So how to condense the enormous amount of information that we want to share? We gave up the unequal struggle and will let you see the unabridged version!
This was another wonderful day out in rather unexpected beautiful sunshine (Bronllys was chosen as a site for a sanatorium as it was supposed to be the sunniest spot in South Wales but still…) and on this occasion we really learnt about the benefits of these days to us and other local people as well as to our visitors. We all had such fun, good food, good fellowship, interesting conversations with fascinating, like minded, kindly people of all nationalities and as someone helping remarked it was the best way they’d spent a Sunday in years!
Sue, Gez, Lynne and Phil supported by so many people hosted the day between the Royston Hall and Bronllys school which were wonderful venues and the lovely walks between the two places helped to make room for enormous amounts of breakfast, lunch and tea! The Hall was only available just that week and lacked any kitchen cupboards, surfaces or a sink! The hosepipe and water heaters were used to great effect and if Lorna ever takes a job catering anywhere else she’ll find it so simple after Sunday! She was an oasis of calm as the food and drink and dirty plates circulated madly and helpers rushed to and fro and people wandered through on their way to sit or leave or to offer support washing up in the buckets! It was a delightfully chaotic day with no big egos trying to organise or constrain the sheer joyful flow of the day.
The facts :-Bluebird Coaches stalwart Stuart drove 49 people up from Swansea and Lawrence picked up 3 Syrian families (18 people) from Ystradgynlais. The coach arrived at 11.30 and Breakfast coordinated by Phil and Lynne was eaten. People dispersed to Drum, Play football, make clay models, walk to Bronllys castle and potter around. Lunch started at around 1.30 courtesy of Sue (who seemed to be everywhere serenely encouraging), Lorna and a host of people who were all enabled to assist magnificently and went on for almost an hour. The wonderful Alive and Kicking Choir from Brecon arrived and kindly started singing as lunch was finishing. They had chosen their songs perfectly and encouraged audience participation which was loud and enthusiastic.
Several children stood near the front and copied the conductor with great skill and joy. Another wander to the school to play more football, look at the donated clothes and chat, continue clay making and encourage the choir to sing again. Return to the hall for tea, cakes of almost every description and beautiful flowers for families and women. Bags of donated vegetables and fruit and tins and toiletries (thanks to the very generous residents of Bronllys, and Llyswen and the schools and churches harvest festivals) were piled onto the coach and minibus so everyone would have 2 bags to go home.
Gez running back and fore between the school and the hall: ‘I like being a runner’ Sian: ‘what are you running?’ Gez: ‘messages, keys, people, information, knowledge.’
Trooping into the hall, single and double file, a stream of smiling people, men, women and children. Only a coach-load but the line seems endless. Sian: ‘I can’t believe these waves of people are all fitting into this little hall: is this hall a tardis?’ Gez: ‘No, they’re all going out the back again!’
Drumming with Taiko Mynydd Du
Joe, Ursula, Adam, Ceri were so incredibly patient as they waited for people to arrive for at least an hour and a half. Sean and Steve are calling from the road: ‘Drumming! Drumming!’ trying to drum up interest. Interest is sparse. Sian wonders if ‘drumming’ is not a word commonly learned in the early stages of English-language-learning so asks K, from Syria, to translate into Arabic. ‘Tabla’ he says. ‘Tabla! Tabla!’ we call. Immediately, children rush; jumping the wall, flinging themselves into the road (health and safety be damned), flowing to Sean and Steve.
The drums are arranged in a wide circle. Children are arranged behind the drums, from two-foot-tots to teenagers, like the Ascent of Man. The drummers instruct the players to start quiet, build to a slow crescendo, then diminish to pianissimo again; to make a wave of sound. They do this all in gestures, but it’s understood. And it’s a licence to make lots and lots of noise. Children batter the drums, grinning in glee. Mums in hijab stand around, like Mums always do when children in group activity are being watched; smiling; as the windows rattle and the walls reverberate and the sound booms round the room and vibrates every atom of my inner ear.
S, from Senegal, plays Samba, in Swansea. He is a member of a big, well-known Swansea samba group. He introduces himself to Joe and Adam afterwards and they chat sharing a common interest.
Knitting and Crocheting group with Carol
Carol runs a craft shop, Phoenix Crafts, in Talgarth and belongs to Brecon Guild of Spinners, who kindly donated all of the needles, crochet hooks and wool for today. Carol hoped that some of the women would be able to teach new techniques, new stitches and that they can learn from each other. She anticipated simply enjoying being with other people who enjoy making things. They sat surrounded by Jane’s wonderful play pen with young children happily playing whilst they quietly worked.
Jez’s walk attracts high numbers. He gathers his crowd in the road, and tells them where they’re going, what to expect, chucking in some anecdotes and some jokes. People are smiling in happy expectation. A from Sudan tells them what Jez just said. Faces light up, faces wreath in smiles, chatter starts. Jez: ‘He’s saying: “Follow that old git with white hair”.’ A: ‘No, no, I didn’t say that!’, Jez: ‘Say it now.’ A translates. The group erupts in laughter. And off they go.
The walking group are the first to arrive for lunch. They were the last to arrive, on the last two days. ‘I told them to be quick, or there’d be nothing left’ said Jez, as he and the group survey the untouched banquet, a sea of middle-East-themed dishes and delicacies, prepared, with thoughtfulness and awareness, by Bronllys villagers and so many friends.
A, from Pakistan loved the walk and spoke about the fields of kale and the ploughed fields awaiting seed that they had passed by, and how much she had longed to leave the path and get into the fields, to walk with her feet in the meadow-grasses.
Jez had taken the walk to Bronllys castle and then to the banks of the River Llynfi. ‘It was their chance to go for a swim’ he said; ‘but nobody took me up on it.’ What they would have liked was to fish, which desire many of them conveyed to him in gesture, miming reeling in a catch. They also all agreed that sheep in Wales are fatter than sheep in Syria; and worked out that the oak trees near the castle are 400-500 years old. Some scrumped apples, although we probably shouldn’t mention this. The group was also were treated to a fly-past by a red kite, which led to a discussion with one of the group, from Syria, about falconry.
Football led by Gareth, Ryan and Rhys
Big turnout, as always; 13 or so per side. Tiny tots to adult men.Phil from Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group (SBASSG) noted that a really tiny child, too small to play, had hung out with one of the goalies. Every time there was a goal kick, he did it; everyone let him do it and treated him like this was his role in the game; so that he was not left out. Lawrence was very impressed with the skills shown especially the man who was able to do keepy ups with both feet whilst spinning round!
Another Activity that lasted all day with a constant flow of children spending time enjoying playing with the clay and making things to take home.
All of the food that went into the lunch was donated by the Bronllys villagers. They made the food, made the salads, donated ingredients. Chris and Vicky, friends of Sue, are among the villagers who cooked and prepared and reheated and then served. It was hard to chose from, a spicy lentil dish, a fragrant root vegetable stew, a colourful Mediterranean stew, a bean stew, fish stew, tabbouleh, piles of Basmati rice, a mountain of homemade bread, dates, fruit and a heaped dish of baked coconut.
The baked coconut was so divine that Sian tracked down the person responsible for it (Sarah), for the recipe. It’s an Anna Jones’ recipe, from ‘A Modern Way to Cook.’ Here it is:
Tip your coconut flakes onto a tray lined with baking paper
Grate lime zest over it.
Drizzle maple syrup over it
Bake for five minutes in a hot oven, 200 degrees, keeping an eye on it.
‘It really lifts a curry’ agrees Sarah. It really lifted Sian, too!
Alive and Kicking Community Choir from Brecon sang to the guests while they were eating and beyond. People push their finished plates away and turn to the music – clapping, moving in time, tapping feet, taking photos. Children dance unabashed in the space before the choir, moving their bodies to music, as all human beings are born to do but, in many western cultures, forget. Children love life more than we do, because they haven’t yet forgotten the skill of knowing how to, through singing and dancing and moving in time to sound, that all of us are born with. British culture has shed its consciousness of this timeless connection to the rhythm of life and the life force of the universe. We are the poorer for it. Our guests are hindered by no such repression.
We wander back to the schoolyard and relax and let our lunch digest in the sun. People sort through the clothes, books and children’s toys; children play on the rope swings and climbing frame; another football match generates itself, as football seems to, everywhere where there are men and boys; people sit in twos and threes and small groups, women chatting, men smoking (cigarettes and vapes).
The choir join us, and Tanya conducts both choir and audience, in rounds – songs from all over the world, songs about freedom, peace, hope and faith, songs to sing with feeling and joy. ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’, which was sung by the crowds awaiting him as Nelson Mandela was released from prison. ‘Afon Afon’, which was sung at this years National Eisteddfod down the road in Abergavenny.
R, from Syria, approaches Tanya afterwards to thank her. R had sung enthusiastically. She says: ‘thank you! Thank you!’ to Tanya, her face wreathed in smiles. ‘I love you.’ R is here today with her three children. H, the eldest, joins us to say his Mum sings ‘In the bedroom’ They agree that singing is good anywhere; in the bedroom, in the car, in the bath.
R, from Cameroon talks about language. French is the lingua franca in his (ex-colonial) country with 150 indigenous languages. He asks about Welsh and where Welsh is spoken in Wales. Mac, who teaches English, joins in. He has also noticed something – a map of Wales painted in permanent colour on the playground floor. They move to the map, and Mac uses his whole body to show R where, in Wales, Welsh is still the first language, jumping from place to place.
Bronllys village welcome
Lorna, a friend of Sue’s, is volunteering on her first respite day. She has been in the kitchen, helping with the preparation, since about 9.30. She is a constant, calm and capable presence there all day. After lunch, she dries while little A, aged about 6, washes up. Lorna has tucked a tea-towel into A’s waistband, for a pinny.
Gillian has brought 4 buckets full of flowers to make posies for the refugee women to take home with them. Her daughter has her own company providing flowers for weddings. Lorna comments on what a lovely thing this is to do. How many people on state welfare, as asylum seekers are forced to remain, could afford to buy themselves flowers? How many have the facilities for growing their own, in Swansea? We all agree that we all love flowers, and being given flowers, and that there is something special about flowers. Lorna: ‘Especially if you’re used to living in the country and you come here and now you’re living in the city. Maybe flowers can be a little bit of an escape.’
Walking from school to hall this morning, I passed a lady gardening. She smiled at me and asked if our guests were having a good time.
‘Shukran’, ends Sean (this is ‘thanks’ in Arabic)
‘Iechyd Da’ shouts Y, from Syria. We all stand to see our friends off ,all comfortable with each other, all sorry that the day has flown by and all eager to meet up again.
Reasons why the trips are so important
Wayne explained that more connections between people are building, because of these trips; that friendships are forming. Families who come on trips are going to Wayne with names of friends of their’s, other refugee families not yet in touch with Unity in Diversity (UiD) or SBASSG, asking for these friends to come next time. Word about the trips is spreading through word of mouth, through refugee and asylum seekers’ own networks. New arrivals in the UK, in Swansea, have often been connected with people already settling in Swansea by their friends and families at home, or in other places in the UK. A person settling in Swansea will be asked by a friend or relative somewhere else: ‘My friend so and so is arriving in Swansea, take care of them, this is their number’ etc. Wayne said: ‘Syrian families in Swansea seem keen to connect with the Syrian families in Ystradgynlais, whom they’ve met through the trips.’
Z: In Swansea, he sits at home, all day, every day, thinking, thinking. Heartbroken at the relentless destruction of his once beautiful home city, Aleppo. Wishing he could return to Syria, to help. Here, he feels useless. There, he could help. He’s far from useless today. His skills as an interpreter from English to Arabic are called upon all day long. Many people had a better day today than they would have if Z hadn’t been here, enabling them to understand jokes, understand anecdotes, understand information, understand the welcoming words of the wonderful Bronllys villagers who came out in such big numbers to open their village to our guests.
L, from Pakistan, to Wayne:
‘I can’t afford trips and holidays. This is the only opportunity we ever have to do something like this. We sit at home and I can’t express to my children the reasons for our asylum case and what’s happening with it, they are too young to know these things. They are stressed, stuck in the house, squabbling with each other. These days are a huge relief, they take the pressure away. I don’t want to pass the stress over to my children and the trips keep us busy and happy. We come on these trips whenever we can. They are like our Eid Day.’
T from Nigeria, to Wayne:
‘The singing was like the gospel singing back home in Nigeria. The children loved the drumming and making friends in such a beautiful place. It was very important to us. After the last trip I asked them: do you want to go on the next trip? They said: ‘don’t ask. It is always yes.’
A, from Albania:
‘My allowance is used almost entirely on bus fares to get in and out of town. We would never be able to come on a trip like this without your group. This is an opportunity for us to make friends, relax.’
H, from Syria,
British people are …’. He searches his mind for the English word, then resorts to an online dictionary. He finds it. ‘Humanitarian’ he says. H was a student of Business Management in Syria, before fleeing to Lebanon with his family, where he worked to support them all, five of them, in a restaurant where the conditions and the management were far from humanitarian.
So much thanks is owed to
- Bronllys, Talgarth and Llyswen Schools and Churches and Chapels who donated the produce from their Harvest festivals for the Bronllys respite day.
- Local businesses, The Honey Cafe, Heather’s Shop at the Anchorage, and the many Bronllys villagers who left goods, anonymously donated, on Sue’s doorstep.
- Lawrence for driving the minibus.
- Aldi and Morrisons for donating goods.
- Alive and Kicking Community Choir (who meet on Mondays at The Muse, Brecon, from 7-9pm
- The Taiko Mynydd Du drummers for the patience and fun.
- HBTSR and many locals who came to help make this such a special day.
- The wonderful people seeking refuge and volunteers from Swansea (Wayne, Maria, Phil, Sam, Lazlo) who came and shared their Sunday with us.
Thanks from Maria (Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group)
On behalf of all of us from Swansea and Ystradgynlais, I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for a fantastic day. We were blessed with the weather and the kindness of you all. I cannot remember everyone’s names but to everyone that played any part in the success of the day – thank you, thank you, thank you!! I think all of us were touched to see a bus full and a mini bus full of smiling faces leaving this evening. Words are insufficient to describe the difference that a day like today makes to our friends who are so far away from home and family. They are also far away from friends and that is where we all play such an important role.
Those of us who see our friends on a regular basis see, to some extent,what difficult lives they have. Many of those there today are waiting for decisions, waiting for interviews or waiting for court appearances. Stress and isolation are a major part of their daily life. Today, for a few precious hours, they forgot. So many told me that these days make them feel normal. Two women described how today felt like a holiday. It was touching, if not tear-jerking, to hear them describe the joy they feel at seeing their children relaxed and happy. Many young children do not understand what is happening in their lives but as long as their parents are there they feel secure. However, these women have older children who are asking poignant questions and are faced with how much to tell them. They want to protect their children from hearing certain horrors, yet are blamed by them for being in the position they are in. One teenage boy deliberately does not make friends because he feels ashamed that if he asks them back to his home, questions will be asked about why he is sharing a house with strangers. On a day like today, his mother loves to see him socialising and being ‘ normal’ with boys his own age. She can meet other women in the same position as herself, who are experiencing similar difficulties. Asylum seekers are spread out all over Swansea and if they are far out they cannot usually do this. Friendships are made and maintained.
One very troubled young man spent the day talking and telling me of his situation. Today, he said, he could forget. One woman told me that it was good for her children to see her relaxed, because this rarely happens. D spends most of his time in his room, but was persuaded to come today. He played football, enjoyed the choir and the food and the company of welcoming, kind strangers.
I found it particularly touching that when asked for a place to pray, Virginia led L, a Muslim lady to the beautiful, tranquil church. When we went to find her, her shoes were at the door we heard her praying.
On to the food…… Fabulous, fantastic, delicious and prepared with love. What a feast! Anyone who has ever prepared food for a crowd will know how much preparation, thought and hard work goes into this. I am not sure how you all managed to wash up and manage in the kitchen but you did. Thank you.
To each and every one of you who shopped, packed food into bags, prepared and cooked food, made and served the drinks, washed up, prepared the tables, cleaned the hall, arranged the flowers, provided the goody bags, gave financially or took the time to listen to a story, smiled, sang, drove the mini bus, coordinated the activities and the school facilities or put out the clothes and other offerings, or the rubbish, THANK YOU!
This is too big a situation to change as we would like, too complex a situation for one person, or even a hundred to solve, but in the meantime we should remember that it is “the little things that matter.” (appropriately attributed to Saint David)
Many many thanks, it is a privilege to work with you all.
(volunteer with SBASSG) working closely with Wayne et al (UiD)
Thanks from one of the organisers!
Philip and I have had such an amazing time working with Sue and Gez and others to organise the day. It was a thought-provoking, emotional, fun, inspiring, positive experience in these days of negativity. We joined the group earlier this year to try and do something positive to help the terrible situation which we saw unfolding day by day on our screens. We together as a group are definitely achieving that as Marie says it’s the ‘little things that matter’. We have had wonderful messages and feedback from our friends and choir members who were there helping or singing. This is a two way process – we have gained so much.
Quotes from messages received for your feedback:
“A life enhancing day! Every minute spent with these good people – the team, the volunteers and especially the people who,through no choice of their own, have become refugees -was an amazing experience! Thank you!!”
“So grateful to have been invited to be part of this. A big thank you to all who made this day so special. It was just wonderful to see the football match and the children’s craft work in glorious sunshine with the beautiful mountains in the background. A memory to treasure. May there be many more events like this.”
“Yes, it was an amazing day – I am grateful to have taken part – the love going around was very special. Not only in all the socialising and talking with the refugees, but in the Hay and Talgarth group, – the benefits were definitely not only one way!”
From Tanya Walker (Alive & Kickin’ Community Choir Brecon):
“A moving, inspirational and life enhancing experience today for my Alive & Kickin’ Community Choir Brecon – when we sang to – and along with – beautiful people from many countries – including Syria, the Lebanon, Senegal and many more- as part of a social/ outing day for refugees living in Swansea at Bronllys Village Hall and primary school.
I felt so connected to everyone. A day of kindness, interest, caring and love – without judgement or barriers.
I will never forget the connecting experience that was created so naturally through music today. I was moved to tears – as were many of us- for all the right reasons.
I have so much appreciation and pride for my wonderful choir who sang amazingly as always – as well as for the committed people who organised the day. I feel so nourished. What a life enhancing way to spend a Sunday. Xx
From Wayne (Unity in Diversity): “That was truly an amazing day. To see so much interaction and participation from everyone, especially the Syrian families was incredible. It’s clearly enabling people to relax and come out of themselves and this is due to the regular trips and allowing friendships and a sense of belonging to develop. The trips are always amazing and the accumulative effects are clear to see.” Wayne
“I really appreciate this day. The experience is very important to me and everyone because you get to meet new people that are all friendly, see new places in Wales, practice English all day and you feel very welcome in this country” (C, Cameroon).
“These trips are so good because they help you forget about the stress in your head and you can communicate with new people. They are all so friendly and helpful and everyone is happy. Playing football with everyone is a lot of fun and the food they cooked was delicious. It has been a very special day that I will always remember” (J, Eritrea).
‘It was amazing. The people are so welcoming and the whole day was special. The views in the bus on the way there were unbelievable, the food was delicious and it was great to play football in the sun with many new people. The castle we saw was really interesting also. This has been my favourite trip in Wales so far, plus … the cake was amazing (hihi)’ (A, Sudan).
‘It was a very nice day. The people were all friendly and welcoming to us. The food was really good and playing football was a lot of fun, I had an amazing day there, thank you to everyone’ (M aged 11 from Syria).
After all that, there is nothing further to say except that we will continue to do this….