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Empowering young refugees take charge of their lives

In our homes we work hard to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to integrate into the community they are now part of. This can involve enrolling them in language lessons or taking them on tours of their local areas so they can try out customs and experience the culture.

However, as part of our social pedagogic approach, we also like to create opportunities where young people are the experts. It must be scary to arrive in a new country where you know nobody and cannot speak the language, and it can be a disempowering experience for the young people. We recognise that the young refugees in our homes can teach us so much and help us think about where we can improve our practice, so we support them to be in charge.

For one particular group of young girls from Eritrea, we ran a weekly film night alternating between films in English and films in their native language. One of these films had no English subtitles and so the girls sat in hysterics, laughing at the jokes, whilst the young people from the UK and staff were left bemused. For once everything had been turned on its head – they were the ones that understood everything and we were the ones needing things to be explained to us.

This theme continued on another trip out. A local football team had decided they wanted to support our work so they donated £160 so we could take the girls out for a meal. We took the girls along with other residents and staff to an Eritrean restaurant. On the bus journey everyone sat on the top deck and the girls were really excited to see all the famous landmarks of London, which another young person highlighted as their tour guide for the evening.

Then, the dynamic completely changed the moment the group entered the restaurant: everyone from the UK was in a new environment, whilst the girls from Eritrea felt completely at home. They guided the group through the menu and showed them the traditional way to eat the meal. At the end they insisted that everyone should take part in a coffee ceremony. For other diners the restaurant staff would normally perform the ceremony that includes roasting and grinding coffee beans at your table, but the girls wanted to lead and took over.

One of the girls who had been withdrawn since arriving in the UK suddenly opened up. For the first time she felt in her element and free.

It may seem like a small thing, but giving control back to these girls made them realise that they could contribute something to their new country and the people around them. They felt like they could settle in and have happy lives in the UK after the difficulties they had faced to get here.

Together, we can continue to provide opportunities for these young people to develop and grow in their new homes. Support St Christopher’s today to make a real difference to the unaccompanied refugees we work with.