Our Second Home - a refugee summer camp project which empowers participants and volunteers alike

By Chris Afuakwah https://www.oursecondhome.org.uk

Jump shake your body jump jump shake your body jump shake your body jump jump shake your body…

The shadows of 25 teenage boys dance around, heads and hands aglow with glowsticks, whipping themselves into a frenzy. Sober, happy. Organically. They dance, cheer, arms and legs flying. A campfire burns at the bottom of the field. I tear up, not for the first time. “What made Chris cry today” became a token of our evening meetings. These boys are all the boys I’ve ever worked with, all the boys still stuck in hell even now. A few of them even recognised me from Calais. “Jungle, Jungle.” After months upon months of working with kids, teenagers and young men who had to grow up too fast, it was immeasurably uplifting to be part of creating a setting for boys to just be boys.

OSH – or Our Second Home – was an absolute pleasure to work at for a whirlwind of a week. Even looking back on it now, it feels like it was a month long. A glorious bubble of joy and sheer escapism, just a few miles from the Thameslink.

My highlights go beyond even my wildest expectations for the project. I’d had reservations in the lead up – nothing to do with the OSH team, who are professional, enthusiastic, committed and just genuinely lovely folks - I just wasn’t in the best place. I had recently finished up working in Calais for 15 months, and was, in hindsight, absolutely broken. I’d initially signed up to OSH in a brief fit of enthusiasm in my final weeks in Calais, and by the time it came round I was deep in a mire of grief, mild depression and anxiety – the last thing I felt I needed, really, was to be around a huge group of new people and in charge of someone else’s fun. My fears were quickly forgotten when I met my fellow team members. Easily one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with – I felt as though they completely had my back through every decision, activity and yoga class I led, which, considering we had approximately one day to get to know each other before the kids arrived, was really incredible. And the kids themselves were just the most humbling and joyful group of people to work with, supporting each other through our fast-paced week of activities, energy and fun.

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There were many highlights, but this one particularly stands out for me. The final night dance became a beautiful fusion of Scottish ceilidh dancing, Pashtun attan, Arabic dabke, salsa, and early 00’s R&B, of course, with me standing in the middle of the room keeping the party going with a Bose speaker in one hand and a glowstick in the other, jumping up and down in a pair of dungarees. Pure, silly, unadulterated fun all round. Even for me, the camp was healing; I phoned home afterwards and I could tell it was the happiest I’d sounded in a while. And it was a lasting feeling – a few months on, I can see now that it completely lifted me out of a slump, and propelled me forwards again. So I can only imagine the positive, lasting effect it will have had on some of our participants, many of whom are excited for 2019’s camp already. I, for one, can’t wait to watch how OSH grows.

Our participants have been through hell, are enduring the worst of crippling bureaucracy, are dealing with all the challenges that the world can throw at them all at once – and here, they get to just be the confident, inspiring, playful, sharp-witted, benevolent, resilient teenagers they are. And even better, in a few years, some of the boys will be running the camp itself. Bring on OSH 2019, and 2020, and 2021, and on and on!

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Chris Afuakwah, 25, spent 15 months volunteering in Calais. He now works as Media Officer for Scottish Refugee Council, coordinates Glasgow Night Shelter for destitute asylum seekers, and is thoroughly enjoying being back in Glasgow.

Our Second Home is a transnational youth movement that empowers migrants and refugees to flourish in the place that they call home. More information on OSH can be found at www.oursecondhome.org.uk