Could you first introduce yourself for the reader?
I am the Chief Executive of TogetherintheUK, a social enterprise that tells stories about what it’s like to migrate to the UK and shares really useful information about living in the UK.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s a lot of thinking about how to make our projects work, how we can do more on social media, who can we connect with, who might we talk to. How can we develop our content? And then making it all happen.
What’s great about your job?
Meeting different people – both migrants and people leading organisations that work with migrants. I have learnt how much it takes for someone to create a life in another country. Working with some great talents in my team, including the three people I started it with: Johann Taljaard, Fatkma Bermeo Mustafa and Kosta Eleftheriadis
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
There is quite a lot of admin in running a social enterprise. It also takes far more work to make an event or a writing competition work than you ever imagine it would. You need really good networks to make it happen.
What was your career path to this job?
I worked for 15 years in the Civil Service and I learnt a lot about how to do things to a high standard and the correct protocols. When I left, I wanted to do something that was directly engaging with people, when you work in central government, you are quite far from the people on the ground.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
We did an event before the pandemic at Union Chapel to a full house whose theme was ‘Making Migration work’. We had a mixture of speakers, musicians and poets. A song and a poem were written specially for the occasion. Six Vietnamese brothers told their family story; how 40 years ago, they were picked up in the South China Sea by Captain Healy Martin and how the kindness they received from the Ockenden Venture shaped their lives.
We had an official launch at the Migration Museum where we launched our research report into migration. Professor Clare Gerada (originally a migrant from Malta) and a former head of the Royal College of GPs was our keynote speaker and then we had a wonderful panel: Nazek Ramadan, founder of Migrant Voice, Richard Williams from Migrant Works, Charly Ngouh (author of How I Won My War) Karen Ang the brilliant author of the research report and Caroline Komuhangi (working for Founder Vine, an organisation that supports diverse startups).
Why did you decide to set up TogetherintheUK?
Through volunteer work, I came to understand the challenges of migration. I also realised that the people who know what you need are those who have made similar journeys. So, if we could share stories and information, then we could make a difference. Primarily, we are a storytelling platform – telling stories of migration to the UK.
Why did you decide to use art and creativity as the means to help migrants lead an inclusive life?
Art is about insight and storytelling. There is a wonderful quote from Nietzsche on ‘the power of art’. He says, ‘what is the power of art? The artist with his hues, tones and colours creates an insight into the tragic web of life and in so doing, creates a clearing of liveability’. I love this quote because he is saying, art helps you live, it gives you a means of coping with what life has to throw at you. I believe that if you can tell your story and share your insights, you feel valued because you are sharing what is of immense value to others: your perspective, your experience, your learning.
How do you incorporate technology into the work that you do?
We started with a blog and then over time and with much help, we developed a website. Our website now has podcasts, 150 blogs and a section on really useful information and made beautiful by Sophie MacKenzie’s illustrations. We have really stretched our use of technology recently by hosting a creative writing competition online. It's complicated because if you have user generated content, you have to be very careful with your site and make sure that bad actors can’t wreck it. After a week of hard work, our tech team found the solutions.
Your charity focuses on ways in which migrants can adapt to life in the UK, but is there more that UK inhabitants could be doing to make the process easier?
Yes, by reaching out, by being curious about what it takes and by being welcoming and inclusive. You always need to be sensitive to context so the best way is to ask permission to ask and of course, respect if the person doesn’t want to share their story, but if someone does, you will learn a lot.
Have you noticed any changes in the challenges that migrants face in living an inclusive life?
Of course, there are more challenges now. Our research showed that work is the place where you start to feel you belong and where you make friends. Now with social distancing and working from home, this is not going to happen so easily. Lots of organisations are trying to make up for this through organising online meetups.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing tomorrow, what would it be?
There should be a safe way of claiming asylum before you set out and I would ‘ban the ban’. This is the rule that if you are an asylum seeker, you can’t work until you are given refugee status. I have met people for whom it has taken years, and I mean 10 or 20 – such a waste of their talents.
Could you give an example of a recent project you have run, and the impact it had?
I think it’s the event on February 5th last year. Sharing stories made people feel recognised, it made the audience understand the challenges of migration and the resilience it takes. It also showed how much kindness matters.
You’re currently running a creative writing competition. Could you tell us more about it?
We want to provide a platform for people to share their story and help us all learn more about migration. We have 2 categories: Under 18 and Over 18 and people are invited to share a poem, a story or an essay. It’s free to enter and first prize in the Under 18 is an iPhone 6S and a Chromebook in the Over 18s, plus we have some high-profile judges, including a Lord and a publisher! We hope to discover some new migrant writers. We have had some brilliant entries and are hoping for many more. The competition closes on April 30th. Go to: https://togetherintheuk.co.uk/creative-plus
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to a 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Ok, so you want to change the world. You can’t do it by yourself, you need help. Find a group of like-minded people and work with their strengths and make the most of your team. You may not change the world but you can make a difference.
Where can people find out more about you or TogetherintheUK?
We are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram but best of all, go to our website: www.togetherintheUK.co.uk