In celebration of World Poetry Day, March 2023


In celebration of World Poetry Day, March 2023

Dallya Alhorri, Refugee Activity Coordinator, tells us about a poetic journey with refugees

21 March 2023

In celebration of World Poetry Day, March 2023

The Open Writing Space organised by JRS during the COVID-19 pandemic was a fantastic opportunity to come together with other friends and work on improving our writing skills.

It was an opportunity to reflect on our shared humanity even at a time of such immense global challenges.

The interactive writing sessions helped me to overcome the pains of social isolation and the trauma of striving ahead without any hint of Government support. Ultimately, I derived strength from the assurance of a supportive and loving community within the JRS.

Ben, contributing author & JRS UK friend

During the pandemic we had to move all our work – including refugee activities – online. It was important for us to continue offering refugee activities – alongside the rest of our emergency response services –to provide an online space for refugee friends to meet and support each other. This was especially needed – as we all know, lockdown was a very isolating time – particularly for refugee friends.

At the start of the pandemic, I met Laila Sumpton, a poet-editor-performer who has worked with charities and other refugee rights groups before, and I knew instantly that a writing group would be popular at JRS.

We started talking about how this could work online and how it could be easily accessible to refugee friends. This involved reaching out to refugee friends to teach them how to use Zoom and providing access to internet data so they could participate.

We had eight sessions online with Laila. For two hours every week, Laila took us on a journey of writing, teaching us about different genres of writing – letter-writing, recipes, and short stories, for example. She set different creative tasks such as writing to our future selves, our experiences of lockdown, and creating stories and histories for pieces of art.

At the end of every week, Laila would set homework for the group to continue developing their writing skills. Some of our friends do not have email addresses, so we primarily used WhatsApp as a means of communicating, to send back our written pieces and receive feedback.

At the end of the twelve weeks, we had produced a number of poems and prose pieces, which were collected into a book: Home is a feeling not a place. Refugee friends who participated were given copies for themselves and to give to loved ones, and the book of poetry is available for supporters on our website. At various times these poems have been on display in the JRS Shop and in other places around the Centre – a new colleague told me about how when she came in for her interview, a refugee friend showed her the poem he had written. Not only did she remark on the poem being well-written and striking itself, but on how the refugee voice is literally part of JRS, on our walls and staircases, giving identity to the Centre.

Having this very concrete output of the project was very encouraging for our friends – it’s tangible proof of the work they’ve put in, of their talents and skills, a way to share their voices with others. With many of our other activities we also look for tangible project outcomes – whether it be a recipe book from Community Kitchen, or performing dramatic monologues at the JRS Advent Service.

Since the first writing group our subsequent writing groups have  all taken on different focuses – formal writing (think letter and emailing writing), creative writing & dramatic monologues to be performed, and so on. Our writing groups have become one of the staples of our refugee activities programme – they are a great way to give friends a platform to have their voices heard, to be creative in their writing and express themselves, to believe in themselves and build their confidence.

At the time, Han, a refugee friend of JRS UK and contributing author of the book said: ‘Writing is a powerful instrument to communicate and engage with another individual. I hope this book will leave a lasting impression of the powerful voices of the muted people in society, that it will open new avenues of thoughts and ideas which were never considered before.’

This World Poetry Day, why not order a copy of Home is a feeling not a place? It was a joy to be a part of, and I hope you find joy in it too.

The paperback collection, ‘Home is a feeling not a place’, is available for £10 on the JRS UK website. All proceeds go to the work of JRS UK in supporting those we accompany in immigration detention, and those living in forced destitution due to the UK asylum system.

Buy now

This item is a physical gift. You will receive the 58-page book of poetry & prose.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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