West London Welcome clients have been directing, producing, and acting in community theatre workshops since the winter of 2018. In February this year, their work culminated in a play reflecting on refugee and migrant experiences of Britain. In this guest post, Chirin, a client and volunteer at West London Welcome and the play’s director and script writer, describes her experiences running her workshops at the centre and the power of storytelling through performance for refugee and migrant communities.
Over the past few months at West London Welcome, we have been holding theatre workshops. Through the power of participation, we as refugees and migrants – most of us women – have worked together to think about and perform our experiences in Britain. In these workshops, we have been exploring a few different things: cultural differences, the challenges of refugee integration, and considering how we can encourage more women to join our workshops.
Drama gives refugees a safe space to share stories and explore working through their trauma. It gives participants hope, and puts value back into their lives. We are able to strengthen our English and tell our stories creatively through acting.
In our workshops we have focused on the struggles of refugee women in British society and the culture shocks they experience when they arrive here. Together, after sharing our stories and talking about our ideas, we used our personal histories and our experiences moving here to the UK to develop a play around the life of a Syrian mother, Sarah – played by West London Welcome client Ehsan – who was resettled in the UK to build a better future for herself and her children. Along the way, we showed her many difficulties as she raised her family within the Western world. By working with the Scheherazade Initiatives on our performance, we made the play participatory, and the audience was able to give Sarah and the other actors their thoughts on things she might have been able to change or do differently as she settled into her new home.
As the script writer of the play, it brought back difficult memories for me: all the years of alienation I felt here when I arrived and the distance from my first home, Lebanon. Through this play, I wanted to show people the suffering of refugees – Syrian refugees in particular – but I also wanted to make it clear that refugees are very capable of strength and adapting to the changing world around us, which is what we do to survive.
As refugee women, we look around us in the UK for other strong women from many different walks of life to come together to support one another as we transition to our new lives here. These drama workshops have been a very important way for us to do that. Through theatre and dialogue, we have created opportunities for ourselves to raise awareness of our experiences and bring attention to the many challenges we face in this country.