From humble beginnings more than 10 years ago, The Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile has now grown to offer support to more than 140 unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees from more than 20 countries who have been separated from their families and who have arrived alone in the UK. We work with young people who have experienced child- and adolescent-specific human rights abuses. All young people referred to our centre suffer from mental health and developmental difficulties that are a direct result of their experiences of violence to their bodies in different contexts including organised community violence, war, imprisonment as a consequence of the actions of their parents, forced recruitment into armies and trafficking for labour or sexual exploitation.
We run as a non- residential therapeutic community and offer three separate levels of therapeutic support i.e. individual psychotherapy , group psychotherapy and membership of the Baobab Community. Young people have the opportunity to attend a variety of therapeutic group activities including a music workshop, a philosophy discussion group, various sports activities such as football and cricket practice, residential holiday retreats, and attendance at our regular community meeting. The aim of our work is to enable young people to reflect on the roots of their difficulties, symptoms and vulnerabilities and to reflect on their resiliencies and strengths and the roots of these -- and to develop new ones. Our central aim is that young people come to be able to think for themselves, to be able to take on responsibilities and to find their voice and to be able to be assertive without fear of retaliation. In the course of their membership of our transitional community young people slowly find their place in the community of exile where they are able to express themselves and contribute to community life.
As for everyone in the country our community has had a particularly challenging few months. Many young members of the Baobab community have found isolation and solitude very difficult to manage and bear. Several young people have moved to stay with close friends. Others remain alone and are terrified to go outside their room or their home even to do proper shopping as it takes time and they fear exposure to the virus. Some who have gone outside for essential shopping have faced racial abuse. The general context at this time is a potential source of disorientation and regression for all.
At the same time our young people are also showing examples of resilience, resistance and fortitude. Examples of such strength are young people volunteering to help in their local communities through churches or mosques or community groups cooking or shopping for elderly people or taking people to hospital, young people checking on other community members who are ill taking food and leaving it on the doorstep, young people checking up on friends who they or the staff cannot connect with. One of our young members is working as a student nurse on the front line in a placement in a community nursing team.
We decided, in line with the government guidelines, to move our support for the young people online and via the telephone with a limited face-to-face crisis support service for the most vulnerable and needy. This has meant a steep learning curve for some staff and some young people but the resilience in our organisation is such that we have run our regular weekly and fortnightly therapeutic groups via Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and the telephone as well as running on line music and philosophy groups.
As part of our emergency response to the current situation, our absolute priority has been to keep connected with all our service users, which means ensuring that all have a working phone or lap-top and adequate internet provision to communicate with us and with their colleges and friends. We are also ensuring that all young people have enough healthy food to sustain their immune systems.
This is where we now need your help. We need funds to continue to support our young people so they can access and engage with our therapists and social worker, join therapeutic groups and participate online to our philosophy group, our social group, or our support group for those among them who are young parents. This means that over the next few weeks we are going to need your help to buy healthy food parcels, provide financial destitution support, top-up mobile phone data to ensure connectivity when finances are stretched, and generally providing the resources to help our young people remain connected to our community and their other networks during this crisis.
And while the help we are asking is for immediate use, we also hope, in the long term, to transform this challenging time into a learning experience for each young person and an experience where all will learn to deal with unplanned change and become more flexible and philosophical about life -- in short, develop new resiliencies.
(Photos: Amanda Harman)