ON THE GROUND: Project Phakama, London International Festival of Theatre

Ruth Smith

Scheme: Creative arts workshops for unaccompanied young refugees and asylum seekers in London

Funding: Total of £66,000. £56,000 over two years from the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, £5,000 from the Build Trust and £5,000 from the Funding Network

Objectives: To create inspiration and hope for vulnerable teenagers in London

Developed by the London International Festival of Theatre, Project Phakama uses art as a catalyst for social inclusion and cultural learning. Its creative art and drama workshops enable young refugees and asylum seekers to explore difficult questions about life, using art as a medium.

"I lost my entire family in the war and didn't have anyone, but Phakama makes me feel good about myself," said 18 year-old asylum seeker Osman.

After his parents were killed in the Liberian Civil War, Osman was captured and forced to fight as a child soldier. "The things I've been through make me feel like I'm alone and that no-one loves me. But the people I met at Phakama are my new family and friends," he said. "I've never felt good in my life before. It gives me the courage to face the future."

On his arrival in London, the Refugee Council put him in touch with the project, where he began sharing his life story. He has since enjoyed using art and drama to develop performances with other young people in similar situations.

Based in London, the project works with unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers and refugees and is based on the premise that everyone has something to offer.

Project co-ordinator and visual artist, Tabitha Neal, said the situation for unaccompanied child asylum seekers is tough. "The lucky ones are with foster carers; if not they are living in hostels. They are not all in education and some are only attending English classes a couple of times a week, but there is a real thirst for education and learning."

Neal has seen the project transform many lives. "It gives young asylum seekers or refugees a sense of belonging - that it's OK to be here," she said.

Young refugees speak little English initially, but Neal has found that their English improves fantastically as they gain creative confidence.

Founded in 1981, Lift has presented artists from all over the world in theatres and unusual venues across London. It aims to arouse debate among audiences and participants about the power of modern theatre.

Project Phakama participants performed in London as part of Lift's family-friendly season this May. Another show in conjunction with Lewisham Youth Theatre is planned for February.

See www.liftfest.org.

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