Earlier this month, the Refugee Council worked in partnership with the West Yorkshire playhouse to run their 5th annual Wonderful Women of the World event to celebrate International Women’s Day. Refugee Council Volunteer Coordinator Rose McCarthy reports on a friendly and colourful event.
It’s fascinating to see how women from different countries dance. They tend to emphasise different parts of their bodies: women from Ethiopia and Eritrea dance with their shoulders, those from Albania their feet and those from Syria their hands. All had been practising for weeks in the lead up to the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s annual Wonderful Women of the World event which was to be held in celebration of International Women’s Day.
The Playhouse, the UK’s first Theatre of Sanctuary, is keen to engage with refugees in Yorkshire. As well as organising the Wonderful Women event, they give free tickets to refugees for their performances and run a weekly choir with a crèche for asylum seeking and refugee women called Asmarina Voices.
Attending the choir enables women to have fun and improve their confidence. Once, a woman I work with said after she’d performed with the choir: “I used to think I was a piece of meat that people could kick around. Now I can’t believe that people are clapping me”. Another who’d been so shy about performing in public she’d insisted on initially standing behind the choir leader told me: “I looked up and people smiled at me and it was ok”. She went on to speak at local and national conferences but it was all because the choir had given her faith in herself.
Asmarina Voices, as well as women who attend our women’s groups across Yorkshire, practised their singing and dancing hard ahead of Wonderful Women of the World.
On the day itself, Emily Wood, a Refugee Council volunteer and refugee from South Africa, compered the event and other Refugee Council volunteers made and came in traditional costumes from their home countries and led the performances.
It was an amazing event with singing, dancing and poetry from around the world with women attending from countries including Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria, Bolivia, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, Albania, England and Ireland.
For a few hours at least, the women were a million miles away from their problems; in a world of colour, friendship and laughter. As one woman said to me afterwards: “I was able to forget I was an asylum seeker for a day”.
For these women, that’s truly wonderful.