“Reflection on Teaching Refugee Women for Christian Action” by Kate Rogers

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I presented a 90 minute poetry workshop, “Things I Love and Hate” on Friday 23 March 2018 for refugee women. The workshop was requested by the Christian Action Centre for Refugees as part of the Cha Writing Workshop Series, in partnership with the Hong Kong Poetry Festival Foundation and the English Departments at Hong Kong Baptist University and Chinese University Hong Kong.

Seven refugee women and two representatives from the host organisation participated. The original plan was to help participants compose a poem on their loves and hates following a model poem by British poet Edwin Morgan. Host organisation representatives informed the workshop leader that participants’ IELTS level would be between 5 and 3 with variable writing skills in English. In an effort to keep participants’ possible life experience and English levels in mind, the session began with self-introductions and brainstorming of loves and hates. Provision was also made for participants to learn a few new vocabulary words. In Step 2 one participant read the model poem on the topic out loud and the women were asked to finish some lines taken from the model using their own loves and hates.

Some participants were more confident writing in English than others. The facilitator didn’t want to exclude any participants, so the verbal brainstorming and sharing of loves and hates was extended. Some women finished lines about what they love and hate in writing and were invited to share verbally. Three women did so. However, the time was used up before the concept of metaphor could be modelled effectively. The facilitator mentioned that metaphor uses comparison and also gave examples of personification from the model poem. Some of the participants showed interest in learning more at another time. (It quickly became clear to the facilitator that use of the term ‘metaphor’ might only alienate the students with fewer English skills, so the idea of comparison as an aspect of metaphor was emphasised.)

The group needed more than an hour for the first three steps in the process. Two participants came in half way through, so the brainstorming process was explained again for each of them and self-introductions were also invited. One woman brought a young child, who wanted attention. It seemed only fair to include the child on a simple level so she would not be ignored.

As a result of the above mentioned factors, no participants got to the stage of completing a simple five to ten line poem about their loves and hates using metaphor. One of the organisers suggested that future workshops be two hours. The self-introductions and brainstorming of refugee women’s loves and hates took a lot of time partly because of the emotional nature of the topic. The participants needed to feel they could express themselves and be heard. One of the most common ‘hates’ was not being trusted by the wider community.

As facilitator I would recommend less formal structure in subsequent workshops with this group until they became more familiar with poetic devices. I would be happy to give another workshop. Since the refugee women participants were quite open in sharing their experiences of isolation, dislocation and fear, I believe that a video of Warsan Shire’s poem “Home” would be an effective prompt.  A close activity could be prepared as Step 2 where women could fill in blanks with their own words. Step 3 could involve them writing their own poem with no requirement for poetic devices.

///// The Cha Writing Workshop Series: We plan to hold one to two writing workshops every month, for local school children (all levels), as well as economically and socially disadvantaged groups. If you’d like to suggest an idea, please contact the organisers, Tammy Ho (t@asiancha.com) and/or Eddie Tay (eddie@asiancha.com). Click here to see a list of past and future workshops. And click here to read instructors’ reflections on the workshops. /////




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