Behind the Scenes: Interview with community leader Ornela

Interviewer: Lisa, SLRA volunteer; Interviewee: Ornela

Ornela is an active youth client who regularly joins our Youth Club and supported our campaign “Taking Care”. Ornela joined our 4-Week Community Organising Course in February facilitated by CitizensUk. I interviewed Ornela on the phone.

What is/was your motivation to join the community organizing course? 

“First of all, when Rebekka called me and asked me to join the course, I was really excited. But at the same time, I was nervous because I was like… I asked myself what are we going to talk about? I did similar things with Bettina (Youth Caseworker at SLRA) before and so I was nervous about what we would talk about. But I thought that let me just join them and see what happens. When I joined, it was quite interesting. I met a lot of adults. I felt like it is not only me being in this situation. There are a lot of people in this situation like me that are going through all of this. I felt like it was not only me, even adults. Not only young people, even adults are going through such things. I was so…. It really helped me to build my confidence. It really helped me to speak out. And yeah, I really like it. It helped me to express myself in terms of feelings, being able to give my opinions about everything that we spoke about, how we can make change, what change we want to see. They need to hear our voices. The best part of it was when we were all together at the CitizensUk assembly and voted about our priorities for the upcoming Lambeth election, most of the people vote for immigration. This was one of the best parts and I am part of that. This is one thing that I really enjoyed. They have to hear our voice – a lot of people need to do this – the Home Office, the Social Workers …. They need to feel that they have to do something about it. Everyone counts. That’s it.” 

This sounds like it was really empowering? 

“Yeah. It was really empowering.”  
And I also thing it is really interesting that. I really liked that you said: Oh, actually it is not only me. It is also adults that are affected by it.  

“Yeah. It is not only me. Even adults. I did not know that adults are affected similarly and when I joined this training, I realized it’s not only young people it’s also adults. We are all together.” 

What do you like about it? 

“I like the fact that they asked us – created the course – so that we tried things out. Because a lot of people might be thinking that this might affect our health or our mental health. I like the fact that they – not only adults because I know that they mostly work with adults – not only asked the adults to try but that they asked young people as well to try. I like the fact that they bring everyone together and encourage everyone to express themselves, share how they are feeling, and then you put all the ideas together and made them into one. So that they can hear our voice. So, I like the fact that they bought everyone together so that they just express and talk about our feelings. I like that yeah.” 

What have you learnt?  

“I learnt how to talk with power. I do not know how to explain but I learnt how to be confident enough to talk about my past or talk about my feelings. Because I can remember that they asked us a lot of questions, and everyone shared their opinions. And I was listening to the others, and just saw how I was feeling about that. And when I spoke, everyone listened and took my idea seriously. They answered and said I agree with you or with what you said. And now, when someone is talking, I am responding differently. I, for example, say – I agree with you because what you say is true or something like that. I like the fact that this was happening. And this really made me – how you say – more confident. And it really encouraged me to speak out so that they could hear my voice.” 

So, you really enjoyed the interactions and the group dynamic?  

“Quite confident. It really helped me. I could connect to a lot about what other people said. You know if you do not speak out, no one is going to help you and hear your voice. You have to express yourself and your feelings so people can help you and encourage you and see what you can do so that you feel better.” 

Was there a session in particular that you liked/enjoyed the most?  

“I think a special moment for me was like – you know – when you do not try to tell other people about your feelings, how should they know what is going on, how should they know how to help me. Another thing was listening to other people’s stories. I felt so sorry. It made me think that your story is more – how can I say it – is very bad. You know, but if you listen to other people’s stories, they might be even worse compared to your story. You feel sorry for them. I think my story is bad but if you listen to other people’s stories, you discover – you feel so emotional.”  

Do you also feel like sharing our story and then hearing other people’s stories? This makes you feel quite connected?  

“Yeah. It made me feel connected to other people.”  

What are your next steps? What are your hopes for the future of the group? 

“My hopes are that everything that what all of us are saying – adults, young people, everyone. I hope that immigration or the Home Office takes action about the things that we spoke about. People are going through a lot of pain and we want to be free. We want freedom. We want to be free. We can’t keep telling our story every time. I keep on telling my story. Every person is asking me about what has happened in the past. I can’t tell this all the time. It is really hurtful. It makes me remember my past. I hope they are listening to us and they take action. They help us to get status. They help people to sort out the problems and take actions. Because we have to wait for them. That is what I hope. I hope everything will be fine.”  

I guess it is also really exhausting to keep on telling your story and it is also empowering to .. 

“It actually is really annoying to share my story all the time. Because, you know what, there are also people that do not even help you. Because why do you tell your story to everyone that asked and needs to hear it? But then not everyone is really going to help you. Some people just listen to your story and then just annoy you. They do not take any action. I do not like talking to people that do not want to help me, but still want to hear my story. Because there is nothing that will do. You do not want to repeat your story every time, every time. They make us remember what happened in the past. I do not like to be remembered or thinking about my past. I want to be free. That’s all.” 

I think it is really powerful what you said to be able to share your story with people you want to share it with, and be free to think back to your past, but also be able to concentrate on the future.  

Ok, the last question is: Anything else you want to share or say? 

“What I want to say. I had a really good time, a wonderful course. It was so interesting to join it. I am really excited because I was able to express my feelings. And then hear about others and hear what they think, feel. I really liked that. And I just want to say thank you to everyone – South London Refugee Assocation – for creating that meeting. Not only for adults but for everyone, coming together. And then, talking about our feelings. I really liked that and I hope there will be change.” 

Big thank you for the courage of Ornela to share her thoughts with us. I was really impressed by her powerful and mature words.