Refugee Week 2021: The women who have found support through storytelling

Speaking Together - Henriette Bertine and Carly Rees.PNG

Henriette Bertine (left) and Carly Rees (right)


A group of women seeking refuge in Cardiff have benefitted from taking part in storytelling workshops with local English speakers, organised by the University of South Wales (USW).

In the online workshops, run by Creative Writing lecturer Barrie Llewelyn, refugees are paired with women who speak English as their first language, and are encouraged to talk about topics such as celebration, food and friendship.

The aim of the project, called Speaking Together, is to bring together people from different backgrounds to promote understanding and integration. The volunteers are made up of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) students, USW staff and Barrie’s writing colleagues, who meet with the refugees once a week via Zoom.

Henriette Bertine, who came to Wales from Cameroon in 2019, is one of the women taking part in the Speaking Together project. She is partnered with Carly Rees, a Registry Officer at USW.

“I am so happy to be part of the project,” said Henriette, who is studying Health and Social Care at Cardiff and Vale College, and hopes to study at USW in the future.

“I have met lots of new people and made friends, especially with Carly, which has been brilliant as everyone is so caring. Whenever I’ve been struggling, I know I can talk to them and I’m not alone.

“The workshops have also been very helpful for me to practice my English and feel more confident in speaking English. I am very grateful that this project was set up to help people like me.”

Carly decided to volunteer for the project as she was a member of USW’s University of Sanctuary sub-group, which helps develop opportunities to help create a culture of welcome for people seeking sanctuary within the community.

She said: “An English language requirement is essential for people who are seeking sanctuary, for being able to gain employment, to start their education; basically to rehome themselves in a new country, so I thought the workshops were a great idea to help with that.

“I love meeting new people and learning about different cultures, and I’ve also learned a lot about the refugee process. Henriette has had some problems with housing and work, and hearing first-hand what she was going through has really helped me to understand the issues that people seeking sanctuary can face. Building support networks and communities for refugees is something that is important to me, and something that I think everyone should care about.”

Barrie, who also ran a project called Speak to Me with Syrian and Sudanese refugees last year, worked with USW’s Refugee Champion, Dr Mike Chick, to develop the sessions.

“I believe that we’re all refugees in some form; we’re all moving around the world, and we have a duty to help people who have had to forcefully leave their homes. It has been wonderful to see these partnerships becoming friendships, and the joy that all the women have had from getting together and talking. It’s very much about story gathering, conversation and practising English. It’s never about correcting people – it’s about enjoying people.

“I have enjoyed this project tremendously, and hope that it can continue to grow as we start to be able to meet face-to-face again.”

An online event to showcase the Speaking Together project is taking place today (18 June) from 1pm. To join the event, click here.


#refugees