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Making a home for refugee women and girls in London

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“I dream of a day when all women in London can speak English, read and write.” Mae has worked for the Baytree Centre for 21 years. She has seen how education can transform the lives of refugee women in London, bringing them empowerment, friendship and the chance to help their daughters towards a better future.

This Refugee Week, we went to join Mae, her volunteers and students at the Baytree Centre to celebrate the importance of education for vulnerable women and girls and understand the issues that young refugees face in London. By way of introduction, she shared her dream as well as stories of women who had passed through the centre’s doors. For many, the differences that learning made were between success and poverty, contribution and isolation and even between life and death. 

Her words were a powerful reminder of why we were there - to support education for the women and girls who need it most, and generate momentum that lasts well beyond Refugee Week. We started how we intend to continue - by bringing together refugee students from Baytree and other young people to help welcome these women and girls with both words and actions.  

A home from home

The theme of Refugee Week was 'welcome', and what's more welcoming than food? With dishes from around the world, arts and crafts, and an international playlist to accompany them, all prepared by young people, including refugees in Baytree’s IntoSchool programme, the lively community spent the afternoon together bonding over home comforts, sharing stories and simply being at home.

Celebrating contributions 

During the celebration we explored reasons for seeking refuge and the emotional toll associated with leaving behind one’s home. We discussed the value of learning and its challenges, and asked each other: would you give your jacket to Johannes?

We didn’t forget to talk about our home, London, either. Newly elected Assembly Member Florence Eshalomi spoke passionately about the contributions of refugees and migrants to our city’s food, culture and economy. Finally, three current Baytree students took the stage and showcased their contributions to their community. After introducing their performances with an outline of what the Centre had done for them, the empowerment and companionship that its staff and lessons offered, they expressed themselves through singing and dancing, showing their immense talent and individuality. 

With support, compassion and education, we can work together to make Mae’s dream a reality for refugee women and girls in London. And as our experiences from Refugee Week go to show - it has the potential to bring happiness, community and prosperity to us all. 

This event was part of the European Union funded “A Refugee Like Me” Erasmus + project. 

The Wonder Foundation is fundraising for Baytree, donate to support English lessons here.