The Sudan Women's Association, based in Camden, north London, has been working with the Basis Project on governance and funding.
“My name is Elizabeth and I’m the co-ordinator of the Sudan Women’s Association. Our offices are based at Abbey Community Centre (in London). Would you like to come in?
“The Association was established by Sudanese women in 1991. The reason was at that time Sudan was in a big war and the refugees were coming from all over. Some of them came to England and some went to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – all over. As a newcomer coming from a different background and culture to settle in the UK with a different language, it was very hard. That is why the women decided to establish the organisation.
“In 1996 when we registered the Sudan Women’s Association as a charity, our aims and objectives were to alleviate poverty, to support women’s education through literacy and ESOL classes, to support elderly people with basic English and numeracy so that whenever they’re out they can identify the bus number.
“The young people, especially those born in this country, will not have the knowledge of the language and the culture, so we started with basic language. We used to teach three languages: Dinka, Bari, Luwo and Ma’di – four languages.
“Another reason for the organisation is to bring the Sudanese communities together. Because in Sudan people live together, there’s no boundaries of neighbourhood there’s no ‘this is my territory’. People live all in one place. But when we came to the UK we found that people were living in flats that are small and cannot accommodate everybody. If you have 10 people come and visit you the neighbour will knock on the door and say ‘too much noise’. Now when people come here there is space and we have rooms where we can live as if we are in Sudan and that I think will reduce the anxiety of refugees and asylum seekers.
“We are working with the whole of Africa and other African countries. For example, on our mailing list we have women from west Africa, north Africa, south Africa and central Africa. Sometimes if they have difficulties they approach us and we are always willing to help because we have an open door policy – we always help whoever is in need.”
“My name is Kiran Patel I work for the London Borough of Camden in what used to be part of the Voluntary Sector Unit and is now part of Culture and Environment.”
Camden Council has been providing funding to the Sudan Women’s Association since 1996.
“Sudan Women’s Association is funded under a category of access to services. What Camden has recognised very, very clearly is that because of language and cultural difficultly for women in our community, they tend to congregate in their own communities – that’s a great point of access to other statutory services. Sudan Women’s Association fulfils that very important role, as well as helping people to feel positive about themselves and alleviating isolation. Poverty is also an issue, as well as children in schools.
“The community that arrived [from Sudan] was very much women-led. There were single-woman-headed-households. Women were trying to earn a living, get qualifications at the same time as bringing up the family and it was very important.”
“We’ve been working with the Basis Project since 2007 and we started with the organisation needs assessment. We had a project development worker from Basis and she was so patient. She came and analysed what our needs were, then put it in a nice format and emailed it to us. The Chair and myself went through it and added more. From that we detected our weaknesses and our strengths.
“Our weakness was that we didn’t have a good, clear structure of the management committee. Thankfully, through Basis, we managed to have a full day training on good governance. We got all the relevant documents – which we are keeping in a safe place and whenever we need them we refer to them.
“This is Christa, our volunteer from Holland. She is currently in London doing her Masters degree on South Sudan culture and tradition. She is always helping us, and I hope she gets the information she needed for her thesis. The sad thing is we will miss her because she is leaving to go back to Holland.
“This is Roda Malang. She’s one of the service users and has been involved in the Sudan Women’s Association since day one. She helps us a lot and is an active member and is there whenever we need her. She gives us the support and the encouragement we need. And she always gives us a pat on the back when we do something good.”
“My name is Roda Malang, I’m a member of this organisation and I come here, if I have time, to learn something like using the computer. I’m learning how to check my emails and to see what is happening in Sudan –I check in Arabic, which is my language, and a little bit in English. All the time when there are any activities I come here.”
Refugee organisations have a huge amount of energy – energy and a will to succeed and to work together. This is very difficult to see in generic organisations that have lasted a long, long time. There’s that will to succeed, to participate and do whatever they need to do to get their children a better life.”