London: Children’s Workshop Eases Stresses Of Asylum Seekers

Twenty children of Somalian, Albanian and Malaysian origin released stress and had fun in the ART Excel course that ran from 12th-16th April in Berrymead Junior School situated in a council estate in Acton, West London. ART Excel stands for All Round Training in Excellence and is specifically designed for children aged between 8-14 years old.

This is the first of two courses offered at London’s Berrymede Schools where many Somalian, Albanian and Burmese asylum seekers are housed after arriving in the UK. These children are mostly the first generation to speak English and grow up in the British culture while their parents continue to speak the language and live in the culture of their homeland. Given that Somalia has carried on without an established government for the past twenty five years, the children have much to adjust to. They grow up amidst their parents’ bewilderment, fear, frustration and sometimes hopelessness as their parents begin to find their bearings in the UK. In 2008 total 25,670 people applied for asylum, but until they receive a positive decision their prospects of finding jobs are dismal, leaving them in a tense situation.

The thirty-hour course is a highly effective stress management and human values program that includes relaxation and stretching exercises, problem solving strategies, leadership training, social skills development and practical tools for dealing with negative emotions.Through art, dance, music, sports, yoga, games and unique breathing techniques, the course participants were given the opportunity to reconnect with their emotions. In a safe and light-hearted setting, they were able to release mental and emotional stresses while learning new techniques to handle their emotions and skills to interact with others in a harmonious way.

The children performed a drama with human values (specifically about overcoming peer pressure) and sang songs for parents and friends. Also they each planted a tree in a nearby community space as part of their community service project.Head teacher Lubna Khan said “The children really enjoyed the course.” She found them to be much calmer and focused after the course.After the breathing exercises the 7-8 year olds comments ranged from “I felt deep peace”,”I was floating in an ocean”, “I was so relaxed, I fell asleep”, “I have more energy and focus”, “I felt really happy and rested”.

ART Excel teacher Su Bowerman commented, “The positive change in the children from the beginning of the week to the end of the week was noticeable – they were more joyous, settled, constructive, cohesive, and their teamwork had improved. The lazy ones were getting into yoga to improve fitness, the aggressive ones were becoming more compassionate and balanced, and the shy ones were coming forward and sharing with the group more”.