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If you ask the right questions and listen carefully, there is no one who does not have an interesting story to tell. I grew up on stories of my mother’s younger years and the home front in World War Two. Family friends would come every weekend to Saturday tea or Sunday lunch and conversation would often revolve around memories of nursing during the war, bringing alive everyday life in ways history books seldom do. 

Workshop at Butetown History & Arts Centre
Decades later when I was involved in an oral history project on Cardiff Docklands in World War Two, I heard very different stories of life during the war from people who grew up and lived in Tiger Bay. These stories remain important in retelling the history of Wales and the UK in a more inclusive way. They illuminate the positive contributions made by minorities, despite day-to-day and institutional racism. Similar issues came to the fore again in the UK last year with the Windrush scandal and they are currently being raised by Covid19.

Life stories are an engaging and accessible way of getting to know more about the many people in Wales today who have settled here after escaping war and violence in their home countries. Telling one’s story can be both difficult and life affirming. Listening to refugee stories cuts through the empathy fatigue and indifference produced by 24-hour news. Individual stories tell us how it feels to become a refugee, to lose one’s home and the life one has known, to have to deal with a traumatic past and an uncertain future. They throw light on the many obstacles to creating a new life in an unfamiliar environment. They also reveal the positive contributions that refugees make to Wales today and how we can help smooth the process of settling in, both via social policy and in everyday life. Our partnership with the National Museum means that these stories will become a permanent part of the history of contemporary Wales. 

Knowing more about the lives of others is enriching and important in shaping the sort of society in which we wish to live. My hopes for this project are that it will attract community support and help improve current and future refugee experience. It aims to give participants a sense of agency and ownership and to prove a positive experience for all involved. 

https://refugee.wales

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