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Me and Grandpa

My Grandpa died last week, age 85. I loved him dearly and on hearing the news I felt a deep grief. Yet it’s much easier to feel at peace with his death knowing it was natural and he had lived a long, happy life. By contrast, when I read about avoidable and unjust deaths in the news, such as NHS workers dying from Covid-19 due to a lack of protective equipment, or the unforgivable racist murder of George Floyd, by a white Minnesota police officer; I feel a deep sense of injustice about the state of the world today.

My Grandpa lived through World War Two, a war leading to the death of 85 million people globally. He told me “after that war, the world knew that things had to be different — that’s when the United Nations was established (in 1945) to make sure death on that scale never happened again. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights made it clear to governments that they had a duty to preserve life”. 75 years later, now faced with arguably the biggest global threat to human life since WW2 (40 million lives were predicted to be lost if governments did not take immediate action to slow the spread of Covid-19), how well are governments doing in preserving our universal right to life (Article 3, UN Declaration)? …


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“Living and working in Britain had always been my dream” explains Paulett, a highly qualified and passionate teacher, with two degrees in International Politics and Spanish. Paulett continues “in Jamaica migration to the Mother Country (Britain) was considered the key to our survival. After World War Two, the UK needed us to fill their labour shortages and that worked for us too; we could go to the UK, earn money and send it back home. …


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Extinction Rebellion protest in London

Hello I’m Jess Thompson, the Founder of Migrateful. Migrateful runs cookery classes in London and Bristol led by refugee chefs struggling to integrate and access employment due to legal and linguistic barriers.

As a type one diabetic, I am subject to an annual eye scan. This summer, the results came back with evidence of eye damage. I was told that if I didn’t improve my diabetic control immediately, I would risk being blind in 10 years’ time. This news felt very reminiscent of the rhetoric encountered in the climate change debate: ‘if we don’t change our behaviour now, we will witness extreme changes to our weather systems in 10 years’ time’. Despite really wanting to save my eyesight, I often find myself falling into old ways; it would seem that what I want does not always translate into how I act. …


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With 2500 years of saffron and rosewater scented history, Iranian cuisine has influenced cooking all over the globe — earning its reputation as the ‘mother cuisine’. Those who have attended Elahe and Parastoo’s cookery classes have reported them to be a “delicious, touching and magical experience”. This is no doubt due to the combination of exquisite flavours, and their heart-warming mother-daughter relationship.


Nigerian chef Elizabeth left behind a successful career in Nigeria to come to the UK to be with her sisters after her mother died. She found herself waiting for 8 years as an illegal immigrant unable to work or receive benefits

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“My name is Elizabeth and I am from Nigeria. I was lucky enough to be brought up in a middle class family who valued education. After graduating from my Psychology Master’s I got a well-paid job working for a newspaper. They called me “press woman”. I got to meet with celebrities and top government officials. I was very respected.

Four of my older sisters went to the UK for university. As the youngest, I stayed in Nigeria to look after my mum after our dad passed away. When I was eight months pregnant, my mum died. I became very depressed. All my sisters came back to Nigeria for the funeral but I felt that, now my mum was dead, my sisters would never come back to Nigeria and I would be cut off from them. To make me feel better one of my sisters invited me to come visit her in London. …


Majeda was imprisoned by the Syrian government for helping to feed people whose homes had been bombed in the war. She managed to escape Syria and now uses food to continue her activism in exile.

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I first met Majeda a few weeks after she had arrived in the UK in 2017. She had been working as a children’s therapist when the war broke out in Syria in 2011. She and her family had lived a happy and privileged life in a big house in Damascus. Thousands of displaced Syrians were arriving in the capital where she lived having had their homes bombed by the Syrian government. Majeda organised an initiative to feed them. As a Christian middle-class woman it was easy for her to cross the different checkpoints and get food to those who most needed it. The Syrian government then discovered what she was doing and imprisoned her for four months, with the reasoning: “it is a crime to feed the Syrians from areas occupied by the opposition — we want to leave them to die”. After she was released she continued her support for internally displaced communities. Eventually threats from the state became too much for Majeda and her family. “I couldn’t bear to see my children hurt. …


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Some anthropologists say that sharing food is what makes us human. There’s nothing else we do that is so central to making us feel part of a group. Sharing food is an opportunity to physically support each other and to share companionship through mealtime conversation. A companion, deriving from the Spanish “con pan” meaning “with bread”, is someone with whom to share your bread. Research shows that the tradition of eating together as a family or group is far less common in Western countries than in other parts of the world. …


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As part of the Year Here Fellowship, our team was asked to carry out a two-month consultancy project in the Meadows Estate, one of the most deprived estates in the UK. Home to 1755 residents, the estate is located in the borough of Hounslow, famed for its appearance in the film Bend It Like Beckham. Conversations are often interrupted by the unbearably loud sound of an airplane landing or taking off. You feel as if you are in the middle of a Heathrow runway — you practically are. One girl tells me “Pizza Hut refuses to deliver here because it’s so rough”. Her friend adds “nobody is doing anything worthwhile here, there’s at least 800 heroin addicts”. A highly unlikely statistic but a telling perception. Other residents tell me about traumatic burglaries, syringes in the park and muggings in the dark due to broken street lights. I meet Bertha in front of her porch who tells me, “I’m moving off the estate. Yesterday, my dog was brutally attacked by a junkie’s dog”. While she’s talking, a woman starts to thump on the door across the road, howling “Mum, mum please give me my children back!”. …


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I want to live in a society where the likes of Jolanta, Claudia, Leonor, Ahmad and Noor can feel fully integrated members of our community. This is what inspired me to start the Beyond English Club which became a form of group therapy for everyone, myself included. For example, we took time defining words like home, community, equality, violence, peace, loneliness, family and integration. One session discussing romantic love, they ask me if I’m married. “No I’m single”. I share that I’m going on a tinder date that evening. “Anybody know what Tinder is?”, I get out my phone and show them the Tinder app. They think it’s hilarious. “English girls so funny” comments Piarra. …


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I recently finished a six month placement at the Bromley-by-Bow community centre, located in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest and most ethnically diverse boroughs in London. 43% of residents are born outside of the UK and come from over 200 different countries. My desk was placed in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) office. Individuals with an extremely low level of English (despite having lived in the UK for 5, 10, 15 years) came knocking, asking for ESOL classes, to be told there were none available. I discovered that the government has cut ESOL funding by 50% over the last 5 years. There are currently 700,000 migrants in the UK unable to speak English well and 138,000 unable to speak it at all. O nly 150,000 of these individuals are enrolled in ESOL classes, in most cases due to the difficulty they encounter in accessing them. …

About

Jess Thompson, Migrateful Founder & CEO

Migrateful exists to empower and celebrate refugees and vulnerable migrants on their journey to integration by supporting them to run their own cookery classes.

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