They include resources that outline specific activities for KS2 – KS5 pupils, with links to the National Curriculum, and for adult ESOL learners, high entry-level and above. Please press below to be taken straight to the resources:
– learn about experiences of child refugees and migrants coming to East London through films, memoir and music
– explore what the university and others are doing, and could do, to support refugees and how to get involved
6pm: Film Screenings
i) Passing Tides – story of Linh Vu who escaped Vietnam by boat followed by a reading from her father’s biography, A Catholic with Confucian Tendencies
ii) Ugwumpiti– story of Maurice Nwokeji who survived the Biafran civil war before joining his parents in East London
7pm: QMUL’s support for refugees today
Panel discussion including:
Emma Williams, Chief Executive of STAR (Student Action for Refugees) on University of Sanctuary initiatives and other work of STAR including the campaign on family reunification
Lizzy Pollard, Advice and Counselling Student Services, QMUL on financial support for asylum seeker and refugee students
Raneem Kalsoum, QMUL Syria Solidarity Society
Followed by a wine reception and refreshments with music by One Jah featuring music of Maurice Nwokeji inspired by his childhood in Biafra.
A moving documentary of the story of Maurice Nwokeji from Biafra
As I watch a group of orphans in Aleppo on my TV screen appealing to the world to save them Maurice’s words ring in my ears. “But no. it’s happening now. There are kids like me in Syria, in Somalia. We haven’t learnt anything.”
Maurice knows what it is like to experience war, to be continually bombed and to scavenge for food. He was caught up in the Nigerian Civil War, better known as the Biafran War between 1967 and 1970. Ugwumpiti, the title Maurice chose for his film, is the word the children invented for the mixture of corn flour, powdered milk and water that the Red Cross provided, ‘the most beautiful food that has ever been.’ Thousands of children queued each day from morning till night, some of them dying in the line. One day Maurice won the singing competition held for the children so was able, with his younger brother, to lick the remains out of the massive oil drum.
Maurice’s story of how he survived the war, how his parents, in the UK, eventually tracked him down and arranged for him and his brother to join them in Hackney, is peppered with surprising, often amusing anecdotes. He talks about how he and his brother got knocked down by a taxi as they were not used to traffic; how they stole food from the fridge at night and stuffed it under their mattresses because they could not believe they would have food the next day; how they stuffed chocolate under the car seat because they did not want to tell their parents that it tasted too sweet. “I much preferred roasted rat,” Maurice laughed.
For the film Maurice returned to the house he lived in as a child in Hackney, “This is my England’ and he returned to Benthall Juniors where he went to school. An assembly of children were spellbound as Maurice told his story about coming, “to this very school” and as he sang several of the music tracks, inspired by his childhood, that are featured in the film.
Ugwumpiti, was recently launched at the Child Migrant Stories event at the V&A Museum of Childhood, part of the Being Human Festival. There was a great response.
‘Maurice’s heart told the story well.’
People readily linked Maurice’s experience with what is happening today.
‘Then is now. Does our society really care? And is that reflected in government policy?”
Do tell others about Ugwumpiti. Why not arrange a screening alongside a Q&A with Maurice and others. Or better still invite his band, One Jah, to give a live performance of some of the music featured in the film inspired by his childhood.
Former child migrants, friends, family, neighbours and the general public gathered at the V&A Museum of Childhood on November 19th for a series of films screenings, talks and performances about Child Migrant Stories as part of the national Being Human Festival. The programme of music, intercultural games, films and music by refugee and other artists attracted over 2,000 people.
The first film to be shown was Child Migrant Stories – Voices Past and Present, featuring 18 of the child migrants who came to East London under the age of 18 from 1930 to the present day. From Bangladesh to Bethnal Green, from the Caribbean to Clapton and from Somalia to Stamford Hill. People held their breath as Marie talked about the separation from her family during civil war in Rwanda. But they laughed when Heather, from Jamaica, recounted how she was told she would turn white when she went to England.
One ten year old girl said she enjoyed the film and learnt ‘that many refugees suffered abuse and racism at school.” She wanted, “to know more about all the kids stories. I was very engaged!”
The daughter of Nurul Giani wrote, “Very empowering and emotional for us as a family to hear.”
Other people commented:
“The film is fabulous.”
“Great humanity, warm and moving.”
“Increased my understanding and made me appreciate difficulties for new arrivals in a strange country.”
“It gives a friendly face or multiple faces to a topic that is often treated via a negative angle.”
Then we showed Passing Tides, the story of Linh Vu who escaped Vietnam by boat with her father. People gasped as they watched Linh, on screen, draw the small boat with 50 people crammed inside. This was followed by a Q&A session with Linh and a reading by Tina Puryear, co-author of Linh’s father’s recent autobiography, A Catholic with Confucian Tendencies.
People appreciated the film’s, “authenticity of emotions” and learnt about, “The process of refugee rescue and transition.” Several people thought it was, “fantastic to have the actual person in the film present at the showing and seeing/hearing their thoughts. It is wonderful how people survive and GROW.” They thought, “the reading from the autobiography really added to the perspectives.”
Ugwumpiti, the story of Maurice Nwokeji who was caught up in the Biafran war, was screened next. People were horrified to hear about Maurice’s experience of war but laughed at how, when he joined his parents in the UK and they offered him chocolate as a treat, he hated it. “Far too sweet. I much preferred roasted rat. ” One person felt that, “Maurice’s heart told the story well.” Another that, “Stories have to be told as part of the healing process.” Many people made the link between historical and contemporary migration. ”Then is now. Does our society really care? And is that reflected in government policy?”
The last film, Life is a Destiny, is about how Argun Imamzade rescued his family’s photographic album from his bombed out house in Cyprus in the 1960s. People loved the discussion between Argun and his grandchildren on film about what they would rescue if they had to leave home in a hurry. His oldest grandchild recounts how she would seize her mobile phone. Her grandfather looks puzzled but his granddaughter has a point. Her photographs would be stored on her phone and she would use it to make sure other family members were safe.
There were many ideas on what else the project could do – more research; more videos; more in depth stories; more talks; exhibitions; one minute films shot by migrants of their daily lives; social media for teenagers to talk about migration; films used as a resource for education, inspiration and projects for schools, NGOS, Unicef, Save the Children – the list was endless.This all needs resources, of course, and present funding has come to an end.
We retired upstairs to the hall to hear Maurice’s rousing reggae band, One Jah. Maurice thanked people for hearing his story, something he has always yearned to tell. He played music inspired by his childhood, hiding in foxholes to escape the bombs and scavenging for snakes and lizards. He and his younger brother would not have survived if the Red Cross had not provided them with one bowl of food a day, what the children named Ugwumpiti, the title he chose for his film.
What am I? I was born in the UK to English parents, and in 1990, when I was five years old, we moved to California. I remember being friends with the children of local British families for a time, and then when I went to school, I made friends with my American classmates. Eventually I picked up the local accent, so my new friends would stop asking me to “say something in English” on the playground. My sisters and I must have changed subtly, slowly, immeasurably over the next decade or so; I will never forget, in the car park of a pub on the outskirts of Leeds, hearing my grandad’s friend remark, “It’s a shame you’ve all become American.”
Is it? And did we? We immigrated, we assimilated, we naturalised as citizens… all before I understood what any of that really meant. I went to university in California, began my career in San Francisco, and then in 2013, having lived 23 of my 28 years in the United States, I moved to London.
What am I? In some ways, I feel like an immigrant: it took me a full week when I arrived in London to figure out where to buy coat hangers; I don’t speak like the people around me; I’ve never seen an episode of Eastenders. But in other ways, I do feel I’ve “returned”: dark chocolate digestives are no longer a special treat to unpack from a relative’s suitcase; I can now see my extended family more than once every year or two; and there’s just something about being back in England that feels right.
What am I? I was never fully American, and I’m no longer fully British. But I have passports that say I’m a citizen of both countries. Is there a word for what I am now? I don’t claim the “expatriate” label, with all its colonial baggage
“Repatriate” isn’t quite right either (not that I’ve ever heard anyone call themselves that). What the hell am I? https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration
When I stumbled across the term Third Culture Kid, I was surprised, relieved, and deeply moved to learn that there were others out there like me, people who slipped through the cracks of traditional definitions, who couldn’t easily answer the question “where are you from?”
They write: “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”
The world is full of stories like mine, and yet so many of us go about our lives in isolation, thinking there can’t possibly be anyone else who understands our experience. As a theatre maker, I want to tell these stories, to share them with other third culture kids who rarely see themselves represented on stage, and to give mainstream audiences a peek into our cross-cultural lives.
Since 2014, I have been working with a team of fellow cultural hybrids in London to create Home Is Where… a verbatim theatre project with music, movement, and multimedia. We’ve interviewed dozens of third culture kids, and writer Guleraana Mir is weaving together their true stories with a fictional narrative inspired by our post-Brexit political landscape. Our cast of five actors will take on the role of a resistance movement in a futuristic dystopia, using an innovative headphone verbatim technique to tell real-life TCK stories from the interviews.
Alongside the performance at Rich Mix on 2 September, we’ve partnered with HOPE not hate to offer a free and inclusive workshop before the show, using theatre games to explore the themes of the play: identity, culture, and belonging. This is one of many events in a national Weekend of HOPE, part of the #MoreInCommon campaign.
Even if you’re nowhere near London, you can listen to the stories in our Online Oral History Library, which holds short audio clips from the 30+ third culture kids we’ve interviewed.
These are stories of incredible journeys, difficult transitions, identity crises, daring adventures, teenage rebellions, hilarious misunderstandings, horizon expansions, international friendship, and above all common humanity.
“I hate that question, ‘where are you from,’ because I was born somewhere, but actually all the other countries where I’ve lived are part of who I am.” Valerie Teller
“I just belong to this world, that’s my nationality. I’m global.” Ria Ulleri
“We have the same experience. We talk about it and it’s such a relief. To hear that your experience is not unique, and other people have felt this same way their whole lives. And so you belong in your not-belonging.” Aslam Husain
Working on Home Is Where… has brought me into a community of people whose stories span the globe, people who look different and speak different languages, who have had vastly different experiences from mine, and yet we find so much common ground. We all see the world through a wide lens, we don’t always know which team we’re cheering for at the Olympics, we have friends and family in every time zone. We feel at home in airports and train stations… and with each other. You are welcome to join us.
Amy Clare Tasker is the artistic director of Amy Clare Tasker Performance Lab, the theatre company creating Home Is Where…
Child Migrant Stories was in demand during Refugee Week. We started off on Sunday 19th June with a screening of the film, Child Migrant Stories – Voices Past and Present in the Festival Hall on the South Bank. There was a great atmosphere with dance, music and poetry performances from people with a refugee background.
Amnesty, under the banner, What have they ever done for us? invited visitors to chart the journeys of well known people who have contributed to our social, cultural and political life.
Passing Tides, the story of Linh Vu who as a young girl escaped Vietnam by boat with her father, was shown throughout the week at the V&A Museum of Childhood. After several weeks preparation Hackney Museum launched an ambitious two-hour programme with primary school children based on four of the Child Migrant Stories. Almost 200 children participated in these workshops.
At the beginning of one workshop Josie, the museum educator, asked,“How many of you were born abroad?” Four hands shot up.“How many of you have parents or grandparents who were born abroad?”A forest of hands – all but 3 or 4 children had parents or grandparents born abroad.
I watched the introductory film, Child Migrant Stories – Voices Past and Present with one school group. They were transfixed and then plied me with questions.“How did you find people to be interviewed,” asked a bright spark of a girl.“I’ve lived and worked in East London for over 40 years,” I replied. “So I knew some of the people already.”
How I found people to be interviewed was, of course, more complicated. I followed up people who I knew from when I was running a training clothing workshop with Bangladeshi clothing workers in Spitalfields in the early 1980s. I contacted Mr. Vu who I knew when he first arrived in Hackney as one of the Vietnamese ‘boat people.’ At the time I was working as a community education worker with Hackney Adult Education and helped Mr. Vu find premises for English and mother tongue classes. Some of the people I interviewed run businesses in Hackney. Argun, from Cyrpus, has sold me stationery for years. Eylem, from Turkey, has served me coffee and Turkish breakfast. Local community organisations and neighbours, too, have helped to put me in touch with people.
After the film the children divided into four groups. They looked through a replica of the photo album that Argun saved from his bombed out house in Cyprus at the age of 12 and discussed what they would save if they had to escape in a hurry.
They fingered a huge multi-coloured African cloth similar to the one that Claudine used to carry her young brother through the forest to the Congo during the Rwandan civil war.
They admired the drawings that Linh drew of her escape from Vietnam with her father. The fishing boat that took them out to the South China Sea; the British boat that rescued Linh, her father and fellow passengers when they had run our of food and a storm was brewing; the porthole through which Linh spied the Thai pirates lurking on the horizon.
The children rewrote and performed the words of Henry’s moving song, There isn’t any place safe to live for the refugees. Henry, a musician, poet and artist, escaped the civil war in El Salvador at the age of 17.
I felt sad that Henry was not there to see how children were inspired by his song featured in our introductory film. Henry died just a few weeks after I interviewed him. But I was glad that his daughter, Gabriela, who has inherited her father’s artistic talent, would see how his father is inspiring another generation.
At the beginning of the workshop the children wrote in faint pen what they already knew about refugees. At the end they wrote in darker pen what they had learnt. The results were impressive.
It is a joy to see how Child Migrant Stories is being used so effectively as a learning resource. Hackney Museum staff found that the introductory film, in particular, resonated with children’s lives: “Children have been able to compare the stories on the screen to their own family’s journey, and have been so excited to see places that they recognise on the big screen.”
This is what one child, aged 11, thought about her experience at the museum. “We’re here happily living our lives with our play stations and mobile phones. I’ve got everything handed to me on a plate, but not everyone has that and it’s important to remember that during Refugee Week.”
A year 6 teacher from Mossbourne Parkside Academy remarked, “Refugee Week is more relevant now than it has ever been. It’s vital for children to know what it means …and the workshop at the museum helps them to see the ‘refugee’ as a person with a story and not a number, statistic or news story.”
Linh encouraged her daughter’s school to show Passing Tides during Refugee Week. This is how a Year 2 teacher from Lauriston School responded,“Poplar Class watched it and were enthralled. We had a great discussion about why people end up being refugees, and where they come from and where they go to, and what people can do to help. We thought Linh’s drawings were amazing!”
Refugee Week ended with a screening of Passing Tides at the Rio cinema before the film Fire at Sea, set on and around the Italian island of Lampedusa. It was wonderful to see Linh’s beautiful drawings on the big screen. The double bill was a success. Both films featured moving stories of people risking their lives at sea in search of safety but they differed too. Linh, who escaped Vietnam with her father by fishing boat, told her story in her own words. In Fire at Sea the migrants’ harrowing lives, and indeed deaths, are almost a backdrop to the story of a young boy from Lampedusa.
After the films Mitch, my fellow filmmaker, and myself joined Dr Anna Arnone, who has studied migration in relation to Lampedusa, in a question and answer session. People were surprised to hear that Lampedusa, besides being the arrival point for many migrants and the place where many have drowned offshore, is also a popular tourist destination.
We got some lovely feedback about the event, “I thought the film (Passing Tides) was brilliant – the story so cleverly told and illustrated with very evocative art and photographs. I actually cried and I think the combination of the harrowing details told in such a matter of fact way and the blending of domestic and international news throughout was just right. My friend thought Fire at Sea was quite wonderful and they both gave us the basis of a night’s discussion over supper.”
Another visitor was inspired to read in the credits that the film was shot on IPhone 6s. Our only regret about the Rio screening was that Linh could not join us. She was trampling about in the mud at Glastonbury.
We would like to thank all our partners for offering us the opportunity to share Child Migrant Stories – the Rio, the South Bank, the V&A Museum of Childhood and Hackney Museum. There are already plans to work with some of them in the future, “In the coming months and years, we’d love to continue to explore more of the stories and design ways of making them accessible to the children of Hackney.” Hackney Museum
But we also believe the website and films are of international appeal. Passing Tides had over 8,000 viewings on YouTube within a week – from Hackney to Ho Chi Minh City, from Sydney to San Francisco.
With the recent report showing that the 6 richest countries have only taken 9% of the world’s refugees we know there is no room for complacency.
This story is drawn from the interview with Eylem Binboga by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.
My name is Eylem Binboga. I was born in 1976 in Kayseri in the middle of Turkey. I have one older sister, a younger brother, and my mum and dad. We lived in a small house which used to belong to the Armenians. Once my grandmother died, we moved into my granddad’s farm outside the village Kumarli Köyü. I loved the farm.
I was out as soon as the sun rose and came home when it was dark. A person living in Germany had a summerhouse with lots of cherry trees. I used to steal a lot from that. Cherries stain not just your mouth, your teeth but also your clothes and hands. They knew you’d been stealing cherries [laughs].
And I loved sunflower seeds but sunflowers grow quite tall. So we had to break them and check if they were ripe. One time, when the owner appeared, I managed to run through the stems. It was easy because I was little, whereas he was a grownup man. And I ran as far as my granddad’s farm but didn’t have the strength to run further. And there was a scarecrow where mum was growing Turkish peppers, so I managed to undress it and climb into these old rags and stand still, scared to be caught.
When my grandfather heard this man calling he was cursing me, “she has the devil in her.” I could see him boiling with fury, but he didn’t spot me. I could see the rest of my cousins and friends running to hide in the caves, left from the Armenians.
Among this fun, there was hard work. I was like a shepherd. Sometimes we were out in the fields for hours under the sunlight, waiting for someone to bring us food. We did hard work, milking the cows, carrying hay and watering the plants.
One time, I was too busy playing and six of Mum’s turkeys got onto the railroads and got butchered by the passing train. I knew I was in trouble so I decided to run away.
I remember putting a couple of potatoes, tomatoes and spring onion in my apron. I took an hour’s walk, maybe more, to get to my granddad’s village, but I got a big smack, “You turn back and go home.” [Laughs]
We lived in my granddad’s house for maybe a year and a half. For some reason my grandfather and father didn’t get on. So we moved to my uncle’s farm in another village, and there they built a house. That was the time my parents decided to emigrate. It was a hard time socially, politically. We were Kurdish Alevis. There was segregation.
We knew we were Alevi, but what Alevi meant we didn’t know. You could see we were different. Mum didn’t cover her hair. During Eid we would butcher animals but certain neighbours wouldn’t take our meat. My grandfather was a Dede, like an Imam. In his house the cemevi would take place. He used to be a very good saz baglama player and there were songs he would play in a very secretive way. The doors would be locked and we wouldn’t be let in. If we spoke about it at school they would have been taken to jail, tortured and discouraged from doing it. The local Sunni Muslims could have burnt the place down.
The only couple of houses we were in connection with knew we were Alevis. They were Muslim Sunnis but weren’t the radical types. They respected who we were. My parents and grandparents spoke Kurdish but they were very careful not to speak in front of us, in case we spoke Kurdish in school. So they were very hush, hush about it. I discovered our Kurdishness in this country.
My parents took asylum here under the label of Kurds. There are political reasons but I think it was also financial. My dad didn’t like to work with the land. They arrived to this country in 1986.
I was just seven turning eight when my parents left. It was summertime. There was lots of watermelon [laughs]. Nobody actually sat me down and explained what was happening. And I don’t actually remember them leaving me, my sister and brother, with my uncle. Maybe it was painful, my memory blocked it out.
Being out in the sunrise and coming back when the sun was going down, meant their going didn’t feel like a big loss. But when they phoned or a letter came it was very emotional. We had four or five letters. Maybe two or three telephone calls. We didn’t have a telephone in our house. It had to be in a village.
My uncle and aunt were very good to us, especially my aunt. But she didn’t have time for cuddles, bless her. She worked hard.
After two years, 1988, my uncle was taking us to get brand new clothes. It was like, “What’s going on?” And the next thing we know, we’re in a big coach. I’d never been to a big city, so Istanbul was wow, amazing. We were there for five, maybe seven days.
And then got on a plane. I’d never been on a plane before [laughs]. Yeah, that was a bit surreal.
At London airport there was a barrier and forms to be filled up. And there was this black lady from Cyprus, Derya Abla. I think she got to cuddle us first, because mum had to be kept to one side. Derya had a big van. I remember cuddling my mum at the back. She looked old, different, modern. Or I was different. We came to a place called Isci Birgli, Workers Union Party in Balls Pond Road. Dalston. I remember the smell of Turkish tea, my dad’s tears and his prickly moustache. [Laughs] Everybody was so friendly. It was surreal. I was 10, 11. You were caught in a flow of water and just being dragged and nobody’s asking me did I want to leave Turkey, do I want to go to my mum? You’re just following. So I did what I did. I followed what I was being told.
We lived in a room in Hackney Wick. Mum managed to stay with us for a week, but she had to go back to work. They just locked the door and left us. I can never forget that door. In Turkey doors were always open. I hate doors. In my flat I took out all the doors. There is not even a door in the bathroom unless a guest comes.
We came in August, so the schools were on holiday. Then we were sent to temporary accommodation in Walthamstow. That’s where we started Walthamstow School for Girls. One magical thing in this country is it’s lush green. After the rain the sun came out, everything would spark. I loved it. And we were wearing green uniforms. We were almost camouflaged. [Laughs]
For six or eight months we were sent to learn just language. We had girls from Thailand, Pakistan, Nigeria, so everybody had the same problem. After two years the language barrier evaporated but my English teacher said, “Oh, I regret the day you learnt English.” [Laughs] I’m a very talkative person, and not having the voice to say anything was hard.
I had a Pakistani friend called Sadia Anwar, a Jamaican friend called Zoe and a Chinese friend called Pu Ling. They were all born here. And there was Joanna who was British. I loved my friends. They looked after me. I remember going on a camping holiday. Everybody sat around a fire and there were people from different ethnicities, different countries. I didn’t feel the only foreigner. I felt part of this world now.
I did as much after school activities as possible. Drama, running and sailing in Chingford Reservoir. I stayed late to do homework. Home was not happy. My parents were working in factories, making ladies’ jackets, coats. They would get up at six and work till eight, ten, 11, sometimes 12. And they came home with work to do. They had to turn pockets or collars or belts.
When I was 14, 15, we went to the social centre at the Social Workers Centre, Isci Birligi. That’s where I learned about Alevism but they also took you on marches. One time we did a big march against the BNP. It was great fun but they gave you chores to do. I didn’t like this extra burden of interpreting, translation and form filling.
I went to Epping Forest college for two years and then to University of Brighton to study three dimensional design and craft. It was brilliant, [laughs] beside the sea. I should have stayed but I knew I had to come back.
I went to Turkey the first time in 1995. Before that I have dreams about not being able to get there. My grandfather’s farm will be just a field away, but it was full of lurking, muddy creatures. I wanted to go back so much. But when I went back the village had become a town. In seven, eight years the whole place had changed. So this nostalgic, romantic childhood had gone and the dreams stopped. It felt like closure. I love it when I go to see my family. But they have changed. It’s not how it was.
In Turkey I think I would have wed early probably with a cousin. I would love to run a farm. But I couldn’t do that with the current situation in Turkey, I can’t be who I am there. Too much restrictions for a woman to do what she wants.
You can hear Eylem and excerpts from her story here and on Soundcloud
This story is drawn from the interview with Saqib Waqar by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.
I was born in Pakistan, Lahore, on the 2nd of August 1994. I didn’t live far from Shalimar Garden, a pretty famous place.
I don’t have a rich background. The house was pretty much made out of mud and [laughs] you used to get things coming off it. When it used to rain it went all gooey. Then slowly, slowly my dad collected a bit of money and we built a little bit of a proper house. But my dad wasn’t earning much so it took a long time.
It was my mum, dad, grandparents, uncles in the same street. We used to have family all around us. My dad had some government job. My mum was a housewife. My mum cooked basic chicken curry, lamb curry, vegetables. As long as it’s cooked by my mum it’s good. I’ve got a brother and a younger sister. I’m the middle one.
I used to play cricket and they used to have lots of goats and sheep. There always used to be something to do. I used to get in trouble a lot of the time. Mum used to call me, “Come and have your lunch,” but I’m running around, playing with my friends. [Laughs]
Dad used to take us out. There used to be some ice cream parlour we used to go to. But I prefer it in the neighbourhood rather than going out. I used to have a little bike and we’d just go out exploring. All good memories.
I did go to school when I was young. I was three, four years old probably. Eid, we used to love. The main thing you look forward to is your uncles and your aunties giving you money. Basically you buy sweets, chocolates. There used to be rides like a little banana boat and it used to go up and down. It wasn’t a proper fairground. It used to come once or twice a year, like the way it comes here.
My cousin, he’s a qualified Imam. So every morning we used to go to his house. He used to teach us how to read Qur’an, how to pray in the Mosque. From the roof we could see the Mosque literally two minutes walk.
Yeah, it was a big Mosque. I was a little kid and you mostly pray at home. Your parents don’t want you to go by yourself. I used to muck about, so my mum was extra curious. [Laughs] I used to tell her I’m going Mosque but I used to go somewhere else.
I came with my grandparents. They used to come and go ‘cause my uncle lives here. I couldn’t come with my parents. My parents are still there. I did know that I was coming here, but it was weird. I made sure that I sit by the window, seeing the world with the bird eye view.
When I landed I thought wow [laughs] this is completely different. It’s another world. There everything is all over the place, here everything is organised. And you don’t hear people shouting and screaming. There people are beeping horns all day long.
At the start, leaving your mum, did hurt, But after a few days you kind of get used to it. I used to live in Whitechapel. From Whitechapel, Roman Road.
I used to live with my uncle, his missus and he got two kids. To be honest they looked after me, brought me up. They were my parents and they fed me, everything. So I did miss my parents but I kind of had my parents here. I went to school in Bethnal Green, Bethnal Green Technology College. I was about 12 years old. I had a pretty bad experience at the start ‘cause my English wasn’t really good. I was close to my head assistant. She used to know that my problem is that I’m Pakistani and they’re Bengali and then sometimes they bully me. She used to tell me, “Just walk off from here.” Slowly, slowly, I got better. I think the hardest was in Year 9. I was going to get kicked out of school. Messing around, fighting. [Laughs]. So I had to sort myself out.
I used to love PE and Art – abstract, spray painting and that. You can relax, do the work and it was pretty chilled out. I joined Bow Adventure Places after school for biking, canoeing, shooting and they take you to residentials. It was wicked.
In 2010 I went to John Cass Sixth Form. I studied Level 3 Business and Finance. That was even a better experience than school. My teacher was pretty laid back. She used to know that at the end of the day we’re going to give her the work. I had distinctions in Level 3. I would go back any day. [Laughs]
My friend he’s Sikh, he’s Indian. Another friend of mine he’s from Nigeria, and another friend [laughs] was from Bangladesh. I’ve been to a few Sikh festivals and they walk for about two hours. We’re all different [laughs] and we’re all pretty close. I think we all had a similar personality. I met them all in college.
Obviously your education is important. But it’s basically your friends ‘cause from 16 to 18, you’re becoming an adult so you want your friends around you. You’re going out to places. We used to mess around with girls quite a lot [laughs]. It’s that age. I used to know a few girls in college and then Facebook and social networking and all that.
But I got married now. I’m 21. I met her through a friend of mine. I was with her for about three and a half years, and then I got married. She was working in Bradford, in a community centre. She used to get people to go out a bit more, the women. Asking them to get more involved with the community. She’s Bengali so it was pretty hard to convince her family, but we’ve got kind of got around it.
It wasn’t a really big wedding ‘cause I didn’t have much money. We had all the family, all the house and that. I’ve done the Islamic ceremony in the East London Mosque. I haven’t done the English ceremony, so need to sort something out, do a little big, a big little party and invite a few of my friends. It’s a new life, new life definitely. It should be pretty good.
After school I started learning how to cut hair rather than being on the street. I would love to open my business one day. [Laughs] A lot of people around me speaks Urdu, even Bengali people, they speak Urdu as well.
What I like about East London is people blend in quick. Here I see people coming from all over the world. Today I saw a Spanish guy. He’s only been here for a month. He was telling me about his culture, and I was telling him about my culture
I rent a property in Roman Road. I’ve always lived in a flat. It’s too expensive to live in houses. I go to the Mosque on a Friday to pray in British Street, Merchant Street, just right by the station. When you come into East London you feel home. Everybody knows you so if you ever need help you can call somebody up.
I ain’t got much contact back home now. At the start I used to, but not much now. What you miss from back home is the weather, the food. But other than that, I would prefer UK. I wouldn’t know what to do back home. Here I know what I want to do, where I need to go and how to do it, so I’m better off. I never thought I would spend the rest of my life here.
It is difficult to blend in, really difficult, especially the language barrier. It takes time, but once you get there people around will support you.
This story is drawn from the interview with Tomasz Wlodaraczyk by Eithne Nightingale as part of her research into child migration to East London.
I was born in 1968 in Lodz, a Polish equivalent of 19th century, industrial Manchester. The old town is pleasing, secessionist architecture.
Lodz Poland c.1970
The suburbs are communist brutalism.
Mother left when I was about seven or eight. I was quite young so I could move to different family members. They were given a 12-month sentence as I might not have been the best-behaved little boy.
My great grandmother was absolutely lovely. She was truly ancient, 90 something and had a lovely house just outside the city so it was gorgeous countryside. I had a good time there.
I lived with my father for a year or so because they were still together when my mother came here. They divorced when I was probably ten or something. He was a nice enough chap but liked the bottle a bit too much. I think that’s why they divorced. I have two half-sisters that I’ve never met and don’t even know their names.
I’m sure I missed my mother but kids are very resilient. You adapt to whatever situation you’re in. There were times I wasn’t particularly happy, but no kid ever is. Living with my aunt and my grandmother wasn’t much fun. I ended up bunking off school for about eight months
I got to know the city really well. I walked for long distances and with no one batting an eyelid. I would go to markets, trade bits and pieces, meet friends. Bizarrely for a kid who bunks off, I often sat under a tree to read.
I had access to forbidden books through my grandmother at the university. Academics had to have access to them for Marxist Leninist criticism. I read loads of trash but also good stuff. I was about nine when I read Catch 22 – quite inappropriate.
As I was moving around I got quite good at making friends quickly, but also dropping friends. That’s a habit I picked up. Quite a bad habit really.
The one school I really liked was quite strict but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re assigned a form tutor and he stays with you throughout. Mine was this kind of military, mathematics teacher and I really liked him. It gave me structure.
Everyone was aware of politics. We would make anti-Communist pamphlets to give out at school. It was a patriotic duty to disrupt Russian language lessons but I wish my Russian was better these days. I remember a favourite history teacher who taught us about Katyn, where the Russians murdered 20,000 Polish officers at the beginning of WW11.
We never saw her again. It was political but I don’t think she’s pushing up the daisies anywhere. Poland wasn’t as repressive as other Eastern Bloc regimes.
We’re naturally a libertarian nation so the whole Communism project never sat easily.
I don’t think you would call my family particularly politicised. They just did little acts of resistance. My grandmother ran the cafeteria at Lodz University and a massive meat franchise at a time of meat shortages. She was in charge of distributing it and made sure party members were slightly less privileged than others.
It was a time of Solidarity and Lech Walesa.
It was not like Dansk where it all kicked off but we were the second biggest city so there was a lot of activity and demonstrations. I don’t think anyone got shot which happened in other places. People just used to get truncheoned, arrested, beaten up in backs of cars, disappear. You interacted with others aware of where they stood. I got truncheoned when I was about 11. They were ghastly, miserable times really.
I was in the Scouts which was fun. Polish Scouts is a bit different. They have a history fighting the Nazis so you had to join. You would set up camps, do a bit of military training probably considered quite unsavoury these days. I loved it.
We were quite a secular family which is unusual for Poland but Easter can be quite fun. There’s lots of egg painting and they made this basket full of painted eggs to take to church to be blessed.
My mother would come every so often and I would visit here. I came over three or four times before settling down. I flew a few times. Twice I came on a ship, once on a cruise ship and once on a cargo ship. That was kind of cool. I think I was 13 or something when I came. It just didn’t seem that big a move. It just seemed natural to step into a new life.
My mother was a manual worker. There was this big warehouse in Wapping where they would collect old clothes and send to different parts of the world, an early version of recycling. It was primarily black market because there were so many things we were not allowed. You can make quite a good living taking jeans to Moscow and coming back with diamonds. It wasn’t something she did all the time but it certainly helped.
My mother married my stepfather, a Czech. We lived in a totally derelict, three storey, building on Wapping High Street with a view of the Thames and the Tower Bridge. It was great fun. I really liked my stepfather and, my mum too but I wasn’t very good at taking direction so there was a bit of conflict but not too much. They did allow me to do whatever I felt necessary.
My school was quite a long way so I had to get to Poplar from Wapping on buses so that gave me freedom. You could hang round with lots of friends. Poplar was slightly different in those days. It was Cockney, very working class and I loved it. It was very much cockles and mussels. It was quite ugly ‘cause it, got bombed to hell. They put up vile blocks of flats everywhere.
In Ealing there were huge Polish communities from the war and a public school that gave bursaries for Polish kids. I was offered one but for me personally, a comprehensive in Poplar was much better than a public school in West London. If you stay in your own culture then you never become part of the mainstream.
I went to a very good Catholic school, Philip Howard in Poplar, run by a Dutch headmistress. The teachers were fun and education standards were quite good. It was a well-structured school.
In Poland, I took some English lessons but the chap that taught me was a WW11 RAF pilot and I picked up his accent that was like something out of a WW11 movie. When I first arrived in this working class area I had hardly any vocabulary, my grammar wasn’t good but I sounded posh. I had about eight fights within a fortnight. I had moved schools enough to know you stand your ground, blood a couple of noses and then everyone leaves you alone. I almost got expelled.
Because my English wasn’t good I got sent to a language centre near Brick Lane and there was quite a few Bangladeshis there. They were a very tight group and weren’t always polite. If I had not been able to turn the mean gene on at will, I would have had a horrendous time.
I took O-Levels but because my English wasn’t very good they weren’t brilliant. I took time out, bummed around, odd job here and there. I remember clearing market stalls, worked in a pub, had a job for BT in Holborn in an IT department.
I’ve been independent from a very young age so I moved out to Poplar the day after my 16th birthday. Four of us from the same class in school ended up having an apartment in an abandoned tower block. We weren’t paying rent but it was derelict so no one really bothered. We put locks on, contacted an electricity board. It was fine, a good community. We had beds, an occasional chair and lots of beanbags. I didn’t actually tell my parents where I was living. [Laughs] I didn’t want them to worry
I did get knifed quite badly but that wasn’t because of the building. One night this bunch of guys started chasing us. I think it was racially motivated as they were black. We were running down the middle intersection of the motorway across the Blackwall Tunnel approach from Poplar. I saw a piece of wood and I stupidly picked it up.
I didn’t actually know I was knifed until a couple of my friends managed to chase them and they went “you’re bleeding like a pig.” I went to pubs where music was playing. I didn’t really go to cinema. It was days of videos so groups of us would lock ourselves in a room and watch Kung Fu movies. Chasing girls is just what teenagers do. I had a girlfriend from an Italian background. There were quite a few Italians around.
I did A-Levels in different places – City and Jubilee and Kingsway Princeton Colleges and went on to university. I was like 20. I went to Reading for Modern European Literature and Philosophy, a degree designed to be able to bullshit at dinner parties. I can bullshit for England. I decided to do a PGCE, which I hated, volunteered for Friends of the Earth and got the job as fundraiser within the week. I was there for about two years before I moved to be a Director of Strategy for Dignity in Dying.
The first time I went back to Poland was with Alison, 20 years down the line. I went to Krakow, which was nice. I’m not into keeping in touch. The only family member I was close to was my great grandmother who died. My relationship with my family was a bit complicated. I think they got paid by my mother to look after me,
I like visiting Poland because it’s good to try and speak the lingo. My Polish is atrocious. I’ve got a foreign accent in whichever language I speak. Me and my parents speak “Poleglish” — whichever word comes to mind first. I have a fondness for good vodka, so that’s a Polish thing and I’ve always been a great fan of steak tartar. Here people think it’s dreadfully posh but it’s not. I really missed that when I came over.
I started making stained glass as a hobby and when the time came to leave Dignity in Dying I had a go at making this as a living. Certainly my designs are quite Polish. It’s kind of in there. Poland had a very strong Bauhaus before Bauhaus existed.
If I had to have an identity I would say English rather than British. Britishness is a very vague concept. I suppose my identity came from Poplar, East End. There are very few of us left [laughs]. I feel I am a cockney or an East Ender though I don’t sound it. It must sound strange from a foreigner, doesn’t it?
“Passing Tides” ( 18 minutes) is the story of Linh Vu who escaped Vietnam by boat with her father in the 1970s. Linh, her father and the other passengers were picked up by a British boat just as they were running out of food and water. They were taken to a refugee camp in Singapore and then to Thorney island on the south coast of Britain. Linh and her father settled in Hackney and were joined by Linh’s mother and siblings five years later.
The film uses Linh’s drawings to illustrate her journey and settlement in the UK>
We are very excited to launch the film about the migration of Linh Vu, aged 7 from Vietnam to the UK. I first interviewed Linh for Child Migrant Stories in late 2013 and early 2014. In our third interview she drew the boat in which she escaped with her father, remarking that she had drawn the sails bigger than they really were. It was as if she wished the journey had been safer than it was. She also spoke about her experience of living in the refugee camp on Thorney Island on the south coast where her Dad acted as an interpreter and senior social worker for the other Vietnamese. The school Linh attended outside the camp had welcomed her warmly and she made many English friends there. Even then I thought how wonderful it would be to encourage Linh to illustrate more of her perilous journey and to visit Thorney Island with her.
When I secured money to make films based on some of the child migrant stories I shared some of these ideas with Linh. She responded positively. She was about to visit Vietnam during the Easter holidays, after many years away, and so was able to take images of her home town including of a full size statue of Jesus lying on a bed of popcorn. She had begun to think that she had imagined this – but there it was for her, her husband and her seven year old daughter forty years later.
Linh began to draw other images, often surreal – of the British ship on the horizon that she mistook for an iceberg with fairy lights; of shrimp paste morphing into the Eiffel Tower. We made a memorable trip to Thorney Island with her father, Thanh Vu M.B.E., who used to bellow down the loudspeaker at the Vietnamese residents for cooking in their rooms – they wanted to spice up the bland offerings they were served in the refectory.
The film is a testimony to Linh’s artistic skill, delicacy and thoughtful reflections of not only her own experiences but of how they relate to those of child migrants today.
We have already screened the film on the Floating Cinema on Regents Canal last Saturday followed by a question and answer session where children as young as seven plied Linh with searching questions – why did she leave, what did it feel like on the boat, what was it like to arrive in Hackney and why did there need to be a war? Linh’s daughter had a more personal question. What was the name of her teenage boyfriends that her father disapproved of as they were English, not Vietnamese? The barge rocked withlaughter.
Tina Puryear, who has helped Linh’s father write his autobiography, read out a moving passage of the reunion of Linh and her father with Linh’s mother and siblings five years later. We were able to screen the film again at the launch of Linh’s father’s autobiography on Monday night in a Vietnamese restaurant in Hackney run by Linh’s brother. Immediately Hackney Museum vowed to use the film in their education programme with schools during Refugee Week and Student Action for Refugees wish to use the ‘incredible film’ in UK wide activities.
Some of the comments on Linh’s film made on Saturday June 4th 2016 on the Floating Cinema:
“It was very moving and with parallels with today’s refugee crisis.”
“Warm, beautifully told, powerful drawings.”
“Powerful impact of the subject matter, technical brilliance, beautifully edited.”
“Reminds us how fragile the politics of identity truly are. It gives me great pride to be around a diverse community of people and ideas.”
“Shows us a terrible reality of human survival. With the current situation it opened my eyes.”
“It was a wonderfully told human story.”
“Fascinating seeing such a personal account of a momentous journey.”
“Personal, authentic, intimate.”
“Very moving and humbling.”
‘The excerpt from the book was brilliant.”
“Lively discussion with children asking relevant questions.”
There were many ideas of how to take the project forward – more films, a road show, take it to schools, to local groups, to areas that are less diverse. But more ambitious aims too.
“Funding is all! I feel this needs to be seen by certain, ‘People of Influence’, also on a bigger screen.”
“Use these beautiful stories to lobby and make it relevant in our society/government’s position towards situation of refugees’ ordeal today.”
With many thanks to Linh and her family who have helped bring this beautiful film to fruition and to Mitchell Harris for his unfailing talent and commitment.
Also thank you to the Floating Cinema for hosting our films on the Regent’s Canal and to the staff of Thorney Island and Southbourne Junior School for allowing us to film there.