For the past two decades, the annual Refugee Week, taking place this week until Sunday has marked the contribution of refugees to British society and helped to strengthen bonds between different communities.
The Lewisham-based Afghanistan and Central Asian Association which was recently given the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, helps refugees from the EastLondonLines areas and across London.
The charity works to support Afghan and other refugees to help them integrate into British society and improve their lives. ACAA provides a number of services, including language classes, cultural events, mentoring schemes, and family and employment workshops.
Here are individual stories of just three of the many people they have helped since its inception in 2001.
Aisha, 40, who now lives in Hounslow, fled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2007. She wanted to join her husband who had found work, in retail, in Britain.
Ten years later, when her three-month-old son was hospitalised after an asthma attack, Aisha realised the consequences of not being able to speak English. She could not understand what was happening to her child, or what the doctors wanted from her.
She said: “I very badly needed my husband to translate, but he was working during the day, and so communication between me and the hospital staff was very limited.”
After attending ACAA’s Women’s Tea Corner and English language classes, which are held at the Lampton School in Hounslow, Aisha has seen significant improvements in her speaking and writing skills. This has allowed her more independence and confidence to join local community events.
“Speaking with my teachers makes me want to improve my English even more, so that I can have more conversations with them! I am more than happy to attend the classes for as long as the ACAA runs them,” Aisha said.
Farzana, 35, who now lives in Lewisham, came to the UK a few years ago after she fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. She felt unsafe and had no access to education and employment in her home country.
Shortly after she arrived in south London, her husband abandoned her. She turned to the ACAA to gave her support and hope.
She now attends ACAA’s women’s project and English language classes in Lewisham. She also participates in women’s sports classes, such as yoga, which take place in Deptford.
Farzana describes the ACAA as family and a place which gave her a voice and sense of identity: “A life without friends and family can be a lonely and a depressing place. ACAA made me feel human again.”
In the future, Farzana hopes to support other women to realise their potential, in the same way that ACAA has supported her.
Currently, she is volunteering locally, attends college and aims to pass her driving test. Farzana hopes to be a beautician in the future.
At 14 years-old, Fatima had an arranged marriage to a 22-year-old in Pakistan. At 16 years old, she gave birth to her first child.
In 2002, her husband left alone and four years later, Fatima, now 32, came to the UK with the help of her husband. She found herself alone in the UK, as she was not able to connect with other people because of her lacking English language skills. Fatima had to look after her seven children, aged between two and 16.
Fatima joined the ACAA’s women’s group in Hounslow to learn English and be able to integrate with the wider community more easily.
She does not have a job yet, however, she is improving her English at the moment and receives employability support. In the future, she aims to volunteer as a teaching assistant.
All of her children also attend the ACAA’s supplementary school at the Lampton school in Hounslow, studying English, Maths and Science.
They are really enthusiastic when talking about their experience at the charity. They now have a positive approach to their schoolwork and are determined to “never give up” when trying to achieve their goals.
Fatima feels that the ACAA has given her a sense of home: “I’m very happy in this country. I feel safe.”