Dost Emergency Fund

Dost Emergency Fund

Dost was founded in 2000, to provide support to young refugee and asylum seekers, many of whom are in the UK without their families. In recent years we have also extended our services to recently arrived young migrants. We are now almost 16 years old, around the age of many of the young people we work with and our relationship-based model of support means that we really live up to our name, which means ‘friend’ in several different languages.

Just as a friend would, we treat everyone who comes to us as an individual and provide support that meets each person’s unique needs. In all cases, a major component of our work is therapeutic support to meet emotional needs, alongside advice and advocacy to ensure all of our young people also receive appropriate legal and practical support to help them improve their situations.

This year, due to changes in immigration legislation, age disputes, misinterpretation of the Leaving Care Act 2000, as well as some children and young people falling through the cracks because they have been overlooked or don’t understand (or have help to understand) the system, we have seen an increasing number of children and young people facing emergency situations. These include homelessness, lack of food and subsistence support and unsupported small legal fees. Many of our young people find that they are unable to afford travel costs to statutory appointments, which can put them in an even more precarious position.

As a response to this issue, Dost is developing an initiative to support young people with emergency provisions. The Dost Emergency Fund (DEF) will provide assistance with:

  • Emergency food provisions
  • Travel costs to appointments with statutory bodies
  • Emergency Legal fees (under £75)
  • Short term emergency accommodation.

These temporary provisions are only available to young people who are already, or will be, receiving support from a Dost Caseworker, while more sustainable financial support is secured by undertaking advocacy work with the appropriate organisations.

The DEF will provide short-term support for vulnerable young people, to address their immediate needs and is not intended as a substitute for regular subsistence support, nor is it intended to act as relief for those who have exhausted their legal rights to remain in the United Kingdom. However, the sharp increase in referrals for young people for whom the necessity to meet basic needs has become urgent means that we need to offer immediate financial assistance in order to be able to provide effective, longer-term holistic support to those who need it most.

As a charitable organisation, Dost relies on the generosity of our funders to enable our work. The Dost Emergency Fund will only be available as long as we have the funds to provide it. While larger donations are welcome, every little helps so if you would like to support  us, head over to our JustGiving page where you can pledge a donation, or simply text DOST99 £3 (or the amount you would like to donate) to 70070. You can help us spread the word on social media with the hashtag #DEFDonation. Thank you for your support!

Refugees welcome..?

#refugeeswelcomeLast month, we walked from Park Lane to Parliament Square, alongside thousands of others who had gathered in London, to let the world know that people across the UK feel that refugees are, and should be, welcome here. This march came shortly after David Cameron issued a statement saying that the UK will accept 20,000 more Syrian refugees over the next five years. While we welcome this, we also feel that much more needs to be done. We have responded to the crisis as members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, alongside more than 40 other organisations, calling for the UK to support and do more to ensure safety and stability for refugee and asylum seeking children and families.

The day of the solidarity march and the ongoing response from the public to the current crisis is a wonderful reminder that when humanity pulls together as just that, and we recognise each other as human beings, we see our similarities rather than our differences. But how do young refugees feel once they are here? Do they really feel welcome? We spoke to some of our young people about their experiences, and they said:

“I don’t know, maybe not. You don’t know what to do, what it is, you don’t know anything when you first come.”

“I felt generally welcome when I arrived. But I came here when I was 10 years old and didn’t speak the language, so you know what kids are like. But everything got better in a couple of years.”

“No, I didn’t really feel welcome because I didn’t speak a word of English.”

“Yes, of course I feel welcome- 100%.”

“Honestly I did not at first moment and that wasn’t nice at all but it got better after a while.”

“Yeah I feel I was, I was given support with education, I was granted Refugee Status, and I’ve been supported with whatever I want.”

The people these children come into contact with when they arrive in the UK can make a huge difference to how they feel. Here at Dost, as well as providing practical support, our relationship-based model ensures that we are meeting the complex emotional needs of every individual who comes to us. As well as developing relationships with those in our care, we also help them to foster positive relationships with each other, slowly rebuilding their often shattered trust in humanity. And this environment yields positive results, with many of those we’ve helped describing Dost as ‘a home away from home’. When asked whether they felt welcome at Dost, the responses where overwhelmingly positive:

“Absolutely I did. Warm atmosphere, kind and caring people and a lot of other nice things helped me to feel welcome.”

“Yeah! I was talking to Marian first and then Kerrin. She would open up her heart and it was easy to talk to them.”

“Yes! Especially when I met Marian because she’s so happy, I was like what kind of person is she? She’s very kind. I also met new people here and improved my English, if I make mistakes in my English she corrects me. I love this project.”

Some of our young people shared much more on their thoughts about Dost, community, identity and hope earlier this summer, when they took part in the Talking T-Shirts project with the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP).

So, what can we all do to make refugees feel more welcome? Well, some people are offering space in their homes but if you’d like to offer other practical help, you could volunteer your time –  either with a local charity (we are based in East London and are always looking for volunteers) or by taking part in a fundraising event – or you could donate to one of the many organisations arranging for aid in the UK to reach those stranded in Calais.

Dost is starting an emergency fund for the increased number of young people we see, who are facing emergency situations, as well as planning a trip to Calais to distribute winter essential supplies such as blankets and flashlights. If you would like to contribute, please consider donating via our JustGiving page or contact us to find out how you can get involved.

A Syrian Love Story

A heartbreaking film revealing the humanity absent from headlines

This month, award-winning director Sean McAllister, known for his intimate films celebrating the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, releases his latest film, A Syrian Love Story.

Described by The Independent as “Heartbreaking”, A Syrian Love Story follows comrades and lovers Amer and Raghda, who met in a Syrian prison cell 15 years before the start of filming. When McAllister first met the family in 2009, Raghda was back in prison leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone. Then, as the ‘Arab Spring’ sweeps the region, the family’s fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, this affecting documentary charts their incredible odyssey to political freedom.

Elhum Shakerifar, who produced the film, is not only a long-time supporter of Dost, having been both a Trustee and Assistant Director, she also still volunteers regularly. In addition to her work as a lecturer at the Free University of Berlin and a research fellow of the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths University, Elhum is also Co-Founder and Director of Postcode Films.

Elhum found time to have a chat with us about her work on this unfiltered story of love and war, through the lens of a family simply trying to survive.

Tell us a bit about how you got involved in the production of this film
I’ve been working with Sean for six years now, this is the second film I’ve produced with him.

What’s your relationship with Amer and his family?
I met Amer, Raghda and their family through the process of making the film. I’ve known them for the past five years through Sean’s lens and throughout filming I’ve spoken to them on the phone sporadically when Sean was filming with them. Sometimes we talked via Skype during the editing process but we only met for the first time at a festival a few months ago. It was incredible to spend time with them all – they’re a wonderful, warm and loving family. It’s such a privilege to have had access to their story and to get to know them through the course of making the film.

Can you tell us a bit about how your background informs your approach?
I studied Persian literature and then visual anthropology, so my academic background was very mixed but I think those influences are present in my work in that the main thread for me is always strong storytelling, alongside thinking about representation and understanding a situation before thinking of representing it. As a producer, I only work on subjects that I really believe in – it’s necessary to do things this way when you work over such long periods independently, with small teams and often piecemeal funding in place.

How long have you been working with young refugees and did your experience impact on your approach to this film?
I began working with young refugees at Dost and have been connected to the organisation for a decade. Having worked with young migrants and unaccompanied minors gives you a real sense of perspective and understanding of what seeking asylum means, the procedures and dehumanised institutions and legal frameworks that young people have to go through and deal with as well as how much immigration, asylum and refugee matters are vilified and misunderstood.

When we began making this film though, we didn’t know that it would become a refugee story. Seeing the unexpected turn of events unfold over five years is what makes it incredibly poignant – you cannot help but understand and relate to Amer, Raghda and their family. The film’s release this month is strangely timely because both Syria and refugees are top of the news agenda and at the forefront of people’s minds, but it transcends the short-term newsbite and I hope it will reach a broad audience.

What was the most affecting moment for you, from the film?
There have been many, many affecting moments over the past five years while making this film. I was gripped and incredibly moved by some of the first scenes Sean sent over to me (in particular the phone call Raghda makes from prison, which you can see in the trailer) and continued to be over the years as footage came back from various twists and turns. I won’t go into detail so as to not give too much away before you see it but we did spend a year editing it, trying to find the best way to tell the story.

There were many levels to the footage: The personal, the political, contextualising the situation in Syria, seeing the family grow up. It was a tricky balance getting it right. The family goes through an epic shift in the film so watching it takes you on a huge emotional rollercoaster as well – there are scenes that still make me cry, although I know them so well I can quote them word for word. It’s not in the film but the most emotional moment for me, was the first time I met the family and watched the film with them. Eight-year old Bob, who we see growing up as he was just three when we started filming, was too small for the cinema seats and sat on my lap in one screening so he could see the screen and the watch film of his family unfolding – that has to be one of the most affecting moments in this incredible journey.

What response would you like to see as a result of people seeing this film?
Sean always says that he makes films for his mates in Hull, so he looks for characters that will be relatable to them. What I like about his approach is that he sets out to find out about the world, rather than to tell the world what he thinks and that honesty and rawness comes through in his work. That not only makes it relatable but also unforgettable. The result, I hope, is that people understand something that they wouldn’t get from a newsbite around the ‘refugee crisis’ or recent news coverage of Syria.

A Syrian Love Story was released on Friday 18 September and there are screenings being held across the country. If you can’t make it to any of these, it’s now available to rent on the BFI player.

A Bond Between Us at the BFI

Last month, together with two local Woodcraft Folk youth groups (Newham and Waltham Forest), we performed the drama we have been working on since January to a full audience at Oxford House in Bethnal Green. The result of three months’ hard work, weekly rehearsals and two residentials, our performance was well received and we enjoyed the work (and the fun!) that went into its creation.

 

Performing at the BFI
Performing at the BFI

On 8 May, we presented our two minute animated film at the BFI Southbank, as part of a celebration of media produced by young people with Adobe Youth Voices (AYV). AYV is delivered by Eastside Educational Trust and works with young people aged from 13 – 19, providing them with the inspiration, training and technology to create original media works on issues they care about.

 

Our film, which is part of the Bond Between Us project  exploring youth detention in Palestine and the UK, shows what it’s like to be a youth detainee. Watch it now:

Our young people really enjoyed being part of the Bond Between Us project, saying:

“It was great getting  involved in the the drama/film project, it was a great opportunity to learn something new and meet new people and I would love to do it again.”
Raman, 18.

“I like drama project and so funny with people and I have the new friend, play with together.”
Dat, 16

The Deep Black Drama Tutors, who helped us with this project, also enjoyed working with us! Here’s what they had to say:

“The young people from DOST came to the theatre project we were running with an infectious enthusiasm, a willingness to get stuck in and to grapple with some challenging ideas and exercises. Their energy made it possible to work constructively with the language and cultural differences in the group, and their warmth and openness made the project a pleasure to be involved in. I can’t wait to work with them again!”
Polly, Deep Black Drama Tutor.

“Working with Marian and the DOST young people on the recent theatre project has been the highlight of my year so far. The energy and commitment they showed to the project and to each other was amazing and although at times there were challenges and frustrations, they work through them with a maturity and sensitivity I’ve not seen in many other groups I’ve worked with. Thank you!”
Dan, Deep Black Drama Tutor.

Developing the Bond Between Us

Youth-led collaboration A Bond Between Us is a brand new drama project, exploring the issues of youth detention in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the UK. Working together with two local Woodcraft Folk youth groups (Newham and Waltham Forest), we have been developing a performance, which we will put on during the Easter week. Last month, we all went on a weekend residential together to get to know each other better and start looking at the theme of youth detention and how we will approach our performance.

Marian Spiers, our Youth Work Programme Manager, shares her reflections on the weekend:

Ten young people from Dost and ten from Woodcraft attended the residential in Darsham Country Centre, an old railway station in Suffolk from Friday to Sunday. During this time, we played various ice-breaker games, went to the beach to play wacky races (where we were split into teams and every team had to devise a form of transport with a noise and all be joined up in some way in order to win the race), football, jumping and classic games like leap frog, hide and seek and sardines – where we all ended up squashed in a cupboard for quite a long time! We also played ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ one evening, where we managed to win a million… But sadly not for real!

We also played cards and the loser got the job of washing the dishes… Sorry Sarah*!

ABondBetweenUsResi#7

We ate together every evening and started on our drama and film making workshops, looking at journeys and places where we feel safe, as well as practising interview techniques in front of a video camera.

Before we left, we all played a big game of volleyball before packing up the van and driving back to London.

Everyone got along well, enjoyed the food (nearly all vegetarian or vegan!), the workshops and the trip to the beach. It was a very successful start to the project and everyone left looking forward to the following eight weeks of drama sessions. We’ve had a few more workshops since our return and are equally nervous and excited about our upcoming big performances next month!

Physical Marginalisation – Young Refugees and Stop and Search

Tom Antebi, Sessional Youth Worker at Dost, reflects on the stop and search reforms and the impact these powers have on young refugees and migrants.

Stop and search powers have been big on the agenda recently. And not without good reason. The powers are continually used far more on black and Asian than white communities and young men in particular are feeling the brunt of this.

The widespread negative public reaction to this, ranging from at best discomfort based on a principle of racial equality and at worst a visceral hatred of police, arguably demonstrates how far policing in the UK has shifted from the idea of ‘police by consent’.

Recently, trust in the police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police, has diminished considerably within a context of what the Institute of Race Relations calls a European-wide drive of targeting visible minorities by law and enforcement agencies (IRR 2012).

Source

When I asked some of the young people who use the Dost Centre about their experiences, one regular said that “they search me in front of people, it’s embarrassing”, while another told me “every time they stop me, they think I’m some kind of bad-boy, like a drug dealer or I’m carrying a knife.”

It is a process in which an already marginalised status, due to being a refugee or asylum seeker or from a black or Asian background, is reinforced and experienced physically.

These experiences mirror those others I have heard when conducting Know Your Rights workshops with the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), a local community-based anti-racism organisation. As someone who did not grow up in Newham (or even London) I have been struck by just how normal and even expected police encounters are by young men of the black and Asian communities in Newham.

The Newham Monitoring Project has probably done about as much as anyone to challenge racially disproportionate policing, and has been running educational programmes about rights and challenging racism since it was founded in 1980. As a response to the recent reforms of stop and search powers announced by the Home Office, NMP succeeded in crowd-funding a project to fund a worker who can monitor the impact and effectiveness of the reforms. The project attracted the attention of the Newham Recorder, which ran a double-page feature piece.

I have been searched once, on my way home from a party one night while I was at university in Roehampton. It happened because, when a police car rolled up next to me while I was walking through the estate, I refused to tell them when they asked where I lived (which was well within my rights). I can only imagine how infuriating, frustrating and alienating it would be experiencing this on a regular basis, due to nothing except the colour of my skin.


 

The countdown to Christmas

Now that we’re in December, it’s impossible to miss the fact that Christmas is coming… With festive decorations in all the shops and regular reminders of how many shopping days there are left until the big day, this is one holiday we just can’t ignore.

Whether you’ve already done all of your Christmas shopping or are just starting to think about it, for many of us this is a time to count our blessings and spend some quality time with friends and family.

However, there are many who are not so fortunate. The children and young people that we help here at Dost are all new to the UK and some of their families are struggling to settle here. Others have fled countries to escape from war and have arrived without their families. Many of these young people have lost the very foundations of their lives; their homes, friends, way of life and often, most painfully, their parents.

Christmas is a particularly hard time for our young people, as the country closes down for a whole day and the pain of their loss can hit twice as hard when there is no-one to talk to.

That’s why we provide a Christmas meal every year, so that those who are alone can come together and celebrate with friends.

Dost – A home away from home

In a research study earlier this year from UeL Dost was described as having a ‘transformative positive impact’ on the children and young people we help. One of our young people said, “I have no family. They are my family.” So what better way to spend Christmas? Here’s what our young people have to say about the annual Christmas meal:

DostChristmasCollagewithwords

Help us deliver this Christmas

Dost survives solely on the generosity of funders to deliver our essential services and additional events, such as the Christmas meal and trips for our young people, are funded through donations. Without your help, we would not be able to provide this meal. This year, we would also like to offer a small gift for each of the young people we help and establish an emergency fund so that we can offer help to those who need it, so that they can buy warm clothes and food.

If you would like to help us deliver this Christmas, you can do so by texting DOST99 £3 (or any other amount – every little helps!) to 70070. Or you can head over to our Just Giving page and donate there. If you are not able to donate at this time, you can also help by sharing this blog via your social media networks, using the tag #HelpDostDeliver.

Volunteering at Dost – Elhum’s experience

Ever wonder what it’s like to work as a volunteer in a charitable organisation like Dost? Well, our volunteers love it, and often return to us whenever they get the opportunity. Some even enjoy it so much they apply for full-time roles here as soon as the opportunity arises! But don’t just take our word for it…

Dost volunteer Elhum Shakerifar shares her experience of working as part of the education programme, and later with the youth club (we told you people return!):

I first started volunteering at Dost in 2007, running photography workshops as part of the education programme. Later, I became a Trustee of the Trinity Centre, where Dost is based, and then worked as Assistant Director of the project for several years. When I left in 2011, I wanted to keep a connection with the project and the young people I’d known over the years so I became a volunteer again and I now volunteer at the Youth Club on a weekly basis.

Dost is a fantastic, vibrant and important project. Through its child-centered projects, it gives local children and young people and newly arrived migrants a sense of belonging and resilience.

Working there, I have learnt that time is probably the most valuable resource you can offer a young person, particularly where there is consistency. As a volunteer, I commit to both of these things – I am known for sometimes being late (!) but unless I am out of the country, I will be at Youth Club every Tuesday evening.

Elhum volunteering blog_Oct14

Why volunteer?

I think to begin with, I can relate to the idea of being new somewhere, of feeling different and out of place. I volunteer because it only takes a smile and a few words (sometimes sign language) to lift someone out of that place, and being able to do that is a humbling experience.

I also believe in the importance of role models and I think it’s important to be clear about being a reliable adult in a young person centered space – I’m not there to be cool but to be responsible.

Youth Club is a space for children to learn, to have fun, to switch off from the worries they might have at home, at school or in life – so responsible can also mean fun! My sporting credentials are poor to say the least… but I’ve learnt how to play ping pong over the years and a chat in broken English over a very disjointed game of table tennis is a great way of welcoming someone new to the club. Generally I am to be found making tea or food or walking around the club chatting. I also sometimes accompany the group on theatre or cinema trips.

For me volunteering is also a breath of fresh air – engaging with a different perspective than the one I see in my everyday life. I work in film and I have never enjoyed seeing Spiderman as much as I did when we took a group to the IMAX and the 12-year-old I sat next to excitedly told me every plot point just before it was going to happen.

For all of these reasons, I look forward to coming to Youth Club every week – it’s rewarding to see children grow up, to see them learn and become active members of their communities. Not every day is a happy day, but central to everything is being a young person’s champion.

If you’re interested in volunteering at Dost, head over to our volunteering page to find out more and download an application form today!

The Bike Project – Bringing together communities

The Bike Project is a charity based in London, set up with one purpose: To take second-hand bikes, fix them up and donate them to refugees. “It’s simple!” They say on their website. Well, yes. It is also so much more. As well as recycling unwanted bikes and donating them, the Bike Project is also teaching practical skills, offering a volunteering opportunity to those who want to get involved, giving young people more freedom and confidence with every bike they donate and bringing together communities in a comfortable and comforting environment.

How did Dost get involved?

We first heard of The Bike Project nearly two years ago and since then, Dost has been taking small groups of young people there on a regular basis. So far, around 20 of the separated young people and young migrants we work with have benefited from a bicycle, a helmet, lights and bike lock.

Bike Project

Youth Work Programme Manager, Marian Spiers, who first discovered the project through twitter, says:

“I have been taking young people to the project for some time now, as it’s friendly and laid-back and provides a valuable resource. The young people enjoy the atmosphere and they get to learn new skills and meet new people as well as receiving a bike and accessories, which gives them freedom, saves them money and improves their health and lifestyle.”

What are the benefits?

Some of our young people have learned to cycle as a result of the project and it has been a great way for them to meet more new people from their countries, who have either been volunteering or have also been learning to fix bikes. One young person was even given the opportunity to go and help at corporate bike maintenance sessions! He was paid for his time and this, together with being able to give something back, has greatly increased his confidence. Another young person (aged 16) who had never ridden a bike before went home and practised all weekend after going along to the project and by the Sunday she texted Marian to say she was able to ride a bike by herself!

And it’s not a one way street. As a result of our working together, some of the Bike Project staff have also come along to our Youth Club to run cycle safety sessions and we collaborated on a Youth Fun Day last year, to help promote sport to young people.

Marian says, “It’s a great project and provides a safe, welcoming space to everyone who comes along. It’s a simple, easy to use service that promotes recycling and turning something unwanted into something that is useful and beneficial to many.”

The young people themselves say, “I enjoyed the bike project very much and I look forward to riding my bike!” and “It was fantastic!”

Find out more at thebikeproject.co.uk, where you can also read what other organisations have to say on their blog!

Providing specialist support for separated children could save money

“Guardianship for trafficked children would mean that every child victim of trafficking would have someone with legal authority to make decisions based on their best interests and advocate for long-term solutions. A guardian would ensure that, in the short term, child victims of trafficking received the educational, medical, practical and legal support necessitated by their history of trauma and exploitation.”
Source: ECPAT UK report; Watch Over Me (2011)

This year has seen a development of schemes to support trafficked children in a pilot spread across six local authorities, where each child victim of trafficking will be allocated an independent advocate with specialist training in who “will act as a single point of contact throughout the care and immigration process and will be responsible for promoting the child’s safety and wellbeing.”

Last month, The Children’s Society and UNICEF UK published a joint report, which highlights the need for all separated young people to have legal guardians and explains how introducing this system could save the UK money in the long term.

Dost agrees that, especially with the varying legal complexities surrounding asylum and immigration matters, age disputes and support entitlements, young people would benefit from receiving the support, long term engagement and legal expertise that independent guardians can offer. None of our young people currently have a legal guardian and although we provide as much support as we can, this is no substitute for having one single point of contact to advocate for them.

There seems no reason not to implement this support because, as the report explains in more detail, appointing guardians to separated young people will save money as it would reduce the current costs involved in supporting these young people – which can include accommodation, additional support for those aged over 18 and legal support from both central and local government.

Guardians are already being appointed to all separated young people in Scotland and other European countries, so while we applaud the UK’s introduction of advocates as a step in the right direction, we want to draw the government’s attention to this report’s findings. We hope that this analysis of the long term benefits of appointing independent legal guardians to both the vulnerable young person and the public sector will inform the detailed examination of the Modern Slavery Bill.

By Lizette Villaverde, Specialist Care Leaver Caseworker