A Community of Celebration
One Sunday a few weeks ago, in a quaint little village in the Brecon Beacons, eighty men, women and children from around the world travelled from their most recent home in Swansea to the second ‘Llangynidr Refugee Respite Day’ - an outing to the countryside organised for refugees and those seeking asylum currently living in and around Southwest Wales.
The entire village seemed to have been involved in the preparations – providing food and organising activities from face painting to knitting. We created a prayer room and even a salon offering massages, reflexology and nail painting.
One of the organisers had asked me and a few others to provide some background music throughout the day. I stowed my instruments in the corner and when the announcement rippled through the hall that the coach of visitors had arrived, began on the piano with a Beethoven arrangement. When I next looked up, the place was brimming with men, women, children, families, grandparents, uncles, aunts and everyone in between, chattering and excitedly looking around at the hub of activity they had entered into.
On my last chord, Mike somehow managed to grab everyone’s attention from the front, and introduced the local primary school choir to formally kick things off. Some of the visiting children joined in with the chorus’ they recognized and after the choir finished, all of the children’s nerves about meeting these new people had dissolved. They needed no encouragement to play together and make firm friendships in a matter of minutes.
A Welsh folk band took over the music and I was allowed to wander. Chatting to some of the visitors, I discovered that many of them hadn’t left Swansea since coming to the UK seeking asylum and had never had the opportunity to experience the British countryside – one couple were particularly impressed by the number of sheep.
One of the things that I am sometimes concerned about when putting on an event like this, is that it can seem like a handout and despite genuine intentions, can come across as if we are treating these people as different or needing ‘special’ help or support. However, as I looked around the community hub Llangynidr had created, there was no such division. Everyone was included, integrated and enjoying being together. I couldn’t tell who was a visitor and who was a local - and why should I be able to?
My French Horn called everyone to a lunchtime feast prepared by the two village pubs and the riverside cafe, before some visitors went on walks to explore the hills and the canals. Others stayed for a little bit of peace and quiet after the mad morning. A crowd of children were given free reign over my instruments and we had an informal open-mic style opportunity for singers to come and share their skills.
Nobody wanted to leave when the coach arrived at the end of the day. As we waved them off, loaded with the leftover food for their friends and families, I didn’t feel like we had done something for these refugees, but rather with them, forging new relationships and encouraging an inclusive and multicultural community that is especially important in this age where people seem to be retreating more and more into their own, comfortable worlds.