At PICUM, we’re happy to facilitate bilateral exchanges between our members so they can learn from each other’s work to advance the rights of undocumented people locally. In this blog post, Michelle Ezeuko, youth rights trainer at children’s rights charity CORAM, tells us more about their experience in meeting Irish campaigners Young Paperless and Powerful.
As a youth rights trainer at CORAM, a UK charity working for vulnerable children, I wanted to meet young people from abroad, exchange training and campaigning skills, and learn about another immigration system other than the UK. What better place to learn than from our Irish neighbours, campaigners Young Paperless and Powerful (YPP)?
We were all excited to just be travelling together and one of the youth rights trainers even remarked that this was her first time on a plane in 12 years, since she came to the UK. It must have been obvious that we were not frequent travellers as we would keep gasping and pointing excitedly at the clouds and the sky from the plane windows. Because getting the visas was a lengthy and difficult process, I expected the travel experience to be similarly difficult and border enforcement frightening. But everything went smoothly – both departing from the UK and arriving in Dublin. It was such a relief.
What did we do?
Friday – we met at the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland with the staff and the YPP members. We played some name games together to get to know each other. The group naturally bonded and everything flowed seamlessly. We talked about our projects and ourselves then we took some group pictures and went out to dinner together, which ended in a massive photo-shoot beside the aesthetically pleasing décor of the restaurant (for everyone’s social media).
Saturday – My colleagues from CORAM and I ran a workshop for YPP which focused on public speaking skills and different learning styles. We combined this with bits of the training that we deliver to social workers: specifically, we did a status-matching exercise with the aim of giving YPP an understanding of the UK immigration system and how we navigate it.
At the end of our workshop everyone gave a presentation of their choice. My favourite was Gaurav’s which focused on how to make a film (he is an aspiring film maker). For the rest of the day we went on a countryside tour, we saw the Wicklow Mountains and the Glendalough lakes. This was one of my highlights of the exchange: having the chance to be outside and witness so much natural beauty was extremely refreshing and connecting for all of us.
Sunday – On this day, YPP delivered a workshop which focused on planning and implementing a campaign and using multimedia assets, specifically films. We watched their campaign films which left us all in tears: it was a very bonding moment as we all embraced to console each other. After a heartfelt and tearful goodbye, we left YPP and went to a café where PICUM’s staff interviewed some of us on what we want policy makers to know. I was interviewed with Lizzie and Ijeoma from the Cross Cultural Learner Centre and Sumayyah from YPP. More YPP members joined us at the café afterwards and we all had a final meal together before heading to the airport to return to England.
This exchange was a beautiful, bonding, educational and inspirational time for us all, on several levels. To start with, we got to know each other better as youth rights trainers and we bridged gaps as long-standing members of the group got to meet new youth rights trainers.
Even more so, however, we got to establish relations across networks and across borders with all the YPP members we met. We got an understanding of an immigration system other than our own and of how others navigate that system, which was extremely inspiring for us. One youth rights trainer, Abdullah, felt so motivated after the exchange that he decided to invest in his college studies, which he realised was an opportunity that many YPP members did not have.
Gaurav from YPP shared with us a film he shot, which featured other YPP members doing poetry or acting. I found it so inspiring to see how YPP people not only campaign together but also spend time together to produce art. This has inspired me to start a “creatives network” so we can all share and support each other’s creative works and endeavours. Some youth rights trainers here in the UK write poetry, do photography and are singers but we had never really explored or supported each other in these creative endeavours.
Using your pain to create something beautiful is the ultimate part of the journey to freedom and I think it’s important for us to support each other not only in campaigning but in other more social and creative ways as well. We are more than our status: we are film-makers, writers, singers, and poets; we are humans, and we should all support each other through these identities too. The creatives network will enable us to keep in touch and support each other after this exchange.