At the start of summer Cartwheel Arts hosted an event at the magnificent Great Hall in Rochdale Town Hall for World Refugee Day. Schools from all over the region came together to debate the meaning of home, and to think creatively about a sense of place. The 240 children, amongst them some refugees and asylum seekers, composed poems about their families, their homes and about more poignant subjects such as feeling safe.
Several of the children read to the crowd and we heard the sometimes harrowing tales about life as a refugee. From a family on the run from Iran because of fears over their religious beliefs, to a family living in Nigeria who had to flee in the night, leaving behind their father.
Later in the afternoon poet and MC Saquib Chowdhury read a poem by Warsan Shire - the young Somali poet whose work was used throughout Beyonce’s album Lemonade. Saquib then delivered a short workshop for the children exploring the senses associated with home; how it tastes, smells and feels. The children taking part in the day became particularly animated as they got on to the subject of home cooked food, and on the topic of smell they suggested everything from vanilla and coffee to samosas and, even more abstractly, the smell of freedom and love. The students went on to write a lune (a poem similar to a haiku) based on one of the senses they most identified with.
One of the schools taking part were Falinge Park High School who have previously worked with today’s poet Saquib Chowdhury on a Bilingual Authors Project.
"I think it’s very important to allow people to know that they have a voice that they can use to send messages.” says Saquib.
"Sometimes when you write a poem it’s the most concise way of putting your feelings down. I think it’s very empowering especially for young people at this age to actually understand that writing isn’t just about what you do at school and answering questions, it’s about expressing yourself and knowing that what you’ve got to say is equally as valid."
What the day achieved was to a strengthen a cohesion amongst the children, to demonstrate through their differences they ultimately their family needs and relationships were, in fact, all remarkably similar, and to illustrate that home is a moveable thing - it’s about people as much as place, and that even if you are displaced it is still possible to be safe and happy within a strange community once you are part of it.