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The life of an activist during lockdown

by | Jul 6, 2020

I came in the UK from Pakistan in 2011. Life was very difficult in the beginning. When I moved to Wales in 2015, I had no self-confidence and very poor English.  Now I am a public speaker and activist. How did this come about?

I began to volunteer in Swansea in 2016. I have worked with over 25 different organisations, including Swansea Women’s Asylum and Refugee Group, Ethnic Youth Support Team, Swansea City of Sanctuary, BAWSO, Swansea Asylum Seekers Support group, Bloom, Displaced People in Action, the National Waterfront Museum, the African Community Centre, Race Council Cymru, and WOW Women’s Film Club. I received training from Women for Refugee Women in London as a volunteer researcher investigating the impact of destitution on female failed asylum seekers.

I am a Swansea City of Sanctuary mentor supporting people dispersed to Swansea, introducing them to the city and its opportunities. I am on various management teams, a trustee and co-organizer of two women’s groups. Other roles include being the Young Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, the Voice Ambassador for the Red Cross. I’m the lead police volunteer with PCSO and was nominated for the chair. I have received several awards: I was a finalist for the Women Inspire award (2019). I got the Swansea’s High 5 Award (2019) for community involvement. I received the 2017 High Sherriff’s Award for services to volunteering. I just heard that I have won the 2020 International Diana Award.

I have been involved in various arts groups too. I used to sing with the Sanctuary Sisters Choir – we performed in events in Swansea, Cardiff, London Westminster and more. I have performed in pantomimes. I learnt and sang a medieval Welsh poem as part of a choir in a community event to commemorate the Great War. I took photographs of our community events and parties. I took wedding shots for my friends.  I have written and performed poetry in events. I ran poetry writing sessions in the Women for Refugee Women’s National conference in Birmingham 2019.

I had planned so much for 2020. I was very excited and hopeful but…..but……

All things were messed up with the disaster of Corona all over the world and having to go into lockdown. Community meetings and groups closed down. I wasn’t able to meet friends. It’s been more than 3 months that I can’t hug anyone.

I was diagnosed with kidney stones in February 2020 and the pain left me so weak I wasn’t able to do much. I had to stay home not just of lockdown but because I was sick. All my activities suddenly halted. The communities and networks that I was involved in started to work through zoom. I got loads of emails to join but because of my pain I couldn’t get involved in any of the online activities. I missed out on so many things.  Even when I started to feel better and tried to join some of the meetings there were problems. As an asylum seeker, I have to use my phone. I do not have wifi. My 3G mobile connection kept failing for meetings. I couldn’t get back into them. I couldn’t afford the digital connections I needed to continue my volunteering.

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On the bright side, I was able to help families with deliveries of food and toiletries. People messaged me almost every day. I made lists of what they wanted and took their home addresses. Sketty Church offered to store food and toiletry donations there (see image above). Now every Monday and Thursday we go to the church to sort out donations and deliver packages to those in need (image below).

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One thing positive for me about this lockdown was I got very close again with my family. Last year the Home Office moved me to separate accommodation and because of this and because I was so busy I  didn’t spent much time with them. They now have Leave to Remain so when I got sick I moved back home. Although I am disconnected from my friends, I didn’t find myself lonely. I’m glad that I’m able to be close to my family and live with them during the lockdown and feel their love.

I have contributed pictures and stories about my voluntary work to this Covid Chronicles project. Recently the Women’s Group received a donation from Race Council Cymru. We bought toiletries and delivered 22 bags to many homes in need.

What a great life despite the fact that I am still an asylum seeker and even became homeless for a few months. Nothing has stopped me.