by Maddison Pearce, University of Western Australia
I applied to the Global Citizenship Program at Ustinov College in Durham to develop my personal capacity through enriching my knowledge, skills and understanding about the wider world and my place within it. I have surely achieved this within my first two weeks at Durham and participating in the many and wide-ranging events that are held across Durham university, the student colleges and within the community
Durham is a vibrant small town, with much to offer students and provides an opportunity to everyone in the community to be active and socially conscious citizens. The student led group ‘Durham for Refugees’ held their annual festival to raise money for local organisations that support asylum seekers and refugees within the community as well as raise awareness about the experiences, challenges and resiliency of people from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. It was evident that this festival was organised by a group of dedicated students who are passionate about social justice and advocating for the rights of our world’s most vulnerable people. I had such a valuable experience in being involved with and volunteering at this festival. It was so powerful to see such a diverse demographic supporting and attending this event and taking time to understand the global refugee crises and the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in their own community. I found this event fundamental to my learning as a student interested in the global refugee crises and integration of refugees as I was informed about the United Kingdom’s complex asylum seeker system and policies, and the challenges displaced people have when arriving in the country to seek refuge and safety. Though, despite this complex and multifaceted system, it has been made evident to me that a small group of dedicated members of a community can make a big difference to the lives and inclusivity of refugees and asylum seekers. It has been so powerful to witness everyday people within this community support vulnerable people and be a voice for action and change.
Similarly, through my internship at the North of England Refugee Service in Newcastle, which is a charity organisation, I have again found that a small group of dedicated people can make long-lasting and impactful change. As this is a small charity organisation, they have limited funding and thus only have the capacity to employ 11 people. This organisation thrives on the help of its volunteers who are infinitely dedicated in making a positive change in people’s lives and making the world a better place, and they do just that! I was particularly inspired by one person at this organisation who has spent the last 16 years volunteering at this service. This volunteer is truly representative of someone who is committed to enacting social change and making an impact as he uses his strengths of compassion and knowledge of his community to make a positive difference in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers. It is our ordinary citizens who come together over a shared interest and passion for social change and social responsibility who are making a difference to their local community. For me, this is global citizenship. Global citizenship is all about immersing oneself in social and cultural matters, engaging with social issues, appreciating one’s lived experiences and building relationships with people in our community to address global problems collectively and successfully.
My interest in global citizenship and my commitment to social justice has also been strengthened through interning at NERS. In my first two days of arriving in Durham, I often found myself feeling anxious, lost and isolated in coming to a new community and not having my support network from home in Australia and having to learn about and settle into a new area. I felt anxious and overwhelmed having to make Durham my new home for the next seven weeks. I experienced these feelings of anxiousness even with having the privilege of knowing the local language, having financial stability, having structure in coming to Durham as part of a program and having a set up support network through Ustinov college whereby I could turn to staff and students for support and assistance. In comparing my experience of coming to a new community with these privileges and still feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I cannot even fathom the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers who are forcibly displaced and coming into a new community
In working with NERS I have seen the extensive challenges and barriers that asylum seekers and refugees face when coming into and integrating into a new community. Refugees and asylum seekers often do not speak English or have limited English comprehension, have minimal financial stability, have no support network, have trauma backgrounds and many feel unwelcomed. When I compare my experience of coming into a new community with the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, my feelings of anxiousness and of feeling overwhelmed is on a meniscal scale of what our world’s most vulnerable people feel on an everyday level
Global citizenship in this sense has also taught that having empathy and an understanding of people is what drives social responsibility and what motivates ordinary people to become tools for social change. To be a global citizen one does not need to do extraordinary things in an overseas country, local people can be global citizens when they engage with diverse cultures and different ways of knowing, understanding and seeing the world. My time in Durham thus far has taught me that we all have the capacity to be global citizens and we can achieve this by being connected to local community, where we collaborate and work with people from different backgrounds and gain new knowledge and perspectives about the world and the people we share it with. Within just two weeks my ways of thinking have been both broadened and challenged as being a global citizen places you in a position where you are constantly learning and developing new ways of seeing and thinking. I have truly felt empowered throughout my time here in Durham so far as I have been given new opportunities to work with like-minded people who encourage me to utilise my strengths to make the world a better place for people to not just exist but also to thrive. Global citizenship has shown me the potential that working together as a community and building relationships can have in addressing issues of our global community.
This article was written by Maddison Pearce who went to Durham on the Matariki Global citizenship Exchange and is working on refugee integration and learning about the challenges in Durham.