We are at the Kindness Initiative in Kings Cross and I am seated between four individuals two young Congolese girls, an elderly Syrian gentleman and a Kurdish man, perhaps thirty years old.
Using a worksheet an English teacher handed us called ‘Leisure activities in the UK’ we discuss football, sky diving, deep sea diving and golfing and paintballing. The worksheet is covered in comics that visually articulate the concept.
The questions are: what excites you? what bores you? what frightens you?
The responses threw me off slightly. The Syrian refugee stabs the comic illustrating a man shooting paint. He says, “That scary me. Very bad. Evil. War. I live many years in the war. All killed. Everything is gone, all dead.”
I realised the black and while comic hadn’t been particularly successful at illustrating the concept of paintballing and it did look like a soldier in a helmet carrying a gun. A Congolese woman said, “You not seen war till you are coming to Congo, we have war.”
Before he could react, I said, “Great job, your English is already so good. What can we talk about now? Football. Who likes football?”
Several hands rose on my table and I show an unlikely interest in a sport I have hardly ever clocked. Cricket anyone? Still I am grateful to change the subject from war, because that is the one topic that we try to avoid here in the safe space that we seek to create for refugees so they can relax rather than rake over unpleasant memories.
Creatives Against Poverty collaborates with Streets Speak to train volunteers to support refugees with life skills and English conversation practice. We guide industry professionals, skill donors, experienced mentors and new volunteers on how to create a safe space where refugees can relax and express themselves, so that they can move towards finding solutions for the daily conundrums they face as they integrate into London. In our diary entries, which we use as training tools for new volunteers or refugee support officers, we change names where appropriate in the interests of protecting the identity of volunteers and beneficiaries.