Cardiff, a Place for Peace

By Belén Diez

As a volunteer working on the Wales for Peace Project, my main goal is to convey to readers the personal story of on the women refugees living in Cardiff. For the past few days I have spent a great amount of time with women from a wide range of nationalities (Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe…), all of whom have something in common: they ran away from violence in their native countries and they all have found in Cardiff a place where the have built their homes in peace.

As a personal choice I decided to tell the story of a Syrian woman. In contrast to all the stories about fear, pain and sadness that we hear in the media everyday, I want to convey a story of hope, respect and understanding.

Interviewing the protagonist of my story has not been easy at all, I still wonder why she feels shame because what has happened is not her fault but, in any case, I can understand that her story is not easy to tell. Finally, she agreed to tell her story through one of her friends that I had the chance to meet in the non profitable organization Woman Connect First.

Lets call her Irene because Irene, in its original Greek language, means peace and peace is what this story is about.

Aged 32, Irene came to the United Kingdom three years ago running away from the horror and panic of the Syrian Civil War. Its more than 2,370 miles of fear, fear for what you have left behind but also fear about what awaits for you in your new destination but also of expectation and hope: nothing can be worse that facing the war every day.

Her first residence was in London, but she couldn’t find a home there. Some episodes of racism and the high cost of living made London a hostile place for her, so she decided to move to Wales. In Cardiff Irene has found a place where she can live in peace. Indeed, most refugees I met highlight that Cardiff citizens have a high sense of tolerance.

Just a few months after moving to Cardiff, Irene was hired as a teacher in an Arabic school as well as a babysitter. With her work she can afford the cost of the rent of her apartment and support her family. However, what she most likes in Cardiff is its open-minded people, always willing to integrate, regardless of nationality, language, religion or skin colour. Here kindness is the only response to diversity.

“Do you think that the local Government is working hard in improving and promoting the integration of refugees?” her answer is absolutely positive, pointing out that legislation on rights and the creation of a budget for rental assistance are the main paths used in order to support real integration.

The last question of the interview is whether she prefers to live in Cardiff or in Syria and the answer comes out from her mouth clearly and unhesitatingly: Syria is my home, it is where I grew up and is where my family and my memories remain, “Coming back to Syria would be a miracle.” Meanwhile, Cardiff gives her a place to live in peace, to enjoy the feeling of being part of a community. In her own words: “here, I have rights”.

From my personal view, the greatest achievement is that local citizens feel proud to live in an environment of diversity and multiculturalism; this ensures respect, understanding and peace.

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

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Volunteering helps Shoruk find peace

By Catherine Bony

On Wednesday evenings Shoruk can be found patrolling the streets of Riverside neighbourhood, clad in a tailor-made police uniform. If you take a closer look at her, you will see that a scarf frames her seventeen year old smiling face under the regular police helmet. If needed she can undertake first aid, or in any case, assist her senior colleagues.

She has been volunteering for a year in the police force and for a few years in other organisations. She loves it. “I feel peaceful when I do volunteering work”, she explains to the group of international volunteers who are listening to her testimony. She is not only committed to ensure that people’s safety and peace is maintained but she is also involved in raising money for the charity ‘Human Appeal’, which is a girls orphanage in Palestine. She has pledged to gather at least £10,000 for the charity.

The striking element of Shoruk’s story is the contrast between her engagement to promote peace and welfare to the Welsh people whilst a war is currently raging in her home country, Libya. She had left her home country seven years ago with her large family. They stayed in several different places: Czech Republic, Tunisia and America before eventually ending up in England. It was here that her brilliant father could pursue his PHD studies in electrical engineering.

So far, they have been denied the asylum that they have applied for, however, there is no doubt that they fully deserve recognition and will obtain it. Meanwhile, Shoruk remains as committed as ever but admits that she has not settled down entirely, for her heart still beats fast for her homeland!

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

This is a story – A different story. This is Alice’s story.

By Linda Blankenburg

When Alice* was 29 years old she made a decision that was going to change her life. She decided to abandon her loved, always sunny home country Zimbabwe for cold, cloudy Cardiff, UK.

What does a woman from southern Africa want in the busy city of Cardiff? Alice left Zimbabwe because of religious and political persecution caused by President Robert Mugabe and his party the ZANU-PF. Mugabe has been ruling the country dictatorially leading it to an economic crisis.

But Alice didn’t only leave her country; she left her family, her friends and her dream job. Following two of her older brothers who were already living in Cardiff, she took the plane to the capital of Wales in order to start a new life. While reading this we have to keep in mind that the life we have here is completely different from life in other countries. Going out for a drink, walking alone on the streets at night – this is a luxury we might not appreciate enough. Nor do we value ever-present rights such as the freedom of religion or the right to vote.

14 years have passed since then and many things have changed. Not only did Alice get used to the (in her opinion) cold weather, but she also started appreciating life itself. Still, there are many difficulties to overcome: As for all asylum seekers, Alice had to apply for asylum in the UK. Though she was persecuted and leaving her country was the right decision, her asylum application has been rejected three times. At the moment she is waiting for a positive response from the responsible immigration authority.

Sometimes Alice is sad. She is sad because she misses her family and friends who are still in Zimbabwe. But she is also sad because she is not allowed to work or study here. In Zimbabwe she was working as an IT System Administrator – a job that suited her perfectly.

As she can’t work and therefore has a lot of free time, she started volunteering. Four days a week she helps in organizations such as Women Connect First in the heart of Cardiff. There she met many women who have been in similar life situations. Volunteering also helped her gain more confidence, and experience a loving and caring community. Although she hasn’t been to Zimbabwe since she came here, Zimbabwe will always remain her favourite country.

She would love to go back when the situation is better but right now it is still too dangerous. This is not the life she imagined and this is not the life she was dreaming of when she was a little child, nevertheless one can see that she is happy here. This is mainly due to the fact that she found peace here. She felt the peace she had been waiting for so long, the first moment she arrived at the airport.

Defining peace is a difficult question. Someone might find peace while doing yoga or just taking a bath and relaxing. But is this really the same peace other people feel? Alice’s definition of peace is being happy and content with what you have. For her peace is also connected to love and care. Alice definitely changed my perception of peace because I wasn’t aware of how lucky we are here. What is your definition of peace? Did this story change it?

*Name changed in order to keep privacy

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

Dreams, food, peace

By Alejandro de Miguel

Is it possible for the woman I met to follow her dreams? This question rumbled in my head while we were eating Farial’s feta pizza, an Italian-Middle East recipe, in a break of an activity in Woman Connect First as a part of the UNA exchange work camp 2016. Before eating I sneaked into the kitchen following a charming smell as mice followed the pied-piper and I saw her focused on her task putting a lot of effort into her cooking. After we all cleaned our plates she seemed really fulfilled, with satisfaction in her face, but I thought: Was it her life dream?

Farial grew up in Jordan, a small country in the Middle East. It is considered one of the safest places in the area and it is also famous because is really advanced in comparison to other countries nearby. However, she was brought up in a strict Muslim society and her life was decided from the very beginning. According to her: “there is no respect for woman in my country”. When she was young she aimed to be a journalist with a wish in her mind: ‘to give voice to women’s demands’. But, as a member of a sexist culture she was supposed to be married and so she did.
She started a new life with his husband and they had 4 sons.

Life brought them to Italy where they spent sixteen years. Europe was a radical change for her: ‘when I arrived to Europe I felt different, free’. Farial claimed that she was alone in a foreign country and she felt insecure but nonetheless she had to cook for all her family and be creative and diverse. Farial took advantage of her background in Jordan and her national cuisine and included some inspiration from Italian food. Even though she had never had cooking lessons she learned from the experience. Finally she found a new goal to fight for: her family.

After their Italian adventure, Farial’s family moved to Wales. She started to work as a chef in a restaurant. She cooked Middle East food such as falafel, hummus, cucumber-mint yogurt salad, etc. This period of her life was quite stressful because there were only two employees and a plenty of work regardless the fact that she had to take care of her children. At some point she decided to quit and do something different with her cooking skills.

Farial started to volunteer in a nursing home in Cardiff. She cooks Italian recipes for them and everyday she feels satisfied. She said ‘It’s not just about food, it’s about making people happy’. Farial found in cooking a way to make a difference.

Journalism and cooking are things apparently different, but in the way that Farial spoke about them, they are not so dissimilar. Both can be used to do something for others, so, in some ways, she did follow her dream, despite all the challenges she faced. Live is tough but Farial shows everyday that things can change when you put your heart into it.

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

Day 5 through the Eyes of a Volunteer

Love Syria child heart

Today is my last day volunteering at the WCIA. Yesterday I helped with the Syria: An Internal and International Catastrophe event, this was one of my favourite parts of the week.  I thought that all three speakers were really inspiring. It is easy to forget what is happening in Syria when the news is focussed on other stories.  Syria is not always the main headline in the news but I think it should be.  If it were the main headline then this could create a sense urgency amongst people and raise awareness, this could then help to put an end to the conflict sooner.   At the event we viewed some videos on the conflict in Syria, some of the situations in Syria were appalling, I feel that governments around the world should do more to help end the war, putting politics aside and working for the aim of peace.

At the event I fundraised, everybody was really generous and it is good to know that the money will be going to Oxfam and the Welsh Solidarity for Syria (WSS) who both do crucial work in Syria and the surrounding countries, helping the refugees.   I think that donating art supplies to refugees is a great idea, it helps them to express their feeling about the war and other difficulties, in a way that words can’t.  One of the speakers Louise mentioned the mantra they said while at the refugee camp, “If you have hope, you can cope” these words are incredibly true, the refugees are living in poor conditions, yet they believe that the war will end and they will be able to return to their homes.  Perhaps, if the western media was more positive and showed us that this conflict could be stopped then people would take action and try to help to end the conflict.

I am really impressed by the work that the charities are doing.  These organisations are so important for Syrians.  For example WWS took thirteen ambulances to Syria, giving aid to Syrians and Oxfam have managed to convince the UK government to not give arms to the rebel forces, this would only cause more deaths and could lead to the danger of an arms race.

Today I made a Prezzi (that I found to be quite addictive) on the event, it should be uploaded to the website soon, so if you missed the event you can explore all the main points on the WCIA’s website!

Finally, I would like to say thank you to everybody at the WCIA for having me for the week, I have really enjoyed my time here, thank you!

 

Carys Morgan

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/find-an-action/syria-petition

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/find-an-action/syria-global-petition-to-obama-and-putin

https://www.facebook.com/WelshSolidarityforSyria

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/emergency-response/syria-crisis