Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet)

Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland

UNESCO Spring School 2019: Part 1

A music festival I attended a few years ago had a very catchy tagline: ‘A festival like a holiday’. It sounded just right for a weekend of escaping our daily routine and stress-filled lives by immersing in nature, art and friendship. Years later, this phrase came back and stayed with me while attending the second edition of UNESCO Spring School, which took place between 1st and 3rd of May 2019, at Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in Glasgow. Three amazing days of conversations, presentations, performances, workshops, films, ideas and projects driven by love and care for ourselves and each other, are the basis for this article and many others to come on this blog. Stay tuned for more and read below the first set of takeaways and reflections on UNESCO Spring School – Day 1.

DAY 1 – Celebration of Labouring and Resting

After holding its first edition in the Southside, at Pearce Institute in Govan and Kinning Park Complex, the UNESCO Spring School no. 2 ventured North of the Clyde in Scotstoun. The Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre hosted us, opening some of its brightly lit rooms, terrace and kitchen to all delegates.

The theme of this year’s Spring School focused on the arts of ‘labouring and resting.’ What is the work of integrating, who does it and how? How do new forms emerge and how are the old, precious forms of culture, art and language shared? How do languages shift and adapt, how do people learn new languages and translanguage? What does it mean to make culture, food, art in a new place, or with new people as part of integration?

This range of questions and provocations led to a multi-disciplinary approach from within and beyond academia, to reflect on and showcase the ways in which individuals, communities, societies and institutions have accommodated and hosted each other and reflect on the ways in which the arts and academic research offer insights into the processes of welcome and integration.

Amal Azzudin: Social Change through the Arts

The first day began with an energising introduction by Tawona Sitolé, followed by the keynote presentation by Amal Azzudin, one of the Glasgow Girls, campaigner and activist as well as the Human Rights and Equalities officer working with refugees at the Mental Health Foundation. She was introduced by Euan Girvan, one of her former teachers at Drumchapel High, who supported and encouraged the Glasgow Girls to form and reach visibility in mainstream media.

  • Amal shared her story of arriving in Glasgow, living in high-rise flats, encountering small acts of kindness and solidarity amongst its residents and the discovery of a voice and motivation to fight as a group.
  • Both Amal and Euan emphasised the importance of education and the institutional support that schools should offer to nurture young people and encourage them to speak to other young people, which is one of the most effective tools against racism and prejudices.
  • Art is also effective in dealing with trauma, mental health issues, isolation and integration. Everyone should feel empowered to express their creativity and their feelings, thoughts and hopes. Amal showcased some of the amazing results than can emerge from empowered ‘New Scots’ who discovered their voice and creativity. Saheliya is a community engagement project developed by the Mental Health Foundation to support and promotes mental health and well-being of black, minority ethnic, asylum seeker, refugee and migrant women and girls. It is no surprise that this project involves art – writing poems, learning and practicing screenprinting to express feelings and experiences of women going through the asylum process or living as a refugee in Glasgow. One of the outputs of this project was an exhibition at Trongate 103, which can be visited until 2 June 2019 and a publication “You are the Light”, where you’ll find some really inspiring and creative poetry.

Jamie Spurway – Interpreting Culture: Improving Cross-Cultural Communication

The next workshop held by Jamie Spurway, a trainer, facilitator and public speaker provoked engaging debates and questions about communicating and interpreting cultures. Here are some of the key discussion points.

  • A very useful way to visualise culture is through the image of an iceberg. On the surface are those elements of culture that are easy to see such as behaviours (speech, manners, laws) and products (clothes, food, music etc.) which are relatively easy to change. In contrast, below the surface, mostly hidden and often unconscious are the deep-rooted ways of seeing the world, such as values, morals, beliefs and concepts. These are more difficult to change and provoke strong emotions when challenged.
  • Another point of debate and learning was the approach to ‘cultural mistakes’ – those instances where our expectation is broken at the intersection with other cultures and when our interpretation of someone else’s behaviour towards us can lead to negative emotions or actions. Jamie offered practical tools to avoid slipping into this vicious circle leading to an eventual breakdown of communication by being more mindful about what we observe, the story/interpretation we make of that observation and how that translates into emotion and action. It is always useful to consider multiple interpretations of a certain behaviour before jumping to conclusions and consequently changing our own behaviour towards others.

After a delicious (and spicy) lunch provided by Küche, the first day continued with a variety of projects that combine artistic practice, research and participation which articulate and express the work of integration of asylum/refugee and migrant experience in different countries.

  • Amber Kale, a PhD student from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, presented a multisensory approach in her research to analyse and convey attachment to place of refugees living in Nelson, Aotearoa, New Zealand. Using collaborative approaches, Amber worked with refugee women in Nelson in putting together paintings and organising a multi-sensory exhibition that created a sense of place and connection to home away from home.
  • Spray Peace – Art as a Universal Language was a workshop that took us outside the building where luckily it was not raining. Spray Peace, a volunteer-run NGO based in Luxembourg, uses spray painting as an art form to promote dialogue, multiculturalism and tolerance. We had a taster of the fun and engaging way of expressing our thoughts and reactions to what we learned during the day through stencils. Each of us created one or more stencils, cutting shapes on paper and filled those shapes with colour on the white sheet. The entire process, from drawing an idea to cutting its edges, spraying onto the sheet and seeing how it all looked at the end, was an enriching and inspiring experience.
  • Shirley Gillan and Steven Ritchie – Caged Birds’ Songs. A powerful and emotional rendition of stories of migrants held in detention. Scottish Detainee Visitors, Life after Detention, and Ice and Fire’s Actors for Human Rights have created Detention Dialogues: documentary theatre that has given voice to six migrants’ stories through the creation of three verbatim scripts.
  • Veronica Crosbie and Julie Daniel (Dublin City University) – Tales from a University of Sanctuary. The closing keynote speakers presented the model of universities of sanctuary as spaces of physical and metaphorical belonging, where neo-liberal values are challenged, where voice and agency are foregrounded and that aim at expanding opportunities and capabilities of members of society. They also introduced the Mellie project (Migrant English Language, Literacy and Intercultural Education) which involves the co-construction of stories between residents of Mosney Direct Provision Centre and DCU staff and student volunteers. You can read more about the project here.
  • The Welcome Hut – A Mobile Breathing Space offered a place for resting, reflecting and discussing with others. A mobile shepherd’s hut decorated with comfy pillows, photos, postcards, little boxes with questions that can start conversations provided a space for coming together and daydreaming.

While waiting for the no. 2 bus back to the city centre, I looked at my left hand covered in green-blue spray paint, at the (too few) photos taken with my phone’s camera and felt hopeless about being able to put into words what I’ve learned, felt and accumulated during this first day of UNESCO Spring School 2019. In the meantime, I’ll contribute with some takeaways, I’ll share clips, images and thoughts that echoed around the web and I invite any other comments and reflections on your experience.


Report written by Alexandra Colta. Get in touch if you want to share your thoughts on the UNESCO Spring School 2019!

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