The theme for Refugee Week this year is healing. Refugee Week 2022 will be a celebration of community, mutual care and the human ability to start again despite the pain and trauma of the present or the past. In the UK, Refugee Week this year will take place from the 20 to the 26 of June. During the Refugee week, we are called to celebrate the resilience, and creativity of refugees and those forcibly displaced.
Individuals will experience trauma at some point in their lifetime. Trauma impacts not just the mind but also our bodies, sometimes we forget that “the body keeps the score”. Trauma can be individual, community-based or both. Covid 19 is a recent example of both individual and community-based trauma. Our world may appear broken but in the midst of this, we can embark on a healing journey. We can also heal individually or as a community.
Healing is also a process of restoration to wellness. That wellness could be of the body, mind or soul. Healing can be from different things such as painful and traumatic experiences like forced migration, war, bereavement, divorce, accidents and poverty.
For many refugees, this could be healing from the trauma of their pre-migratory, migratory and resettlement experiences. Healing is not about burying our pain, pretending it is not there or thinking that we are ‘superhumans’
Views and experiences of the young people
Many of the harrowing experiences of the young people who came to Waltham Forest are captured in a poem called "Home" by Warsan Shire, who herself was a young refugee, and give us a glimpse into the experiences of some refugees and asylum seekers.
Views and experiences of the Team Manager supporting the young people
Listening to the harrowing stories of these young people evoked powerful memories for the Team Manager working with them and inspired her to write of her traumatic experience to support her healing and those of the young people she supported, which she has outlined below.
I envisioned my trauma as a tiger. ‘Tiger, Tiger’ encapsulated the complex nature of living and working with trauma. My traumatic experience of having a gun put to my head is captured in the poem below. I found that poetry gives voice to the soul and reveals the innermost parts of our being. It takes us on journeys our conscious minds ordinarily might not go. The research helped me connect with parts of me previously unknown and gain a distinctive depth of insight into my participants’ trauma.
I had a tiger
I did not seek nor desire it
It was flung on me by armed robbers
My baby in my arms, niece on my side and a gun to my head
My father prostrate with a gun to his head
My mother, family, locked up in our own home
A horrible gift, for daring to return to my homeland to celebrate my mother
Prowling, growling eyes, razor teeth, seeking to devour
It tears in pieces those that come its way, leaving carcases behind
I was determined not to be its victim. I am bold.! I am strong!!
It laid nameless for years
I have now found a name for it
It is called trauma
Sometimes, I wonder how we heal in a broken world or when the pain is still before us. Healing does not mean the remission of symptoms. It is an ongoing process and the pace for everyone differs. Professionals need to treat each person as an individual, look beneath the surface but also understand themselves first. Your healing can be from speaking to a trusted friend, therapy, medication, exercise, theatre or arts. We can help others heal if give them opportunities to tell their stories, listen without judgement and show empathy.
We need to recognise our trauma and seek appropriate help. Help comes in various forms and is different from person to person. So, if like me you had a “Tiger”, or still have a “Tiger” (traumatic experiences), I invite you this refuge week to a journey of healing and hope. A recognition that trauma though negative can also be positive.
- Dr Wuraola Bolaji, Team Manager, Leaving Care LB Waltham Forest -Bolaji, Wuraola (2022) Tiger! Tiger! What is the experience of trauma and transition into adulthood of African refugee and asylum-seeking care leavers? Other thesis: University of Essex and Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.
- Van der Kolk, B., (2014) The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. penguin UK.