This week is Refugee Week and to celebrate that we are profiling a few of the brilliant refugee charities we work closely with here at Little Village. Today, meet Elly, who runs Tooting charity CARAS.
Tell us about you and the work you do.
I’ve been the managing director at CARAS since December 2016. Before that, I was a project coordinator working on developing services for unaccompanied refugee and asylum seeking children. As an organisation, we care deeply about working with new members of our community, creating opportunities to learn, make friends, understand their new situation and access all the support available to them. We draw together a range of professional backgrounds to offer a holistic range of support- we have qualified teachers and a social worker on our team, as well as people with impressive histories in community development, gender rights, and campaigns on refugee rights. All of that is boosted and multiplied by our incredible volunteers who come from all walks of life and make everything we do possible. We also work in partnership with other organisations to maximise our impact- we get specialist immigration advice from Coram Children’s Legal Centre, and we link up with local groups like Transition Town Tooting and The Sound Lounge to work towards genuine integration.
Tell us about the people you support.
CARAS works with refugees and asylum seekers of all ages, working with them on all of the issues they face. Our biggest group is unaccompanied asylum seeking children- they are an incredibly resilient group, full of aspiration and hope, but also extremely vulnerable as children without family to look after them. We also work with extremely isolated groups- single adult men often have almost no connections, no opportunities and are desperate for a way to change that. Constant challenges for everyone we work with are: coping with grief and loss, facing an uncertain future, and coming to terms with making a life in an entirely new and unfamiliar place, and learning English to a high enough standard to be able to achieve their potential.
Tell us 3 things about being a refugee or asylum seeker in the UK today.
Asylum support is currently £36.95 per week, with no right to work. Despite an increasingly hostile environment, we are consistently told that welcome and tolerance of difference are markedly better here than other places people have experienced. Everyone we work with aspires to a future where they can work, be independent, and give something back- social worker, teacher, doctor and police officer come up time and again as professions people would like to have, always with the motivation of helping society.
Who or what inspires you?
Transition Town Tooting are amazing. We’ve been working together for a couple of years now and I am constantly amazed at what can happen when a group of people decide to get stuck in. Their positivity and creativity knows no bounds. We also love working with The Grange, Norfolk. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to escape the worries of claiming asylum, or trying to fit in London. Everything that happens there is based on people’s skills and enthusiasm, all working together to improve each other’s lives.
What can we do to tackle poverty?
Recognising that poverty isn’t a choice, but is part of systemic disadvantage means that change can happen. It can be overwhelming for individuals to think about, but if people all do what they can it will make a difference.
What should people watch/read/listen to if they want to find out more?
Read everything you can get your hands on! There’s no shortage of news stories out there on relevant forced migration issues. Sometimes though, it’s nice to lose yourself in a book. Favourites from the last couple of years are: A Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay (he’s also brilliant on twitter as an activist championing refugee rights); The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla; and anything that gives in depth coverage of what it’s like to live in a refugee camp (City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence), and anything that gives an understanding of oppression, persecution and the role of the west in that (I didn’t do it for you: how the world used and abused a small African nation by Michela Wrong is old but great; Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns is also well worth a read). For positivity, Twitter always gives me a glow – there are so many amazing stories being shared all the time- @aidenhatfield is pretty inspiring, @voicesthatshake share brilliant youth initiatives, @hilaryjennings is great at all things local, and @thebikeproject are going from strength to strength.
Thank you to Elly and team for all you do. We love your work <3
To find out more head over to www.caras.org.uk