Overcoming language and cultural barriers

β€œThe people are very nice. They are more like a family to us. When we cry, they cry with us. I got the chance to speak out about my situation, which helped my wellbeing.”

These words were spoken by a South African woman in her early 30s taking part in our Writing for Wellbeing programme at a Mears run accommodation. Feeling welcomed and included – is there any more encouraging endorsement?

Over the course of 10 weeks between January and March, we ran three lots of creative workshops including our pilot Drumming for Wellbeing programme in one Mears-run accommodation unit in Sheffield. We look forward to running more workshops with asylum seekers. They were not without their challenges, but overall the experience was life affirming.

From using shells to inspire personal stories of hope, through to responsive theme-based drumming circles and decorating boxes to symbolise treasure after storms, there were plenty of opportunities for participants to use their creativity to improve their wellbeing. At times it was difficult to convince people that having artistic skill was not the most important thing – but having a go and expressing themselves was the icing on the cake and frequently led to laughter and fun.
Tears were as much on tap as laughter. It all emerged from the security of knowing that they were in a safe, welcoming place where they could simply be, and no one would think any the less of them.

One highlight for me was a workshop where we created a group poem built from words and phrases that the participants had gathered from observations made when walking in the local area. Our participants that day were a Kurdish Sorani speaking woman (KS) and a South African woman (WF) who spoke Zulu and around four other languages. KS noted down her ideas in Kurdish Sorani and WF wrote down her ideas in several different languages based on which language connected most with the detail or idea she wanted to express. Back in the classroom, KS used Google Translate to translate her ideas into English. We then worked together to put the ideas into a cohesive poem. We wrote up the completed poem on two A3 magic whiteboards (with English on one sheet and a mixture of languages on the other sheet), and although it was time consuming, it was a very empowering experience where we felt that all the cultures and languages were being honoured.

We had a positive first experience delivering our wellbeing packages to asylum seekers. The chance to improve the wellbeing of newcomers to this country through supporting their creative expression was a unique experience. There was no them and us. We were united in the process of discovering our shared humanity with all its brokenness and hopefulness through being creative together.

by Katherine Blessan