Three young people from Dost share their experiences of adapting to a life without their families in the UK in a new documentary broadcast on Radio 4 at 11am on Friday 16th November 2012. It is a moving exploration of community and diversity in multicultural Britain. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ntlrz
Dembo from Guinea, West Africa, Hassan from Iraq, and Faryad from Afghanistan offer us a picture of life in Britain: “When I came I couldn’t speak English, I didn’t have a friend, didn’t know where to go, I had no future, but now, I feel this is like my place and this is my life now. I feel like this is my country. One day I’d love to bring my Mum to the UK and show her where I live, how I spend my life here, show her my best places I’ve been, and the places I love in London. I will take her to the river and sit with her.”
Dost interviewed Emma-Louise Williams about the process of making ‘A Place for Us’.
What inspired you to make a documentary on the experiences of separated children?
Some years ago, my husband, the broadcaster and poet, Michael Rosen hosted the launch of the New Londoners photography book. This was a book which came out of a project run by DOST. Separated young people worked with professional photographers to express their feelings about the home they had left and the London they were discovering.
I was uplifted and moved by the photographs taken by the young people. At the same time it appalled me that children and teenagers were arriving into London having travelled long distances, often in terrible circumstances, with no-one to look after them. I think I responded as a mother myself of young children, trying to imagine what kind of extreme situation would ever impel me to give up my children and send them on a dangerous journey to an unknown destination. Similarly, it was the kind of loss these young people had experienced that upset me, of parents, of close relations, of everything familiar to them.
As a radio producer, I felt I may be in a position to enable the voices of these young people to be heard and I set about trying to get a radio programme made. I came and met staff and young people at DOST as part of my initial research and was delighted when “A Place for Us” was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 as a 30 minute documentary. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Kim Normanton of independent radio production company, Loftus Audio, to make the programme.
When making the documentary did anything surprise you?
I loved the noise and exuberance that hits you when you walk through the door at Trinity Centre! And I especially loved the way the young people I met at Youth Club are drawn to Marian. She fills an important space in their lives.
It was also very impressive to see the patient, caring and painstaking work done by caseworkers Jessica Muir and Scott Krieger who I observed dealing with the emotional and practical problems arising out of the disrupted lives of these young people. What struck me was how essential this kind of work is and, without wanting to get too worthy, that it is one mark of a moral and civilised society, if you like, how new arrivals are treated.
What did you enjoy most about making the documentary?
I really enjoyed meeting and talking to Hassan, Dembo, Faryad and Siavash. It was incredibly generous of them to share their life stories with me and to let me record them for the programme. Speaking from a purely professional point of view, I am always interested in the meaning of words like “place” and “home”, how people live, work and survive in a city like London. Making this programme has widened my understanding of what some people here are going through. I find myself looking at young people on the tube or the bus and wondering what kinds of upset or trauma they might have experienced. Hopefully I’ve gained a new empathy.
What message do you hope people will take from the documentary? And what action, if any, would you hope came out of it at a policy/national level?
I should point out at this stage that this radio progamme “A Place for Us” is not a piece of investigative journalism or an exposé. It’s a montage of voices and urban sounds, letting the words and experiences of the young people unfold and affect the audience at a very human level. It follows from this that there is no direct political message as such, but I would hope that people listening will be moved by what the young people are saying and, in the back of my mind, I have a picture of people, who might be less than sympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers, finding themselves appreciating the difficulties faced by these young people.
I don’t think we ever know if this kind of programme has a direct impact on policy, but I get the impression that there is a polarisation going on in this area with hostile comments coming from some quarters and much more understanding and sympathy coming from others. This programme is, I hope, a contribution to the latter point of view. In our everyday lives this debate crops up in casual conversation or at times of elections and I hope that people who listen to “A Place for Us” will bring to those discussions and arguments something of what they’ve heard in the programme. The point of view which villifies asylum seekers relies on dehumanising them, preventing us from seeing them as human beings like us. “A Place for Us” is a conscious effort to do the opposite and show these young people as teenagers, children really, who have had bad experiences, through no fault of their own, but who are determined to go to college, work hard and make a life for themselves here.
Please make sure you listen to BBC Radio 4 ‘A Place for Us’:
Music by Mansour Izadpanah.
Produced by Emma-Louise Williams and Kim Normanton.
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4