This is a speech of our very passionate, award-winning VOICES Ambassador Larysa in the Sanctuary in the Senedd event in Cardiff on 3 April 2019.
I present my thanks to Welsh Government, Welsh refugee coalition and the British Red Cross for facilitating this event on wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers.
Once upon a time when I was a little girl my teacher used to tell us that education we gained would never be a heavy burden. It was quite difficult to understand the meaning of those words. And I believe it sounds strange even now as we often take it for granted. Moreover, we complain, we moan about going to school or university, about assignments, homework, stress, all affecting our mental health. However, sometimes you need darkness to see stars. Finally, after years passed, I am sure I know the meaning. And I want to share with you a story that happened to a young boy from India, or might be not young but from China, or might be a woman of middle age from Sudan, with a child or two, or might be all alone. It will be a short story and being here in this beautiful building with breathtaking views at Cardiff Bay you can close your eyes and just imagine yourself that person. Any age, any gender, any marital status, any ethnicity. Anybody can be that person. The time we do not expect. In the place we do not expect.
One gorgeous morning you arrive to a beautiful peaceful place. To look for sanctuary. For safety. Historical building. Castles. Nice friendly people. Really nice. And really friendly. Willing to help you. But you hardly understand what they are talking about. And why they eat fish and chips, and why they call you love. You are not really worried as you feel warmth coming from these people and you know you need some time and it will be fine. But there is one BUT. You came with the luggage. And in that luggage, you brought your traumatic experience, memories of war, the house you had built, and it was destroyed, destroyed to the ground, nothing remained, or lost your loved ones, you lost your past. And you do not have a future. You are in limbo. In total darkness. In dark room where the door of the past has shut but the door of the future didn’t open. Will it open? You don’t know. Limbo. And you are waiting. Waiting for someone to make the decision on your future. On your children future. It might take 6 weeks. Or 6 months. Or 6 years. You don’t know. They might come and take you away from your house. Anytime of the day. And even night. Even mistakenly. And fear becomes your neighbour. It goes to bed with you. It wakes up with you in the morning. It even comes in your dreams and makes your nights sleepless torture. You become a voiceless slave of your fear. You don’t know what will happen to you today and what you are going to do if they allow you to stay. How will you feed your family? What will you do? Uncertainty. But this uncertainty is different from the uncertainty you have when staying in your own bed, in your own house, with your friends living not far. Your lovely children who have childhood only once in life ask you for new toys or entertainment, but you can’t. As you get only 35 pounds per week. You don’t complain. It is support. It means a lot. But you have your legs and hands and you could have worked and provided. It is not your fault it happened back home, and you had to flee and live with poverty side to side. You are trying to think positively but so much things happens, and you are giving up. Depression. Panic attacks. Mental health issues. Support needed. It doesn’t help. Just don’t give up. Just a little bit.
You need to be strong. You need to be ready for future. You do not want to be a burden for a country. For the country that helped you and your children. For the country that provided you safety and sanctuary. You want to work and pay your taxes. You don’t want the country to spend money on treating your mental illness which developed while you lived for some years in limbo in a company of your neighbours, fear, anxiety, stress, poverty and traumatic experience. Is there any answer? Any way forward?
As an experienced teacher, as a person living in the same limbo for 5 years, I can state that there is only one answer to it. Just a single word. That word is education. Yes, fear, anxiety, trauma, they all will remain. But their voices will be not as loud. Uncertainty might be reduced as you become empowered. Your hope that you lost long time ago, you can meet again. You feel accepted. You know by the time everything is settled you can speak the language, you can get a qualification. Having to wake up every morning and rush to college or uni. Having assignments to do and feeling your progress. It is happiness. It keeps us going. It reduces the stress and, therefore, the mental issues that require financial support. And we will be able to pay back. To say thank you. As soon as we are allowed to work. Even if one has to go back, one will be stronger, as we have only one life. And it is not our fault that it happened to us. Just coincidence that can happen to anybody, anytime.