How RAPAR began: description of the first meeting
Description of the Broughton Library meeting of 29th October 2001 between RAPAR and young Afghani men living in the locality who were contacted through a combination of outreach from the Salford Refugee Health team and word of mouth.
Cath Maffia, the Salford Refugee Health Team Health Visitor, and Rhetta Moran, from the Revans Institute, make themselves known to the Broughton Library staff and go upstairs to the room that has been booked. The tables are pushed to the side to create a sort of circle with about 20 chairs. 5 Afghani men arrive, one of whom is highly bilingual.
We smile and greet. They have all already met Cath. Rhetta briefly goes through the background to being here:
…how Refugee and Asylum Seekers Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) came into being through people wanting to develop our abilities to be able to do action research with refugees and asylum seekers in the here and now…
…wanting to build on work that has been in development over 5 years with and within our Somali community in Manchester. About wanting to create evidence that demonstrates what is needed by our refugee and asylum seeking communities, and that goes about creating and collecting that evidence using an approach that, in itself, begins to help meet those needs. e.g. Breaking down the social isolation by meeting together and thereby bringing together the processes and the procedures so that we both act and learn at the same time through conscious and aware research...
…the decision to attempt to reach out to Afghani men in the locality and in the aftermath of September 11th...
…the pledges of financial support already given by Salford PCT through the community health development team, by Salford Mental Health Trust and by Salford CVS...
…the fact that we do not have any answers ... we have many questions...
…and our hope that this event would begin to break down the social isolation being experienced, and mark the beginning of collaborative working between this community and the shapers and deliverers of practical support services in health, social care and education.
Mai Dixon from the Red Cross arrives. She tells everyone present that, by the end of this week, the Red Cross will have wireless communication with Afghanistan. Once this is established they will be able to help to send messages between Afghanistan and UK. She explains that the Red Cross is officially allowed to be in Afghanistan – because there is a war happening.
Anne-Marie Fell from the Salford Catholic Diocese and Sadid Shapoor from Refugee Action arrive. Anne Marie explains that her work is very much involved with supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Sadid explains that since 11th September, Afghani people have not come together – today is the first time in Manchester.
We explore some of the potential and actual connections between their experiences and other refugee experiences. Our Somali colleagues and friends have long experience of being refugees and knowing what it is like to live inside of a civil war, and of the means and ways to communicate some of those issues to a wider audience and with help from friends who are not, themselves, living as refugees. Rhetta explains that some of them are coming and they are bringing food.
More Afghani men (about 7 men from another local household), Ameen Hadi, a community safety officer from the local authority, and a lone Afghani man who is already involved in a local football initiative come. The discussion continues in Afghani.
A little while later, Rhetta intervenes to say that those people present who are currently working within the system in the UK are here because we know that there are needs within the Afghani community and we want to find ways of making sure that their situation is understood and acted upon by people with responsibilities in the health and social and education sectors. Rhetta invites the group to consider whether there are any stories that they would like to tell about what they are experiencing, and if they want to write things down or want to talk. One man who has not spoken before says “we want to talk to each other, we can write things down at home alone.”
The men talk some more amongst themselves. An interpreter says that they have decided what the most important thing for them is. One man who has not spoken before describes how, every morning, they wake up early and listen for the sound of the footsteps of the postman…for a letter that says 'you must go here, now, or you cannot stay here any longer'…or for the sound of banging on the door and voices that say 'you must go'.
Sadid Sapoor from Refugee Action begins to explore, mostly in an Afghani language but intermittently in English, about the war, about what it means. The conversation gradually becomes more and more conducted in Afghani. Some time into the conversation, there is a brief period where the interpreters translate into English. There is a worry that if British ground troops go in and British people begin to be killed in Afghanistan, British people living around Afghans in Britain may react negatively towards them as individuals. There is a fear that is with them all the time about the people around them.
Ameen Hadi, the community safety officer from the Local Authority explains that his job is about trying to create security for everyone living in the area. The men here have as much right to security as everyone else. Irrespective of what anyone thinks about the rights or wrongs of the war that is going on, he has his responsibilities in his job and that is why he is here. As a part of his work, he runs an event every Friday 2-4pm at Broughton Recreation Centre, Camp Street: Fitness, Weights and Football. Everyone is welcome. It’s free.
After about 20 minutes the food arrives with Zeinab Mohamed our colleague and friend from the Somali community, companions from the Somali community and Hermione Lovel from the University of Manchester.
People break into smaller groups and eat together. After about 30 minutes, we come back together again in a big group. Hermione explains a little more about the Somali work that has gone on before and how important it is for the men to be able to set the priorities for themselves and with support from others. She also invites people to indicate whether they are interested in being sent tickets for a Basketball Event at the Arena in Manchester this weekend. Most of the men say that they are interested. Hermione also shows them the Afghani apple figure that she was given 25 years ago when she was in Afghanistan and explains how privileged she feels to be able to show them the apple today.
Rhetta asks the group to briefly share their thoughts on the best way to proceed. The following decisions are reached:
· The Afghani young men will have discussions amongst themselves and then get back in touch with the group to arrange to meet again soon to progress this work.
· Cath Maffia, the Health Visitor, will press on with organising a second meeting with another group of Afghani men in the Salford Precinct Area, and the Broughton Library group of men will come along and join in.
· Rhetta will write up a short description of today’s meeting and circulate it, along with the contact list that is being completed, to everyone who attended today.