We’re hugely proud of all our Milltir Sgwâr projects but this Refugee Week we particularly wanted to share Rachel Moràs’ and Meryn Williams work with refugees and asylum seekers alongside Swansea City of Sanctuary. Simply by sharing songs from their homes, Rachel helped a group of newcomers to Wales come together through a passion for music and share their stories, hopes and dreams. It’s been an emotional journey but one we’re delighted to have supported through our small-scale commissioning programme.
In Rachel’s words:
We set up a Song Share Project to provide a space for the members of the refugee and asylum seekers community in Swansea to share the songs, music, and stories of their homelands. Our aim was to create an environment where the participants could reconnect with the music of their heritage and share their cultures with us and the rest of the community. We hoped to help build new connections within the group and wider community through the process of sharing songs and music, to help ease the loneliness and isolation of the participants and help them feel more at home in Swansea.
We had read a lot about how members of the refugee community were becoming more isolated through the pandemic, with the members having to navigate a strange and confusing time in a strange and unfamiliar part of the world away from friends and family and familiar support networks. We were moved to want to create something that might ease their loneliness, provide a diversion and some connection, a sense of integration and to help give them a sense of belonging for as long as they are in the area with us.
We also hoped to create a supportive community and allow people to feel heard and connected during a time when we are all increasingly isolated and alone. The idea came from the way that we usually comfort ourselves when we feel low. When I’m feeling down, overwhelmed, or lonely, I comfort myself by singing the songs I used to sing as a child. By singing these I get a sense of comfort and feel connected to my past and the people who were important to me, even if they are not near or with me still. We were aiming to create a space where people could do this, share their memories and stories, and feel connected and comforted through the songs of their past and make new friends and connections along the way.
We started our journey by getting in touch with the Swansea City of Sanctuary whose team have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout. With help from members of the team with an interest in music and who liked the idea of the project, we invited people to join the project via a network of voluntary organisations. We found as the project went on that people would come along having heard about it from someone who had been and therefore the group grew as we went on. Some people came once or twice and some came every week which gave us a real feeling of community and we got to know some of the participants very well.
I love the song it represents me a lot and when I sing it I feel happy. It is very sweet and I like the words of the song.
This song was shared by a very sweet shy person who hardly spoke but shared a few songs every session. It was lovely to see her enjoying sharing songs that represented her in some way. Sometimes they were sad, missing home and family and would share a song that their mother had sung to them as a child; at other times they were happy and would share a song that they used to sing in happier times and reminded them of a particular time and place or person. She told us that this song reminded her of her childhood home and her parents and made her feel happy when she missed seeing them.
I have a song that reminds me of home, songs in my mother tongue, when I sing them it is like I am in my house back home, Nigeria. Yoruba language. And Swansea is home too as well! I sing a Yoruba song.
Translation: God that creates every mountain of the ages, like the ancient mountains. Unto you alone we give our praise. Who else deserves my praise, if not my heavenly Father? Who else am I going to give all my praise to? Oh God that created the ancient mountains only to you we give all our praise.
This person also shared every week, every song was great to hear because the person had a beautiful voice and obviously loved to sing. She experienced great joy in sharing with us which in turn filled us with joy as her enjoyment was infectious. The person told us about her family and how this song reminded her of home and how when she closed her eyes, she could see the mountains of her home town and feel her voice echoed in the walls of her childhood home. Although this song connected her to her roots it had also helped her to feel more connected to her new home here as the mountains here reminded her of the ones at home. It was thrilling to hear these traditional songs and her voice and interpretation of the song was so emotional it was impossible not to get swept away in her voice. She made us feel sad, happy, melancholy, she took us on an emotional journey with her through her past and her journey setting up home here.
Sorry, I’m close to tears, because anytime I sing that it, I remember my mom. It means, Mothers they are the precious jewels the precious gold, we cannot buy them with money. They are so precious we do not have the money to buy them, and she carried me in her womb for nine months and put me on her back, because in Africa the normally carry children on their back, she carried me on her back for three years. Mothers are so precious you can’t just buy them; you can’t just get them anywhere they are precious.
This song was extremely moving, the participant told us how she had lost her mother and missed her greatly and this song was an especially meaningful song for the both of them, it reminded her of everything her mother had done for her and how grateful she was for all the love her mother had given her, but also it made her think of her own children and how great was the love she had for them and how she was glad to do all the did for them. It was a very special moment for everyone within the group and many were moved to tears.
Yoruba song. This person came along every week and listened until she felt safe enough to share a song. She told us that during the week she had been feeling down and this song had popped into her head, and she had sung it to cheer herself up and had thought ‘Ok, I know what I can share next week!’
This was lovely to hear, a song of joy and happiness and faith in Jesus. It was extra special as it was the first time, she had shared with us, and it felt as if we had gained her trust and been accepted and trusted enough for her to risk sharing a personal moment with us. It often felt like this during the project, that we were being allowed to share very intimate and personal events that had shaped the participants’ lives and we felt honoured to be witness to these events.
Yoruba song about childhood/children.
Translation: They grow up so quickly and right now when I am young, I will carry my own child, because they grow so quickly so let me not lose any time with them, let me raise my own child let me carry my own child when I can.
This song was shared by a lady who came to most sessions, she told us this song reminded her of her mother, she had already shared a song previously and told us about her mother, and how much she missed her. She told us how this song made her feel grateful for all her mother had done for her, carried her, and taken care of her as she grew up. Singing this song also reminded her that she needed to be grateful for her own children and enjoy the time she had with them, because they would grow so quickly and how she didn’t want to miss a moment of their time together, she didn’t want to regret how the time had passed without appreciating and noticing the little ways in which they changed as they grew older.
This song made me feel both sad and happy as I thought of her words and how quickly time does pass, this song started a discussion amongst the participants as we all could recall and look back at times of our lives that seem to have flown by and how during this past year the one positive thing we could take from it was the way time had seemed to stop and give us a chance to appreciate the people we love and the time we have together.
Throughout the sessions, one young lady came every week and shared many different memories and songs with the group. In the second set of sessions her song choices became a lot happier and hopeful, in the first sessions she shared a mix of melancholy and happy songs, but they were mostly songs that looked back at the past and were stories of regret and sadness. But in the second group of sessions her songs became more about the future and about looking forward and about children and about a hope for a new and different future. Two songs were especially poignant about having a hidden secret that you couldn’t share with the world and another song of a mothers promise to her unborn child. Looking back now I can see how revealing the song choices were. She missed the final session because she and her husband had been held up at the hospital waiting to attend an antenatal appointment but wanted to share with us the news that they were expecting another child! It was lovely to hear their exciting news and it was funny to think back over what she had shared during the project and how her song choices had really reflected what was going on in her life and how lovely it was to see how she had been growing in positivity for a fresh start and how looking back at a life left behind had turned to looking forward to a life yet to be lived.
In the future, I intend to do more community projects alongside my singing work. I have gained so much from this project; I have grown in confidence, and I have learned so many valuable skills that I will be able to use to plan and put together other community projects in the local area. I hope that we were successful in helping to ease the loneliness and isolation of the participants during the lockdown, I know that running the project was beneficial to me, it made me feel more of a part of the community and made this city seem smaller in a way!