Fear to Friendship

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This is the story of a group of Belfast teenagers & Zimbabwean asylum seekers & their journey from fear to friendship. It’s the story of suspicious questions, tentative first conversations, light-bulb moments & searingly honest stories.  This is the story of Intercultural Diaries…

“When I heard the word asylum seeker, I thought bad straight away.” Glen’s reaction – when the ID Belfast project was pitched to him.  He’s one of a group of young people from both Clonard & Hammer Youth Clubs who have forged their own cross-community bonds.  But now it was time for new conversations.  And so the teenagers from west Belfast began to communicate with the Zimbabwean guys, via video.

Honest question & answer sessions were held over months – without the two groups actually meeting. “What were the hardest things to leave behind?”  “Why Belfast?”  “What do you guys think of people from other countries who come here?” … Just some of the questions.

As answers came & snippets of stories were told, already stereotypes were lifting.

‘They didn’t have a clue where they were coming to, they just got put on a boat & were brought here.” Chelsea’s view – after listening to some of the guys recount how they left Zimbabwe.

Like KB: ‘They were going to capture me & the other guys & only God knows what they could have done with me.”

Like Loyd: “It was like I was leaving my life behind – plus the place that I knew.  Leaving my mum & leaving my daughter behind.”

But still the two groups didn’t meet.  Separately they headed to the beautiful Lusty Beg island for more build-up work.  The young people were there on the first day,;they chatted through racist stereotypes that exist & got to act out the stories of real-life asylum seekers.  When they left the island the Zimbabwean guys arrived.  They told their stories & shared their fears about life here.

For Stanley, the whole process brought with it anxieties.  He’s suffered three racist attacks in Belfast & is nervous about encounters with strangers.  And yet his attitude is stunning: “I don’t want those young people to lead a bad life, like attacking people for no reason.  I need to teach them to have a better life, a better future.”

And so three months later the groups are ready to meet.  The stunning Corrymeela peace centre, the setting – as they hug & chat for the first time.  Nerves go, bonds start to form.

“I was a bit guarded at the start,” said Demi. “But now they’re like my brothers & sisters.”

“A person is a person, regardless of their background,” said KB.

It was two days of beach walks, DJ sets, random dancing, forward rolls & fire pits.

But in amongst all that – amazing stories were told.

For Marcus, sharing with the group was a struggle.  But when he did – came honesty, tears & an amazing bond with Loyd.  As Marcus spoke, Loyd’s embrace brought moral support & inspiration. “I’ll never forget him,” said Marcus. “They’re just like me & I think they deserve to be over here & to be safe here.”

For Stanley too, honesty meant sharing his painful stories.  But as he talked about being attacked, the group’s reaction was strong.  “I’m sorry on behalf of Belfast” – was Geraldine’s response.  The young people’s outrage was clear.  And Stanley felt it: “It was like love was piercing my heart,” he said.

ID Belfast is no longer two groups: it’s one.  And that was so clear on the night of the movie launch at Belfast’s MAC Theatre.  These guys had journeyed & shared & become friends.  And they’d changed along the way.

** For more information on this Tell It In Colour project check out - http://www.interculturaldiaries.com/

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