An adventure weekend in mid Wales in summer is an experience familiar to many young people.
But for one group it was so much more – a chance to make new friends, mix with different cultures, continue the process of integration and find their voice after experiences most of us couldn’t even imagine.
The 65 teenagers were part of Project Get-Together 2, an initiative which allowed young refugees and asylum seekers now settled in South Wales a chance to get away from sometimes chaotic lives and learn more about themselves, others and, most importantly, have fun.
The weekend was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, organised by Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees (HBTSR) and brought together youngsters from Cardiff, Swansea, Wrexham and Newport at PGL’s Llwyn Filly and Tregoyd centres near Hay-on-Wye.
HBTSR’s Ailsa Dunn said: “PGL had agreed ‘mate’s rates’ so that we could afford to bring so many people and we also had a good deal with Tregoyd Riding Holidays/ Cadarn Bunkhouse where all the female participants and staff slept -or chatted - overnight.
“We are very grateful that they agreed to do this as their busy weekend became 65 participants’ weekend of a lifetime, a chance to make new friends - as one person said ‘to learn how to make new friends’ - to learn some new skills and to learn more about themselves and others while having great fun. We'd also like to thank the National Lottery for making this possible”
Partners in the project included Newport Sanctuary Project, Llanishen High School, TGP Cymru and Swansea City of Sanctuary who recruited all participants and supplied 12 leaders to help ensure everything ran smoothly.
The youngsters arrived on Friday night evening, greeted with a party at Llwyn Filly of PGL staff with leaders, Lucy and Sian, and HBTSR members, who had made welcome bags with a bottle of water, a snack, a pack of cards, a pencil, a bag and information for all participants.
“Tea at Llwyn Filly with over 80 people to feed was a remarkably happy affair,” Ailsa said, “with people discovering others who spoke their language, old friends, new friends, what groups they were in. The sunny evening meant people could eat outside and then relax on the field with their group leaders to bond as a group and play football, volleyball and chat.”
Saturday brought climbing, a challenge course, problem solving, survivor skills, zip wire rides, climbing, archery and raft building.
“They threw themselves with great enthusiasm into all the activities and although for some there was little to really physically challenge them compared with some of the things they had already been through, this time it was for enjoyment with friends, accompanied by music and chat,” reported Steve Buzza ,PGL Maintenance Manager and founder member of HBTSR.
“Several people faced their fears and were able to do the zip wire or climb. One person really wanted to challenge herself to cope without all her usual friends and seemed to manage well by making new friends.”
Saturday evening gave everyone the chance to relax around a campfire and introduce others to their music and experiences. One of the Cardiff leaders sang a song she’d written herself called ‘One Sky’ about the fact that we all share one world and are one people and gradually everyone joined in the chorus. After a little sleep, people were ready for an energetic Sunday morning at the lake building rafts.
Local AM and Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams visited at lunchtime to allow a number of people to discuss issues with their or others' education in an informal way.
One youngster said: “I felt shy at first and then I opened up. Everyone was smiling and happy and I was able to relax and forget everything. I want to thank every team leader for being great and welcoming us. All the people were very friendly.I enjoyed the social life for the first time since I left my family."
“Everyone seemed to have had fun, to have made new friends, to have learned a few new skills and to have made a great impression upon the instructors, the fellow users of the centre and all who met them,” Ailsa said.
“Two instructors sought me out to say how much they had enjoyed the groups, that they had stretched them, enlightened them, made them laugh, amazed them. They said they would love to know more about the sanctuary movement and had learned a lot about the experience of seeking asylum. Some had agreed to find ways for people to continue activities in the cities.”
One of the leaders and Cardiff organiser Sian Owens , a teacher at Llanishen High School, said: “I am overwhelmed by the enormous generosity, thoughtfulness and sheer hard work that those in HBTSR put into the weekend.’
“I loved meeting such special people, leaders and participants and the impression it made on my school group was enormous. I know it meant the world to them. I don’t think we can ever overestimate the value of these trips for those young people.”
‘One of my most overriding memories is of arriving in Cadarn. The girls were struck with awe & wonder at the scenery...mesmerised by the hills, the birds, the flowers & especially the horses. We went for a walk down the leafy lane in the evening & they were videoing all the hedges as we walked along! Like it was some precious & rare sight that they needed to preserve on their phones in case it would disappear soon!’
If anyone want to learn more about HBTSR please look at our website https://hbtsr.cityofsanctuary.org or Facebook page