Our Tuesday session was on local and domestic issues; reading from worksheets. We broke away into smaller groups, 2 volunteers to 5 or 6 students each. The session was about local and domestic issues, from council and rubbish to conflict resolution; but one question stood out from the others. The question which was along the lines of “what should you do if you and your wife are going through a rough patch”. This simple question brought on an interesting conversation about women. At first the question was answered by the group in a considered manner, to work together to resolve conflict, to bring in someone to help mediate – however the conversation took a turn when one of the students said:
“Sometimes women are just possessed by a daemon!”
Some of the group laughed, others (myself included) uncomfortable. This was a real change in dynamic. Asna (a volunteer and the only women in the conversation), was visibly taken aback by the comment and she remained quiet for some time. This was the point where tension and outdated ideas needed to be dispelled.
Fortunately, another student pointed this out almost immediately, that this was disrespectful, and gestured to the female volunteer in the circle and pointed out she was there to help them.
We spoke about mutual respect, and offered “have you never been angry?” “have you never lost control?” This has already gone some way away from the ‘rough patch’, though now the conversation was directed towards a bigger. This had become about women and their “hysteria”, while in some cases there is a are also literal beliefs in possession, spirits and daemons that clearly have no place modern society.
In moments like this, these ideas must be challenged. It’s comments such as this one that can be the difference between someone being fired and getting a promotion. The tension that arises in society from opposing ideas about women, gender, race, religion and alcohol need to be addressed. The result of this will be a more integrated and cohesive society, where both the refugees and host society feel more at ease with one another.
The awareness of this goal is something that we are trying to develop within the sessions, to ask more leading questions that bring about an organic and natural conversation about these issues. The students will be put off by sessions if they are lectured to by someone on a weekly basis about how their ideas are wrong and told directly “this is how we do things in this country”. This approach lets them explore their ideas without rebuttal, in a non-judgemental and open manor. Though if there are subjects that arise that are outside the comfort zone or knowledge of any volunteer, we can always raise these with a more senior member of the group.
Ultimately, this space allows the refugees to have these conversations and realisations without it having a direct and negative impact on their lives. We are not only there to facilitate the learning of English, but also the introduction to British society and values that are needed to live as part of the community.