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Refugee Week (Healing) 20-26th June: seen through the ‘People Move’ project

To celebrate Refugee Week, the ‘People Move’ project championed by the Daily Mail, has asked dozens of individuals seeking sanctuary in the UK to tell a story regarding a special object that accompanied them on their journey here. This object is something that they have brought to the UK from their native country and connects them in some way to home.

Four students were chosen within our Academy to take part in this project and contributed with their own personal stories from Iran, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Hong Kong. Each was inspired by a single, personal object that they hold close to their hearts: a coffee cup and saucer, wedding photographs, a ‘pocket wallet’ and a diary.

There were some curious details that came with each item, for example the coffee cup which would be part of a bun set (a very dainty piece embellished with a traditional Eritrean design) and would contain a short, strong drink enjoyed by the community during a coffee making ceremony. The coffee grains would be farmed in Ethiopia itself, exactly where this story comes from. This elegant expresso style cup is filled with coffee served from a jebena or what is known as a handmade clay serving vessel used in Ethiopian tradition. Interestingly, the first coffee of the day would be served at midday and depending on the time in which this takes place, a different name or label is associated with it. The social and very relaxed atmosphere that comes with this beverage and the beautiful item it is served in reminded our Ethiopian student of home, familiarity and intimate talks with friends and family. It brings a sense of joy as well as nostalgia each time her parents take out this particular bun set to share a family moment. This cup speaks of one family’s journey from Eritrea to Ethiopia, and then further still to the UK to find sanctuary from a country oppressed by dictatorship.

Our Iranian student was keen to share what lay behind her object: a childlike but much loved diary.  This represented, above all, her childhood. When she flicks through it, it takes her back to those carefree days. The social exchange with her native friends back in her home country is kept alive today though regular contact: this is a special moment to speak in Farsi and share news about a relatively new British context our student now lives in. Looking back a couple of years, life in Britain had been strange in the beginning, but now it all feels very settled, with school and education being a key priority to succeed and do well in life. Many traditions are still kept alive in the home, with traditional recipes being a focal point of family time in the evening.

A recent arrival from Hong Kong introduced the red ‘pocket wallet’, something very traditional which is used for the Chinese New Year which is celebrated in a similar way to Christmas in the UK. It is a handy envelope which, as the name suggests, holds the money gift given to your nearest and dearest at this time of the year. It is bright red – an indication of good luck – and decorated beautifully in gold designs. Another tradition on Chinese New Year would be eating carrot cake made with soy sauce. His grandmother owns a secret recipe for this and he misses sharing this with his extended family and being with his dog that was left behind in order to make it over to the UK. So such a small object holds so many fond memories, while new memories are being built in Nottingham. Life is very different here for our student and the school day a little less hectic: a school timetable in Hong Kong incorporates around 9 lessons a day with a lot of homework. Here one has a sense of greater freedom despite the biggest barrier being learning a completely different language and studying every single subject in English.

Finally, the last treasured object is a trio of photos from Eritrea. Our Eritrean student left his home country at the age of 5, heading for Sudan. Then at 9 years of age he embarked on another journey to the UK, ready to be reunited with his father and leave his extended family behind. Political conflict was very hard to live with, but at the same time he misses the many relatives he shared the first years of his life with. The photographs – of which there are many more at home – were one of the easiest things to carry to accompany this family on their journey. So many other items were left behind. These beautiful wedding photos – that feature the paternal male members preparing for the union in marriage of the student’s own parents – hold very precious memories. They bring back his loved ones’ faces, their traditional dress and the beautiful land he once lived in. Many of these traditions are kept alive within the UK home, especially when religious festivities are celebrated, and particularly during Ramadan and Eid. The biggest shock upon arrival in the UK was being confronted by the weather, but this student nurtures many aspirations and will not let the British climate dampen his ambitions! One day he hopes to become a doctor in medicine; the same dream he has carried with him all the way from Eritrea and Sudan.

Over the coming weeks, these stories and others will be published in more detail among the Daily Mirrors’ online articles. Please go to

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