A room of one’s own

Pavel, from the Ukraine, loves his guns. Chiwa from Malawi and Orly from Texas are both into dinosaurs. And Italian Alessia’s favourite toys are a set of plastic gardening tools.

Recently, I came across these incredible photos by Gabriele Galimberti. Published on photography website featureshoot, the collection is called Toy Stories and was taken over 18 months. It features children from around the world, with their most prized possessions.

What struck me is how easily each set of toys blended in with its setting. Alessia’s gardening tools were proudly displayed next to the cows on her family’s farm. Tangawizi’s monkey sits happily in the boy’s Kenyan home, where it’s likely that real monkeys play not too far away. And Albanian Julia’s collection of dolls stand jauntily in her girly pink bedroom, complete with its butterflies and bows.

A child’s prized possessions, and the things they hold dearest, come from the places they play in every day; they are given to them by the people who surround them with loving care.

This weekend, Austin moved into his new bedroom. It’s the first time he’s had a say in the decoration and furnishing.

The paint he chose is little-boy blue. On the wall is his favourite poster, a collection of dinosaurs bought for Austin for his second birthday by our friends Tom and Peter. Above his bed we’ve hung a picture of a red routemaster, a bus that until recently drove the streets of our home city, London.

Austin may end up travelling, and could settle somewhere very far from here. But, for now, he is a little boy of the western world. Like the children in Galimberti’s pictures, he is developing his identity surrounded by familiar objects; things that come from the world he lives in, and which he has chosen to name as ‘his’.

Austin is lucky, but many youngsters grow up without the comfort of well-known surroundings. Children of migrants, in particular, suffer from the loss of the place they called home. Even worse: if their parents are detained on entering the country, the effects on the child can be devastating.

Fractured Childhoods: the separation of families by immigration detention, was published yesterday by Bail for Immigration Detainees. It describes the effects of parental detention on children, including that “children lost weight, had nightmares, suffered from insomnia, cried frequently and became extremely isolated during their parents’ detention”. Not all of the detained parents had even committed any crime. And, of those who had, most were non-violent or immigration-related crimes, like possession of false documents.

An editorial from the Guardian last month stated that: “The overwhelming proportion of migrants come to this country to work, create wealth and pay taxes, not to live off benefits to which they are not automatically entitled or seek treatment on the NHS on which, as predominantly young people, they do not greatly depend.”

But migrants are still demonised by much of the media, and by opportunistic politicians.

Haringey Migrant Centre is one of a dwindling number of organisations that tries to reduce the isolation that migrants and their families often feel. They give advice to people who have left their homes out of desperation. Many of the centre’s visitors are homeless; all are destitute.

Haringey Migrant Centre’s facebook page has lots of interesting links that give information about migrant families, and debunk some of the vicious myths spread about people who come to this country out of real need.

There is very little money available to charities these days, so Haringey Migrant Centre, like many others, relies on donations from people who support their cause. They don’t have the outreach that other, bigger charities do, but the people they help are just as real, and just as important.

If you are interested in donating money to help migrants and their families (and every tiny amount really, really helps), click here to go to Haringey Migrant Centre’s donation page.

A big thank you to everyone who helped get me shortlisted as a Fresh Voice in Britmums’ Brilliance in Blogging awards. I’m up against some stiff competition. To vote in the final, click on the badge on the right of this page.

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20 Comments

  1. What a powerful and moving post. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our children and our own little worlds and forget what is going on around us. Found this on MBPW.

  2. Lyn

    Nothing makes us recognise our shared humanity quite like children do. This is such a refreshing post. When I was doing participatory video work, we worked with a group of asylum seekers to create a film capturing their community’s experiences of incarceration and deportation. There were children in that group. It was one of the most heart-wrenching things I ever saw.

    • Wow, that sounds like really hard work, emotionally. And yes, children really are the same the world over. It’s just when people get a bit older that the differences start coming to the fore….

  3. Brilliant post. I get so sick of having conversations with people where I constantly have to remind them that the majority of immigrants are normal people, who are willing to work and simply want to make a better life for themselves but I admit, I’d not really considered the children in these predicaments before.

  4. What a great post to share, thank you so much Nell. I sort of have taken for granted that Grace has a room of her own and as a result, some stability in her life. It must be so hard for these children. Thank you for linking up with PoCoLo x

  5. Great post Nell. It’s so sad when children have to go through any sort of emotional upheaval and pain. Really makes you take a step back and see the bigger picture. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds – but yet our own little worlds are important too. Always goo to look inside AND outside the box.

  6. Thank you for writing such a realistic post. It’s not always easy to remain rational especially when we are being bombarded everyday by the negative news reported on either the newspapers or the TV about the immigrants. Most of the time they are pointing the finger at the fact we live in a bad situation because there are so many of them around us. I think the main reason for that is that while we are busy keeping those people under control and make sure they don’t do us any harm we don’t have time to look at other things such as a poor public administration or bad political decisions. It’s so sad to see that so often children must suffer for the irrational behavior of the adults…

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