July 2016 – June 2017

As a result of the generous grant of £5,383 received as match funding for our work from the Allan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust, the Baobab Centre has been able to run regular Music Workshops, Maths, English and Literacy classes (group and individual) and Philosophy workshops throughout the year.

Background: The Challenges of the External Context

The external political environment was extremely challenging for our young people this year.  Hostile debate in the media regarding the issue of asylum heightened and anti-immigration rhetoric and increases in hate crimes in the capital all combined to leave our young people increasingly anxious about xenophobic attacks and their future lives in the UK.  In addition, continued cuts to statutory services presented a real challenge throughout the year.  In light of these challenges, the Baobab Centre was an important safe space for the young people; a place where they felt welcomed, shown respect and acknowledged for who they are, and in which they have been able to explore their sense of belonging, their connections with the wider world and to meet others who have experiences of violence, loss, separation and change similar to their own and with whom they can connect.

Music and Philosophy Workshops

Our fortnightly music workshop and our philosophy groups are two ‘therapeutic’ activities that are especially valued by the young people. The teachers create a therapeutic environment in which the young people can think and play in a context where everyone’s ideas and thoughts are accepted and taken seriously.

In music, it has been a huge pleasure to watch young people transform between arriving and leaving the sessions. Those who arrive depressed, tense and anxious, visibly benefit from the atmosphere of involvement and creativity that the two facilitators develop in the sessions. On average a group of about eight young people attended each session. Those who attend regularly are from Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Uganda and Angola.  All have experienced violence to themselves and all suffer from PTSD.  Our music workshop activities over the year have included guitar, keyboard, piano and singing lessons as well as group song-writing. Usually the group splits into smaller groups of 4 or 5 during a session to work with one of the tutors, and at the end everyone comes together to share what was learned or created. Our evaluations show that the sessions have had a profound positive effect on all involved. As well as developing concentration and learning skills, the sessions proved to have a positive effect on the young people’s mood and emotional wellbeing.  In addition, several participants’ confidence has developed considerably: extremely shy and introverted young people have turned into outgoing, communicative and confident performers. The young people truly enjoy communicating and working together, and support each other with positive feedback and encouragement.  Members of the group sang at Baobab’s Christmas party in front of 70 people and the group is now working towards producing a CD of the young people’s own songs in 2017-18.

Our philosophy group allows the young people who have been forcibly expelled from their communities to explore ideas, develop and articulate their thoughts and to learn to deal with widely divergent opinions, learning to listen to and be listened to with respect.  Many of the discussions have been passionate and moving, looking at a wide range of topics from ‘What it means to be me’ to ‘what would be an imaginative response to ISIS?’ Many of the young people are keen to regard this group as an educational experience. They want to learn about philosophy, what philosophers/intellectuals have thought and written, and they want to think better, more lucidly, more effectively. Learning is an emotional and empowering experience, inseparable from feelings like confidence and pride. It is bound up with finding one’s way in the world. The teacher has responded to this not only by endorsing their thoughts and ideas (we generally work with a model whereby no one’s ideas are wrong, though different ideas may arouse strong disagreement), but also by referring from time to time to philosophers and the history of philosophy.

English and Maths Classes

Over the course of the year our ESOL, Literacy and Maths Teachers have worked with 12 young people, ranging from those who have a very basic level of English and Maths to those doing GSCE (and in the case of Maths one who is doing A level).  While basic level classes have focused on reading and writing, the literacy classes for GSCE English have been focused on poems from different cultures section of the GSCE literature syllabus, including poems by Grace Nichols, Langston Hughes as well as classics like, ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ by William Wordworth, in classes there has been much discussion on rhythm, rhyme, metaphor, similes and personification and the different approaches to these within different cultures.  Inspired by this one young person who comes from a tradition where poetry normally rhymes wrote a performance poem of his own comparing his life in Algeria and in England (attached see following page) which he performed to gain entry onto a drama course at the National Youth Theatre.

Quotes from participants from evaluation of the Music Group:

‘Music group makes me excited and happy.  It keeps me relaxed.’ S

‘Music group makes me feel great. That’s why I come every Saturday because I have sleep problems that’s why I come in to music group so it calms me down.’ C

I am coming to music sessions because I like to sing and I am happy to meet other persons.’ E

‘I love to come to music at Baobab because I think what is inside us is beauty to behold and it’s awesome to deliver peace and unity and to prove who we are on this earth.’ B

‘I feel like the music group is an inspiring place where talent is being discovered.’ P

Contributions from the Literacy Class

Author: H

I come from hot blood
I ended up in a different land
Cold conversations make me nervous
At home you can have a proper argument
And you forget about it the next moment
With a cup of coffee together
Back home we eat from the same plate
Like a family
Here everyone has his own plate
Like enemies
I learnt the word ‘Freedom’ here?
But it’s different in the United Kingdom
Back home we take freedom by force
Here you have to be patient, of course.