“My name is Jade Jackson, and I am from… Clapham Junction!” says Jade before bursting into laughter. Whenever the clouds above London generously leave enough space for the sun to shine on the city below, it makes Londoners cheerful, almost as if they were inwardly and outwardly celebrating the brighter side of life. You may think this is why Jade is smiling today, but in fact being out and about under the sun has a very special significance for her.
"When I arrived in the UK, I could not even talk to anybody; when I tried to get out of my flat, if I saw somebody walking in the street, I used to run back inside. Now I feel free, walking everywhere and singing, because everybody is the same and we are free!"
Today, under the same sun, Jade and her beautiful smile radiate kindness, joy and hope: the signs of her own courage and resilience. Being part of the Singing Our Lives project gives her even more strength: “I really enjoy this group because everybody feels so safe here, as if we are friends and family, and whether you sing well or not, they will accept you and you learn … it is very good!”
Benedikt Humm, originally from Germany, has been living in the UK for over thirty years now and is also part of the Singing Our Lives project. He explains how rewarding it is to get together with people from all walks of lives: “It really is a lovely hot pot … a mixture of different people, cultures, backgrounds, and ages. It’s a creative, slightly chaotic, mix that really involves so many different people from all walks of life with different personalities that I just find so enriching. It really brings a lot of joy to be part of it!”. One of the takeaways for Benedikt is that,
“particularly working with some of our refugee singers – we are all more or less the same, all with similar needs … obviously some people have had very challenging backgrounds, but as humans we are so similar; we all want a little bit of comfort and a little bit of recognition, and this is what Singing Our Lives is really about.”
The recognition that Benedickt talks about is an important step in the process of healing from trauma and extreme circumstances. Yonas, who proudly describe himself as “one of the co-founders of the Sing for Freedom choir” is from East Africa and has been in the UK for twenty years.
“We are survivors of torture; we lost everything, we don’t have families here, but this choir is our family. We struggle to find the confidence to associate with the community. For us, this is our integration in the community: it helps us boost our confidence, to rebuild our life.”
A member of the local community, Tim Drakes, explains how “within music we become one people. It breaks down differences, cultural barriers … it is so important”. For Tim too, being part of the Singing Our Lives project has helped him regain the confidence he lost due to some personal challenges: “I used to sing in a choir when I was a child, and as an adult I discovered that I still enjoyed singing. Over time, my confidence was able to grow; I’ve started to understand where I fitted in the world and what I could bring to the world”.
The Singing Our Lives project allows people to share their love for music and singing while also providing a safe space for sharing their stories. “It is interesting and revealing to hear people’s stories,” says Irene Hamilton, another member of the local community who has been part of the project for several years now. “Of course, I can’t say that I know what it is like being a refugee, but I now have a better understanding of this issue; we can’t just label refugees as if they were an alien group of people … they are just like you and I, and it made me think that given certain circumstance it could be any one of us … you only have to look at what’s going on in Ukraine.”
But how did the Singing Our Lives project start?
Tickets are free for refugees and asylum seekers, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
Image at the top, photo credit: Mark Johnston