A story by Multi-Cultural Family Base
We provided a weekly group for young female BME carers living within City of Edinburgh. The aim of the project was to access ‘hard-to-reach’ carers from BME communities and give the girls a space to share their experience both as carers and as teenage girls, who often feel different from their peers and are socially isolated.
What Yolo Sistas did
From October 2014 to September 2015 we ran a weekly group for 30 sessions, each group session comprised of 3 hours (90 hours). The group sessions took place in our group room & kitchen space at Multi Cultural Family Base.
We transported the girls to the sessions (Mondays 3.30 to 6.30pm) and dropped them off home after the group. We provided a total of 5 whole day sessions of 5 hours which took place in the Easter and Summer holiday periods, and at half term breaks. During those outings which were chosen by the girls a range of topics were discussed and activities engaged in which have direct relevance to the girls’ BME background, caring roles and the development of their identity as individuals.
The outings offered an opportunity for the girls to have experience of engaging with their environment safely and to explore their sense of themselves away from their caring responsibilities out and about in the world. Activities such as canoeing, mountain biking and bowling were new to some of the girls and activities in which their families might not participate. The girls also made use of the role modeling offered by the facilitators as a means of exploring their identity.
The sessions are based on the agency’s group work model which offers peer support, shared experience, opportunities for exploration of their identity more holistically which includes challenging boundaries and authority safely and skill development. The aims of the group are met through a range of activities such as cooking and baking foods from Scottish and other cultures such as Indian and Chinese. Also engaging in arts and crafts, jewelry making, self care, discussion about topics important to the girls which often happens with the sharing of food among many others.
The girls have expressed considerable enthusiasm about cooking with which they have engaged fully. Discussions are rich and lively and have covered topics such as looking after family members, travel, sexuality, smoking and alcohol use, living independently, peer and family relationships, choosing a partner, education, choosing a career, cultural differences, being different in their peer groups at school and experiences of racism and future goals.
At home she has a significant responsibility caring for her three younger siblings. Bharati acts as a support for her mother who struggles to cope with the family's situation, she also takes on a role as an unofficial interpreter for her family dealing with letters and other communication with officials as her English is more advanced than any other family members.
When Bharati started in the group she was very withdrawn and did not initiate conversation either with the other girls or with the adult facilitators. Gradually over time we have noticed that she has become more open in talking about her experiences, sharing some of her anxieties about her mother's mental health and her family's uncertainty about their status in Scotland.
Her mother has told us that her own relationship with Bharati has improved. We have also noticed that Bharati's approach to school has changed as previously she seemed disengaged and disinterested in education. She seems to be modelling herself on some of the other girls who see themselves as young women who can achieve. Bharati sat her exams last term and has found an interest in fashion design and is now taking subjects at school which are in line with this interest.
Although the family's situation is still stressful and precarious we have noticed how the group has supported Bharati to make improvements in her emotional well being.
When she started in the group just over a year ago Chun had a fairly limited social circle outside of family and school work, although her English was of a good standard she felt that it needed to be improved. Initially she formed a friendship with another Chinese girl within the group but over time has made relationships with the wider group. In particular she has formed a close friendship with a girl from Kurdistan and they visit each other at home.
The agency made a film about the experiences of children who migrate to Scotland ('Many Journeys, Many Voices') and Chun took part in this film. When we launched this film at a public event in May, Chun together with three other young people spoke to an audience of over 60 people describing what it felt like to move countries and what helped and hindered the process.
Overall we feel that the group has helped Chun develop her confidence in her spoken English and helped give her a wider sense of herself beyond her own cultural heritage. Chun has demonstrated a willingness to try different things and to enjoy a life beyond the more prescripted role she appeared to have before she joined our group.
The family had experienced unfair discrimination within their community including open hostility from neighbours. The family were initially wary of allowing Clementina to join a group of people they didn't know and we had to demonstrate to them that it was a safe group for Clementina. We felt that Clementina had come from a more closed system of family and community perhaps as a result of the discrimination the family had experienced both here and in their country of origin.
Although it is early stages in Clementina's involvement in the group she has been delighted to have been welcomed into the group by the other girls and the family are able to see the benefits that group attendance can give their daughter. As a result the family are now more aware of the different sources of help that they might avail.
What Multi-Cultural Family Base has learnedWe have been both delighted with and learnt a lot about the maturation of the group over the past year. We have seen an unfolding of potential within each of the girls to be reflective, think for themselves and make good decisions if they are given the right environment. We have learnt about the impact of social media, issues of internet safety and peer pressures on teenage girls through the discussions within the group.
We have been able to attract new carers from 'hard-to-reach' BME communities (Roma,Sudanese,Chinese) both through 'word of mouth' within the communities themselves and through our links with English as an Additional Language Service in schools.
We have learnt that despite the diversity of cultures and family experiences within the group the girls have been able to forge strong relationships with each other and find commonalities.This has given us a template for other groups we run at the agency.