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Meet and Greet: Helping Asylum-Seeking Children Heal through Art

As part of our longstanding commitment to helping refugee and asylum-seeking communities here in the UK, we work in partnership with a range of NGOs offering critical support services. In this blog, art therapist Elizabeth talks about her crucial work for our partner The Children’s Society.

Asylum-seeking children paint, play and get creative at weekly meet and greet sessions

My name is Elizabeth and my professional background is in Art Therapy. I started working for The Children’s Society (one of Islamic Relief UK’s partners) four years ago when I relocated to Birmingham.

My role as a therapist is to run a weekly Meet and Greet Session for newly arrived asylum-seeking families. I also assist with the overall running of the group, which includes managing a fantastic team of volunteers who we could not do without!

Here in Birmingham, our group provides a warm welcoming space where parents and children can play and explore, whilst families can also connect with relevant services for support. Despite the fact that language can often be a barrier, the power of art transcends this, and we have had some really creative and engaging sessions with both the parents and children.

During the sessions, we provide a hot meal that is both vegan and allergen free to ensure that everyone can eat together. We also always hand out donations at the end of the session to help as much as possible. These range from anything from fresh fruit to toiletries. Just a couple of weeks ago, we made homemade playdoh and handed it out with shape cutters that had been donated. We never know what donations we are going to receive and people continue to amaze me with their generosity!

Sights, stories, and smells: Sharing through play and art 

Art sessions provide a healthy medium to socialise, share experiences and enjoy being children 

At the session we provide an under fives’s play corner, craft activities and games from around the world, such as Hopscotch, Daruma and Frog friendship. We always acknowledge religious and cultural festivals and events and have recently added a sensory and messy play corner that has been received with great enthusiasm!

In our sessions, we have focussed upon the theme of seasons and both children and adults have enjoyed exploring the textures and smells of natural materials. We also encourage parents and children to share their stories and cultures. In one session, using ingredients supplied by Bread2Share, parents and children immersed themselves in bread making, sharing stories and memories of food from home. This was particularly moving.

The Meet and Greet session can be very busy, and you never know who will be attending from one week to the next. This is one of the aspects that I love about this session, meeting people from such diverse backgrounds and working together to provide a fun and nurturing space.

As part of the therapy sessions, children explore textures and smells using fully natural materials and also share their own memories and stories of back home

Campaigning for change: Welcoming asylum-seekers

As well as running the art sessions, part of my role is also about linking up with the local community groups to raise awareness of the issues that asylum-seekers face.

I deliver workshops in local primary schools and during one particular visit, I found that the children were really keen to help our group. They did a fantastic job of collecting bags full of toiletries and cuddly bears for our session. It was really heart-warming to see these school children using their initiative to help others!

We always welcome feedback about our services and are keen that our visitors help to shape the group. A lovely example was when a young girl who had been attending the session for a couple of weeks brought with her a list of activity ideas that she wanted to share with us. She said that she wanted to give back to the session and had great fun assisting our volunteers with the craft activities. Seeing such positive outcomes is what I love about my work – it really is rewarding and shows just how much we need to support refugee and asylum-seeking families and children. Happy Refugee Week! 

Find out more about our work with refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK here.

Islamic Relief UK also delivers art therapy workshops in Lebanon to vulnerable children who have fled conflict in Syria. In early 2019, we took the Birmingham-based street artist Mohammed Aerosol Ali to visit the project to see their work. Based on this trip, he produced a beautiful mural on the external walls of the Greenwich mosque. Find out more here.

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