HOMES FROM HOMES – REFUGEE WEEK 2020

Thank you so much to The Little Literary Society for inviting me to speak a little bit about my new book ‘The Perfect Shelter.’

The Perfect Shelter’ is a picture book very close to my heart.  It was born out of an extremely challenging time for me and my family. I find writing hugely cathartic and essentially, it’s a story about seeking emotional shelter when the world feels full of worry and stress.
 
Since this post falls in Refugee Week, I started to wonder what other kinds of ‘emotional shelter’ people seek during hard times. Of course, I am not alone in finding comfort in reading and writing and the wonderful world of stories. I have a very lovely writerly friend who volonteers for Refugee Support Devon (http://refugeesupportdevon.org.uk/) , Emma Draper. I began talking to Emma about how her Book Group supports people in her community and she kindly agree to share her thoughts and experiences:


Emma Draper: Emma worked as a secondary school English teacher for ten years. It was her students who inspired her to start writing YA novels about the anxieties that come hand in hand with growing up. When she’s not writing, Emma runs a book club for refugees who are learning English.

Can you tell us a little bit about RSD?

RSD (Refugee Support Devon) is a charity that supports refugees and asylum seekers to settle safely and comfortably into their new lives. The charity provides lots of different services, including assistance with everyday tasks (like booking appointments, job applications and finding housing); immigration advice; a women’s network; a community allotment; help with English language proficiency, and much more!

Can you explain a little more about the book group and your role?

We started the Book Club to help refugees who want to improve their English in an informal social setting. The group meets weekly at St Sidwell’s Community Centre in Exeter, but since lockdown, we meet over Zoom for a conversation class. We talk about lots of stuff, like people who are important to us, how we’re doing, ideas, favourite food, hobbies, books – everything. I have a background as an English teacher, so sometimes we talk about boring things like prepositions, too.

My role is to fundraise for materials, choose the books, and plan and deliver the lessons.

I also want to mention how lucky we are to have Arabic speaking volunteers from Exeter University. Some of the refugees are beginners to English, so the student volunteers have been incredibly helpful with the finer points of translation. My miming skills are limited and I only speak two words of Arabic (‘shukran’ is ‘thanks’ and ‘tamam’ is ‘okay’)!

How do you think a love of books can help in times of difficulty?

If you love books, you will always find a place to escape when times are tough – stories are great at taking your mind off things and transporting you to different worlds.

It’s inspiring to see characters overcome difficulty, too. Seeing their success can give you courage and comfort.

I could go on and on about this, but I’ll just say one more thing: A love of books can bring people together, as with the Book Club. Just being with other people helps carry me through hard times.  

One of the members of Emma’s Book Club kindly agreed to say a little bit ‘The Perfect Shelter.’ Thank you for your lovely words, Dania.

“I really like the story. It suits the refugee situation. Making a good shelter sometimes is really hard, especially if you live in a refugee camp because there can be all sorts of weather. Making a shelter is really important and hard, but when we have support, that makes everything better.” – Dania, Syrian refugee

Emma spoke about ‘The Perfect Shelter’ at one of her recent sessions, prompting a discussion about the different places we find ‘emotional shelter.’

“A best friend is the person to talk to because you can share everything and they will help you.” 

When you travel abroad and go somewhere special to you, it gives you shelter.” – Aeaz

A best friend.” – AlAbbas

AlAbbas also said: “You can change your mind. Just think it and you feel positive.” 

I work in my allotment if I’m worried and I feel happy.” – Mohamad

When I’m angry I go out to ride my bike. There’s a river. I like to go to the beach, too.” – Alan

Thank you so much to all the Book Group members for sharing your thoughts on how and when and where you find support. A big ‘thank you’ to Emma, too, for being so generous with her time. The RSD sounds like a wonderful network of support. The world is certainly challenging at times, especially at the moment it would seem. Thank goodness for the all the people, places and things that bring us ‘shelter’ and hope.

You can read a lovely review of The Perfect Shelter on The Little Literacy Society’s Instagram page here.

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