Weather the storm
Micro Rainbow International recently established a pilot peer support program for LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers in the United Kingdom called Weather the Storm. This pilot was received with early enthusiasm and it soon became clear that we were addressing one of the LGBTI refugee community’s biggest needs.
There is no shortage of obstacles facing a refugee after they are granted asylum in the UK.
We have come to understand that transitioning into a different society as a new refugee is one of the most difficult and challenging times a person can experience. In fact, many found the grueling asylum process less taxing than the strife they endured after they attained refugee status.
The main reason for this struggle is that many of the services available to asylum seekers vanish when they become refugees. This loss of support results in many feeling abandoned by the support that had been available throughout the difficult process of seeking asylum.
A belief held by many asylum seekers is that once refugee status is granted life will run smoothly.
On the contrary, winning refugee status brings a complex set of problems: opening a bank account, getting a night number, finding a decent job, securing affordable housing, while coping with the memories of the traumatic events that led them to claim asylum in the first place. Also, around the time that an asylum seeker becomes a refugee is when the reality settles in that they have left everything and everybody they ever knew behind.
With these practical challenges compounded by unresolved emotional trauma we find LGBTI refugees repeating cycles of poverty, experiencing multiple levels of discrimination, and struggling against formidable social isolation.
After a two month pilot phase we have witnessed real breakthroughs with Weather the Storm. One woman said in her first meeting that she felt the asylum process was not worth enduring because in the end she’d lost her dignity and felt ‘broken by the system.’ She’d lost confidence in her abilities which only worsened her self-esteem.
After accessing mentoring and life-coaching services through MRI, and experiencing true peer support with Weather the Storm, she felt for the first time that her asylum struggle was worth it. Participating in the group activities allowed her to reflect on her hard work, break through the stifling isolation, and rebuild her confidence. She was beginning to feel like the powerful, strong woman that she feared she’d left behind in her home country.
We count stories like this as huge milestones for individual participants and for the group itself.
Through MRI’s partnership with The Bike Project our members can access second-hand bicycles along with lessons on basic maintenance. One member told us that just by having a bicycle available gives him not only the freedom to appreciate and explore London but also the peace of mind that comes with having affordable transportation he can use to expand his job search.
Weather the Storm’s outreach also extends to visits with vulnerable community members at their homes. We encourage people to come to our weekly drop-in but for those who don’t yet feel ready we offer one-to-one support until they feel comfortable enough to the join the group.
Recently, we helped one member access support services to which she is entitled. Like many refugees she wasn’t aware that a few support services remain available. As a result she was able to secure temporary housing with her local authority.
The group’s greatest strength is the strong sense of cooperation and encouragement that comes from sharing stories with others. We are breaking through social isolation with the power of connection and improving the quality of life for LGBTI refugees living in the UK.
Weather the Storm is an open and liberating space where hugs and laughter are as plentiful as the cups of tea and biscuits. Our facilitator is poet, educator, and LGBTI human rights advocate, PJ Samuels.
Mind & Body
MRI strives to build community by engaging participants in activities aimed at relieving distress and increasing physical and emotional wellness.
Part of our strategy is our work with local artists and performers. Through artistic expression and movement participants have the opportunity to begin creating a brighter energy out of memories of trauma and hardship.
After the huge turnout for the workshop with director Ian Rickson at the Young Vic Theatre and seeing how empowered and invigorated our participants were we knew this direction of our work would continue. We look forward to sharing our work with you in the future!
Work with choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir focused on body, movement, and dancing to the different music we love. Fearghus leads creative games, fun movement exercises, and the best part? No dance experience is required! “Let’s Dance” workshops are great stress relievers!
We spent an evening at the theatre and enjoyed an adaption of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Many participants identified with, and felt empathy for, the main character. They said his experiences resembled the kind of endlessly confusing bureaucracy they experienced going through the asylum process.
Later that week we celebrated Nelson Mandela Weekend at the Southbank Centre with music, dance, film, and panel discussions.
With more than 30 participants our choir grows stronger with each rehearsal and public performance. Our performance at the Southbank Centre for Refugee Week was well received and we have been asked to perform at other social and community settings! Our thanks to Choirmaster Lea Cornthwaite for creating such a welcoming and fun atmosphere!
Coming Up: Workshops on benefits advice, building self-esteem, and free legal information on the Home Office’s new guidelines on British citizenship.
Let’s see what else we can achieve!
A heartfelt thank you to our participants and everyone who facilitates our groups! Together we have created a safe, compassionate, and healing environment.
To participate or if you would like to facilitate a workshop please contact Coordinator Jill Power