2pm at the Museum of Croydon. Entry is free and there is no need to book.

Comment: Yarl’s Wood, placing profit over human dignity

As a result of Tony Blair’s “fast-track” immigration initiative, the British government currently boasts one of the world’s highest detention rates – coming in at a close second to Australia. Launched in 2000 and heavily expanded in 2003, fast-track detention is designed to accelerate the asylum process, intensifying turnover and increasing ‘efficiency.’ Seized on arrival, fast-track claimants are supposedly given a hearing within three working days. In reality, detainees are frequently imprisoned for years without receiving a verdict and those lucky enough to be seen within the time frame are faced with a 99% refusal rate. Since reports of sexual abuse, poor health care, and racial discrimination are now common place, the steady incline in detention (ten new centres in the last ten years) has been met with increasing concern regarding the treatment of detainees.

Following several heavily publicised cases of misconduct, Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is well known for its abhorrent treatment of detainees. Tucked away in a secluded corner of Bedfordshire, the centre presents itself as a safe haven for women seeking asylum. However, a recent report conducted by Women for Refugee Women demonstrates how the realities of Yarl’s Wood differ drastically from the farcical images of cheerful detainees on the centre’s homepage. Out of the 46 women involved in the report, over 1⁄2 had experienced verbal abuse, 1⁄4 felt they had been victims of racial abuse, and Medical Justice had catalogued 300 cases of physical assault since the centre’s opening. Around 90% of the women involved in the survey were being guarded by male staff and felt intimidated by their presence: “I was having a shower when they opened the door. It was a woman and a male guard. I was naked…on another occasion I had locked the door and the women officer opened the bedroom door and I was naked and everyone could see. The male officer was there. I complained about it but nothing happened.’’

More than anything else, the report’s subjects felt victimised by a “culture of disbelief” within the health care services: “They don’t believe you in there. They don’t help anyone…They’re not interested in helping,…If you ask them for medication or tell them you are sick, they will say you are pretending. They don’t have sympathy for asylum seekers.” Despite numerous examples of malpractice, very little has been done to improve the treatment of detainees at Yarl’s Wood. This lack of action can be explained, in part, by the centre’s managerial structure.

Yarl’s Wood is owned by an international public services company who manage a large portion of transport services, naval bases, detention centres, prisons, electronic tagging systems, hospitals, schools, pensions schemes, and leisure centres across the globe. In the past, the owners of Yarl’s Wood have been condemned for the standard of the services they provide. In September 2013, the company was accused of extensive sexual abuse cover-ups of detainees and earlier that year, an internal memo leaked to an Australian newspaper accused detainees living on Christmas Island of “creating a culture of self-harm,” using it as a “bargaining tool.” A few weeks ago, domestic abuse expert Rashida Manjoo spent sixteen days investigating violence against women in the UK. When attempting to visit Yarl’s Wood she was barred at the gates after staff received instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office.” Manjoo told the press that she was incredibly worried “because if there was nothing to hide, I should have been given access.”

Questions as to whether detention centers should exist at all aside, the privatisation of Yarl’s Wood has resulted in a managerial system that places profit over human dignity. Combined with their track record, Yarl’s Wood’s lack of democratic accountability to the public and power to withhold important information are deeply concerning for an organisation responsible for some of the UK’s most vulnerable inhabitants. When financial gain becomes the overriding aim of a public service provider, corners are cut and compromises are made which result in a failure to recognise the many other elements needed to fuel a genuinely successful organisation. Most notably the mental and physical well-being of its clientele.

Alexa Sidor

The first Syrian refugees enter the UK

Violence and civil unrest in Syria has led to UK Government offering resettlement places to the most vulnerable Syrian families. Since the last week of March, the first of these families has begun arriving in the country to rebuild their lives in safety.

‘The arrival of the first refugees will transform, if not save people’s lives’, says Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of The Refugee Council. ‘It marks an extremely significant watershed in the UK’s response to the humanitarian catastrophe gripping the country and its surrounding areas.’

Opening UK borders could help many Syrians build their lives again and the government has insisted that the programme is going to be needs rather than numbers tested. However, current government plans to support only several hundred refugees over the next three years could also mean tens of thousands of families continue to face exposure to dangerous living conditions back in Syria.

‘Over 2.5 million refugees have now fled the conflict and as a result, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is now calling on governments around the world to help resettle 130,000 people over the next three years,’ adds Wren.

But what help is available for those who do arrive here? Under the Government’s Vulnerable Person’s Relocation scheme, refugees will be granted five years’ humanitarian protection and will be able to access to public funds once they enter the country.

As well as standard housing and benefits, however, these families will need help accessing a wide range of support so they can integrate fully.  Finding out about entitlements to healthcare and where to access it, filling out school applications, learning English and building links within the local community are just some of the activities which organisations like KKF can assist with.

Klevis Kola has already begun working with our first Syrian referrals and we expect to see this number increasing over the coming months as more refugees arrive under the new scheme.

Meet-and-greet with MP Sadiq Khan

We met up with Tooting MP Sadiq Khan as he prepares to run the Virgin Money London Marathon and raise some cash for charities like KKF!

Last Friday during half-term, a few lucky KKF members laced up their trainers and headed down to Tooting Bec Athletics Track to discover why local MP Sadiq Khan (and KKF patron) is running the London Marathon this April - the biggest marathon event of the year.

At a grisly 26 miles across town, running a marathon is no easy feat, even if you are relatively fit. Despite his lack of jogging experience, Sadiq needed little persuasion to sign up once he knew it could help charities like KKF continue their essential work in the local community.

‘When I was first asked to run, I said “no way!”’ joked Sadiq during the chat. ‘But finding out I’d raise money for groups like KKF, I couldn’t refuse. I’ve seen how Klevis Kola work with young asylum-seekers and refugees to keep them constructively engaged, which is vital for the community.’

He went to explain the importance of youth support and the danger of the media de-humanising minority groups, which can result in society turning against them. ‘We need to break down stereotypes about asylum-seekers, immigrants and young people. Instead, we must encourage their confidence and self-esteem so they can fulfill their potential.’

As well as talking about KKF and the London Marathon, the kids also got the opportunity to grill Sadiq about life as an MP and discuss their own career hopes. A straw poll revealed that the majority of girls want to work with kids when they’re older, while the boys are mostly budding footballers.

Finally, the day couldn’t have been complete without a track race against the MP. While neither side managed to give Mo Farah a run for his money (as Sadiq hopes to do in April), we all had a fun day together and KKF got a rare chance to discuss their experiences and get some career tips from a leading political figure.

Sadiq and over 35,000 runners will be pounding the pavements for UK’s biggest charity run on 13th April. Good luck to everyone who is taking part – see you at the finish line!

If you want to know more about our day with Sadiq Khan, click here for the full Evening Standard feature on Sadiq Khan and KKF.

KKF on the track with Sadiq Khan!

KKF on the track with Sadiq Khan!

2013 in numbers

The numbers are in! Here are the facts and figures for KKF’s projects in 2013…

Youth Club

We saw 45 young people (aged 10-18) at Youth Club with an average of 20 people per session. 10 of those were unaccompanied minors.

14 new members were welcomed, with over a third of these having been in the UK for less than just three months and a further 50% for two years at most. The remaining 14% had previously been attending After-School Club.

Mentoring

There were 9 active pairs in 2013.

Mentoring relationships usually last at least a year for maximum benefit. Three relationships ended within this time-frame last year due to mentees moving away from the area - one back to their country of origin. Young people identified as being at high-risk remain a priority. The waiting list is long at 27, and an objective for 2014 is to increase our mentoring provision to reach these children.

We have 27 young people on our waiting list. With over 3/4 of our pairs being female, we are in particular need of male mentors. If this is something you might be interested in, get in touch at kleviskola@gmail.com.

Education Outreach

The Education Outreach programme worked with 23 young people, with an average attendance of 9 sessions per person. Beneficiaries originate from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Pakistan and Albania, and almost a third were unaccompanied.

ESOL

The ESOL class saw 10 students, with an average attendance of six and current class size of eight.

One-to-one support

In 2013 KKF provided weekly one-to-one support to 16 young people, with the current number in the New Year standing at 12. Over half are unaccompanied minors and/or newly arrived. Four of these young people reported difficulties in the school/college environment, such as bullying, exclusion, delays in securing places and academic struggles. 4% had no experience of formal education.

The majority of referrals come from foster carers and workers in supported housing.

Women’s Project

The majority of women involved with the Cooking Project and Coffee Morning Project were of Somali origin, with the rest representing a large number of countries such as Iraq, Libya and Spain. Word of mouth publicity has drawn in the most new members, with a further 40% joining due to their existing involvement with the previously named ‘Coffee Afternoon’ Project. A very small minority are referred either by the Outreach Project or an external organisation.

After-school Club

There were 10 new children at After-school Club in 2013 and each session had an average attendance of 30. 11 of the attending children classified as newly-arrived.

Advocacy

We delivered our advocacy service to 99 people in 2013. 82 were of Somali origin, with the others originating from Eritrea, Pakistan, DRC, Afghanistan, Algeria and Somaliland. There were 669 advocacy sessions, 162 of those being a follow-up to an initial appointment. Again, word of mouth proved particularly effective in that 73 of the 93 referrals came about in this way, with the remainder made by KKF clients. Benefits and housing were the topics most discussed.

We’re pleased to say that we’re now providing support to refugee and asylum-seeking families in the London borough of Croydon as well as Wandsworth, Lambeth and Merton. Looking ahead to the next 5 years, we are implementing an agreed strategy to build on last year’s successes. We aim to provide specialist support for separated children, including psychological support. Our Outreach service will be expanded and we will be developing our monitoring and evaluation systems the entire organisation. Identifying the main areas of concern for our advocacy clients, we will be deepening our knowledge of housing and benefits policies. Last but not least, we will be devoting time to training some of our beneficiaries as volunteers.

Here’s to another great year!

KKF volunteer social!

Join us at The Exhibit on Station Road in Balham this Sunday for a KKF volunteer social and pub quiz.

Come along at 6pm for a leisurely drink and to meet and greet new and old faces. The quiz will get going at 6:30pm and cover a breadth of topics, so you’re bound to have your moment. For extra incentive you’ll be in with the chance of winning a two-hour private cinema screening for up to 24 people at The Exhibit, on a date to be negotiated with staff.

Don’t worry about not having enough people for a team. Just RSVP on our Facebook event page - feel free to ‘join’ if you’re not already on the guest list - and we’ll sort everything out. Guests are welcome and admission is free.

See you then!

Racist bullying in schools reaching a high

A recent article in The Independent states that the charity Childline saw a dramatic increase in calls in 2013 made by children experiencing racist bullying at school. A large number of youngsters experiencing such harassment are Muslim; poor media representation of the religion has led to ingrained stereotypes, with Muslim children being called names such as ‘terrorist’ and ‘bomber’. As the Klevis Kola Foundation has learned from our work with refugee and asylum seeking children and young people, moving to a new country with a vastly differing culture can be a distressing time, particularly when fleeing conflict. A language barrier can prove difficult enough when faced with keeping up with a new curriculum and school system, but becomes potentially unbearable when other children draw negative attention to it with terms such as ‘freshie’.

Sue Minto of Childline affirms that racist bullying is far more of an issue in the school environment than it is online – a statement that many might find surprising. One would have thought that the rise of social media sites and platforms for expression, coupled with a high level of PC, tablet and smart phone ownership mean that young people have more opportunity than ever to create and distribute malicious content and to a wide audience. The abundance of online abuse can surely also influence and misinform others, possibly leading to an increase in racial harassment. Despite Ms Minto’s claim, however, children will now be taught in schools about online safety from the age of five.

Those with the courage to call Childline and similar switchboards are likely just a few of those affected by racist bullying – for every child who speaks up, there must be hundreds of others suffering in silence. It has been found that boys are more likely to report this type of bullying. To speculate why children turn to helplines, it may be because the counsellor is detached from the child’s life; a great fear held by many children affected by bullying, as acknowledged by the article, is that disclosing their experiences to a teacher or parent will only exacerbate the problem. With racist bullying, many teachers ignore the problem, and then on the other end of the spectrum, class discussions and assemblies arranged with good intent simply encourage the very behaviour they are trying to deter. The content of these discussions may also be at odds with the beliefs of pupils’ parents, and children tend to unquestioningly adopt the views and lexicon of their parents/guardians. When such views are instilled at an early age, it may be difficult to convince children otherwise.

The Department of Education has divided £4m between organisations focussing on tackling bullying and teachers have been given the green light to take measures such as handing out same-day detentions to sanction inappropriate behaviour. Whilst these measures in schools might prevent racist bullying, it is not addressing the problem at its root – ignorance. Pupils might improve their behaviour, but this might be more out of a will to not have their possessions confiscated or spend any longer in school than necessary, rather than a desire to treat their peers with more respect. Schools need to teach children acceptance, but, as said, they risk inadvertently promoting racist bullying, and it might be difficult to undo any false beliefs already instilled in the child by family, friends and the media. Klevis Kola Foundation develops links with local schools in Wandsworth, Lambeth and Merton to raise awareness and sensitivity, and in our own clubs and sessions for children such as Youth Club and After School Club, we have a strict anti-bullying policy.