I have been running workshops with asylum seekers from teens to adults for several years through English PEN who champion literature and human rights. One of the most successful texts I have used is the poem ‘Go and Open the Door‘ by Miroslav Holub. This poem can help to change lives.
I first used the poem with a group of teenagers in a project based at the Tricycle Theatre. We read the poem and then I literally opened the outside door and said, “What if you opened the door and outside was Africa?”
Ahmad from Kuwait wrote:
Go and open the door…./maybe you will see death and war/maybe you will see guns, bullets, bombs and terror/But no matter what, you will see happy, helpful, handsome people/So go and open the door…
Later he said, “This has been the best day of my life!” His voice had been heard at last.
In this time of uncertainty, after the attacks in France last week and the sense that all our freedoms are under threat, there are voices which we generally don’t hear – those of asylum seekers. These are people who have already been through our worst nightmares and are trying to build a new life in a strange country so far from home, where they often feel silenced and misunderstood. But we can learn so much from them if we are only willing to listen.
I have just completed an 8-week course with asylum seekers at the MRCF in Ladbroke Grove. The theme of my workshops was ‘Writing for Health and Wellbeing.’ My aim was to provide a toolbox to dip into and to experience how writing can help express the whole spectrum of experiences and feelings. I used simple poetry devices to get started.
I want/I don’t want (Martha)
I want to start my new life with courage and
I don’t want to be stuck anymore because
life is beautiful.
I want to run and buy what I like.
I don’t want to lose time with my life.
I want to go to the sky and see how far it is.
I don’t want to stop dreaming in the night.
As the weeks progressed the participants began to feel that writing could be a part of thire lives as a way of helping to deal with their experiences and how everything had changed for them.
Kanchana wrote, “Writing helps a lot to relax the mind and I can express feelings in writing. I hadn’t thought of writing like this before.”
Florence felt that when she first joined the class she was quite uncertain how writing could help with improving her life. But by the end of the course she was writing longer and longer pieces and declared, “Asking us to answer the question, Who am I? is simple words, a simple question, but it is really very big. Doing this writing for me has been very positive and it has changed everything for me.”
Who am I by Florence
I am a midwife/nurse
I am not practicing.
I am married
I am not a mother.
I am very active
I am not doing anything now.
You can’t judge a book by its cover by Florence
I might be short but I am complete,
am black but still human
I can’t read and write but I understand
don’t judge me by first sight
but after hearing my views.
I brought in a set of objects and the participants chose things to write about. They went on to take photographs in the neighbourhood and wrote texts to go with the pictures. These have now been made into posters and will be exhibited in the local community. Here is some of the writing and photos I took in the workshop.
Power over my life by Abrehet
I have the power of reading the bible and following my religion
I have the power to do volunteering.
I shall stay out late by Grace
because I need to see a friend
because both of us need to talk
because I need my status to change
because her advice is so important to me
After these preliminary sessions I felt that the group had come to see how writing could have a role to play in health and well being. The participants were much more relaxed and confident about their writing. Florence began writing at home and bringing in pieces to read out to us.
POWER OVER MY LIFE by Florence
Power is that inner most energy within you
Over the world. People express different views on this. Some are
Weak and some strong. But we all need
Encouragement in life to
Other things but that also
Every time and again on
Resting and thinking about power and aware that
Money is good but its personal and its
Yours but never
Love money only
Interestingly try to
Everything that needs fixing.
I decided it was a good time to work on the Holub poem, ‘Go and Open the Door’.
This was the poem which lit up the room.
“Writing opens doors and gives us whole new possibilities in our lives.” Faranak
After our writing session the group worked with musicians who took lines from the poems they had written and composed a song which we sang, hummed and quoted for the rest of the course. Here are the opening lines:
Go and open the door
Why are you calling me?
This is the time for me
Why are you calling me?
Go and open the door
Maybe it’s good for you
A surprise, it could change your life.
Our course ended on December 5th 2014 and we finished with a celebration. The participants read out extracts from their work and were presented with certificates by English PEN. We all sang our beautiful song together and despite sadness at having to part company, the participants took away with them a notebook with their writings and a toolbox of ideas.
Because I know what is beautiful and is write and I try more confident myself. Martha
Writing can help in expressing yourself when in distress or in a happy mood. Grace
Miriam reaches our hearts and feelings and because of that I hope we were success in the workshop. Kanchana
If I have some problems writing it can help me and I am very happy with the class. Abrehet
I enjoy everything. Abbas
Writing is very powerful to inspire confidence and self esteem in people who have lost it. Matilde
When I come here I forget about my troubles and my pain. Amina
I am a book. Some chapters are good and some are really terrible. But it is not finished yet. Thuri
I am a scientific person and I never wrote poetry before. Kanchana.
So go and open the door – it could change your life!
This piece was originally posted on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure on 15 Jan 2015.