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Friendship and laughter: Our week with young refugees at Trill Farm
31 August 2017
Two weeks ago, Elmbridge CAN’s co-chair, Vicki Felgate and English Language teacher, Kayte Cable, took 12 young refugees on a summer activity camp to Trill Farm in Devon. Here, Vicki shares some reflections from the week.
When Kayte and I first talked about the idea of a summer camp for young, unaccompanied refugees, we wanted to combat the isolation many of these kids experience during the long summer holidays; to help them make new friends, improve their English and, more than anything, have something to do.
Our week at Trill Farm turned out to be all of this and more.
During the week, some of the boys tell me how they came here and reminisce about what life was like before they were forced to flee. They tell me about their family and friends – many are now dead. One of them tells me he once wanted to give up and die.
To hear these stories from an adult would be harrowing. But these are just teenagers and some were as young as 14 when they left home.
It’s difficult not to be affected by this. But there’s something much more powerful that hits me as I get to know them: their strength and their resilience. That through everything – their loss, their fear, their horrific journeys to reach the UK and the long and agonising wait to find out if they’ll be allowed to stay – they’re still able to imagine a different future and to see the life they want (“a family”, “to work”, “to be happy”). And they're able to believe it’s possible.
There were so many different activities on offer – carpentry, pottery, cooking, farming, falconry, bee-keeping and even a class in making natural skin products – and we watched them not just participate, but throw themselves into everything with infectious enthusiasm.
We watched as each of them found the thing that they were good at and the thing that made them smile the most. “I am so happy,” said the youngest in the group, a quiet 15 year-old cricketer from Afghanistan, who had just discovered he loved carpentry and disappeared to the workshop at every given opportunity. Ruth, the tutor, told us afterwards that he has real talent.
We saw them make new friends. And the friendships they formed weren’t just with each other, but with the staff, workshop leaders and their families - all part of the incredible team of craftspeople Romy Fraser had pulled together.
“Some of the boys have… been in touch,” Eugene, a spirited South African percussionist and composer who led the music workshop, tells me after the trip. “They continue to say how wonderful it was to meet our family… Rebin is already arranging for us to meet him for a pizza feast.” It reminds us that interaction with regular people, who are not social workers, solicitors or Home Office representatives, but are friendly and open and accepting of them, is a rare thing for these young people.
We celebrated a birthday. Casan, a gentle Middle Eastern boy, turned 18. We made a banner, gave him gifts from the shop and sang to him. He looked genuinely amazed. Kayte tells me that when he first arrived, he didn’t smile for weeks. But on his birthday, he didn’t seem to stop.
We built a campfire and played African and Middle Eastern pop music. Turning 18 isn’t always something to celebrate – at 18 the Home Office can send you back. But for that one night, Casan didn’t think about it. Instead, he danced.
We saw them transformed. On day one, they were cautious and quiet. Makeen asked us what he was doing there and said he wanted to go home. Some disappeared to their rooms and just wanted to sleep. We soon discover this has become their habit during the summer holidays, because sleeping means they don't have time to think, and thinking, they tell us, is too painful. But by day three, everything changed… they stopped sleeping during the day, they were relaxed, smiling, confident and funny.
Makeen says on the way home “thank you very much for holiday”. I tell him we hope to do it again next year and he says, “I come, I come”. His is the biggest transformation.
But most of all we saw them realise the life that’s possible here - that there are people here who accept them, appreciate them and like them. And we saw everyone else realise just how much these young refugees have to offer, that we are lucky to have them.
“I really enjoyed being with the lads,” Richard, the Farm Manager, tells me as we leave. “It has been one of the best weeks of my life and I feel they have given me so much more than I was able to offer them.”
When it’s time to go, no one wants to leave. The feeling of warmth, kindness and friendship at Trill Farm is incredible… and I realise that this isn’t something that these boys are used to.
“I’m happy… because people here show they care,” says Akbar before we leave. “It helped me to find peace.”
With special thanks to Romy Fraser and everyone at Trill Farm for welcoming us, for part funding the trip and for making it such a special experience for the boys (and us). Thank you to Jeff & Anne McCormack, Catherine & Lucas, ACS Cobham International and everyone who donated to our crowd-fund appeal – without you this trip wouldn’t have happened.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
It doesn’t end here. We hope to do this again next year (if you’d like to donate, please contact us). We’re also thinking about other ways we can support these boys and others like them. Please follow us on Facebook or subscribe to e-news to be the first to hear about our plans.
Check out some photos from the week below.
Note: The names of the boys in this article have been changed to protect their identities.
Image: Kayte Cable / Elmbridge CAN
Images: Vicki Felgate & Kayte Cable