First steps towards autonomy of a group of refugees / Premiers pas vers l’autonomie d’un groupe de réfugiés

Yezeed is an employee at an agency that offers services to refugees. He is a former refugee of Sudan himself. He shares the story of the ups and downs of the project he facilitates: Actiegroep Eigen Huis (pressure group "each of us his own house”).

It started after the end of the SALT training in Hilversum, Yezeed says. With a few facilitators, we made a SALT visit to a group of refugees with a temporary residence permit. They arrived in the Netherlands approx. 2 years ago from different countries. The government assigned this group of 16 men rooms in a co-housing facility.

They told us that they would like to work, to study and that their family joined them, but their main problem is that they do not have individual housing. They live in this co-housing facility against their will. The beginning of the conversation was difficult: there was distrust, anger and powerlessness.

We asked them to build their dream for the future. Residents told us, "Drawing is for children, you do not take us seriously.” They did not tell this to us directly, but I heard about it later, and explained to them that we draw to create closer links in the group. Some people do not know how to write and have not had the opportunity to go to school. In addition, there are so many different languages in the group, we sometimes have to translate a sentence into three languages.

At first, it was difficult to keep the attention of the group. After 10 minutes, they were looking at their phone. They wanted me to sort things out for them. We decided it was a good idea to write a letter to the responsible official of the local government, asking for more clarity about their situation. The residents told me, "You know our situation, you can write this letter for us.” After a long conversation, we left. We said, "We want to help you, but you also have to do something. It's not our house, our situation." It was intense.

It took quite some time, but finally they started making a draft letter. We finalised the letter together, the whole group signed the letter. In December, they met the government official. He paid a visit to the group at their co-housing location and the result is that they will all have their own house in 2018! What made the difference is that WE did not write the letter to the government FOR THEM, and that they took OWNERSHIP and wrote the letter together as a group, by themselves.

Yezeed, January 2018

                                                                                                                            

Ancien réfugié du Soudan aujourd’hui employé d'une agence qui offre des services aux réfugiés, Yezeed raconte l’histoire faite de hauts et de bas du projet qu'il facilite : Actiegroep Eigen Huis (groupe d'action chacun sa maison).

Cela a commencé après la fin de la formation SALT à Hilversum. Avec quelques facilitateurs, nous avons rendu une visite SALT à un groupe de réfugiés qui ont un permis de séjour temporaire. Ils sont arrivés aux Pays-Bas il y a environ 2 ans de différents pays. Le gouvernement a attribué un logement communautaire à ce groupe de 16 hommes.

Ils nous ont dit qu'ils voudraient travailler, étudier et que leur famille puisse les rejoindre, mais leur problème principal est qu’ils n’ont pas de logement individuel. Ils vivent dans ce logement communautaire contre leur gré. Le début de la conversation a été difficile : il y avait de la méfiance, de la colère et de l'impuissance.

Nous leur avons demandé de construire leur rêve pour l'avenir. Les résidents nous ont répondu : « Dessiner, c’est pour les enfants, vous ne nous prenez pas assez au sérieux. » Ils ne nous l'ont pas dit directement mais j'en ai entendu parler après, et je leur ai expliqué que nous dessinons pour créer des liens plus proches dans le groupe. Certaines personnes ne savent pas écrire et n’ont pas eu l'opportunité d'aller à l'école. De plus, il y a tellement de langues différentes dans le groupe, nous devions parfois traduire une phrase en trois langues.

Au début, il était difficile de garder l’attention du groupe. Après 10 minutes, ils regardaient leur téléphone. Ils voulaient que je règle la situation pour eux. Nous avons décidé d'écrire une lettre à l'échevin pour demander plus de clarté sur leur situation. Ils m'ont dit : « Vous connaissez notre situation, vous pouvez écrire cette lettre pour nous. » Après une longue conversation, nous alors sommes partis. Nous avons dit : « Nous voulons vous aider, mais vous devez aussi faire quelque chose. Ce n'est pas notre maison, notre situation. » C'était intense.

Après un moment, ils ont commencé à écrire des lettres à l'échevin. Quand nous avons entendu cela, nous sommes retournés chez eux et, avec l'ensemble du groupe, nous avons écrit et signé une lettre. En décembre, ils ont rencontré l'échevin et le résultat est qu'ils auront tous leur propre maison en 2018 !

Cela a pris du temps, mais finalement, ils ont commencé à rédiger un brouillon. Nous avons finalisé la lettre ensemble, l'ensemble du groupe a signé la lettre. En décembre, ils ont rencontré un fonctionnaire du gouvernement. Il leur a rendu visite à leur logement et le résultat est qu'ils auront tous leur propre maison en 2018 ! Ce qui a fait la différence, c’est que NOUS n’avons pas écrit la lettre au gouvernement POUR EUX, et qu'ils se sont pris en main et ont écrit la lettre ensemble en tant que groupe, PAR EUX-MÊMES.

Yezeed, janvier 2018

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Comment by Sohail Amir Ali Bawani on January 25, 2019 at 11:57am

Thanks Rituu. Just read that wonderful account that Marlou has written. I was wondering about Assam. Can you share something which I can read about the 18 villages ?

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 24, 2019 at 9:35pm

Sohail, as you say its not a simple process. See Marlou's blog which shows the twists and turns https://aidscompetence.ning.com/profiles/blogs/humanity-and-unity-p...

I share an extract here Yazeed adds: “Letting go, and trust, is not easy. At one occasion I even left the house when inhabitants asked me to write a letter on their behalf to protest against the bad quality of their co-housing”. Yazeed told them: ‘I have my life. I return to my own house. This is your problem’, closed the door and walked away.  “I was not sure…. But one week later they came back to me. ‘You were right, Yazeed’. We have finished our letter!”

In Assam, India we are working with 90 villages. We have detailed documentation of 18 villages- out of which 9 are responsive and 9 the challenging ones.

Comment by Marlou on January 24, 2019 at 8:19pm

Thanks so much, Yezeed! You are touching bravely at the core of SALT. 

In response to Rituu - Yes! Same lesson as your India experiences also resonated in the AER of a SALT visit a small international Constellation team was priveliged to make to one of the communities that Yezeed is supporting: https://aidscompetence.ning.com/profiles/blogs/humanity-and-unity-p....

Comment by Sohail Amir Ali Bawani on January 24, 2019 at 8:15pm

 I think this is an important example of ownership. Reaction of the communities makes complete sense but perseverance of the team in ‘communities will change themselves’ and not us is commendable. However, I believe that the process must be more intense then it appears in this blog, and the team has to go through many ebbs and flows. I would really be interested in knowing more about how consciousness of people changed, what changed it, and what were processes involved in this change. It would really help knowing what goes into ownership building process. Thank you Marie for sharing and congratulations for this work.

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 24, 2019 at 9:02am

Thanks to Magdalena Hurwitz for this response on Facebook

Thank you this is a good story. It describes the helplessness that people are feeling and what happens when we champion them being able to act for themselves in a system they may not be familiar with. Here a rural area of California, we are constantly working with trust issues. Especially after a catastrophic disaster, we have seen how difficult it can be for the individuals affected to pick up trust in themselves collectively as a community when the people they had counted on in the past are no longer around or they are having to interact with new people they are only meeting now because of the disaster, while also recovering from the trauma itself.

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 23, 2019 at 4:04pm

I loved this story Marie. Thanks to Yezeed and you. What I liked was that Yezeed also mentions the challenges in facilitating CLCP. 

What I have learned in India is that when communities approach the authorities it is more likely that authorities will pay more attention than if NGOs approach the official for some community issue.

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