Baraka, No Drama

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The Baraka Youth Association have been grafting for over a decade to raise the level of educational attainment and integration of local young people of Somali origin.

With well-established roots in North Kensington and wider West London, Baraka forms part of the Somali Network in Kensington and Chelsea, a collective of Somali groups that organises events, support each other’s work and represent their community in meetings with local government.

Baraka carries out a range of educational and recreational activities: supplementary schooling for GCSE and ‘A’ Level students, English lessons, football coaching, gym and swimming sessions for children, as well as advice sessions and IT classes for adults. Baraka takes groups of local children on an annual field trip to East Sussex and last year the young people of the Association raised their own funds for a summer trip to Sweden for the first leg of a youth exchange programme.

Baraka’s enterprising efforts take place in a context of hardship for the local Somali community. A 2011 report by Kensington and Chelsea Social Council describes Somalis in the borough as a “Community in crisis.” Accounts of Somalis in London consistently identify a stream of problems: lack of adequate housing, a language barrier, poor educational attainment, arcane immigration procedures, hostile misrepresentation in the media, young men drifting in to crime and khat and institutional racism in Britain. There is a even a glaring underestimation of the size of the Somali population in London in official statistics, symptomatic of the fact that Somalis are an impoverished and somewhat forgotten group unable to demand much attention from wider society.

As public spending and welfare continues to be ruthlessly cut by our class conscious Tory government, the situation is precarious for many British Somalis. Education is identified in the community as the path to integration and economic well being, but with the dramatic rise in university tuition fees, there is a long road ahead for the bright young members of the Baraka Youth Association.

These young people excel at school, attend Baraka’s volunteer-run supplementary schools and homework clubs and talk about their love of London and their commitment to retaining their heritage and Somali identity. That they managed to find the time and energy to raise the funds for a hugely successful trip to Sweden is worthy of immense praise. But Britain hasn’t yet enabled its Somalis to maximise their contribution to society and their work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit remain largely untapped resources. Britain’s sluggishness combined with the inevitable problems resulting from grinding poverty leave a serious and worrying reality.

The Guardian carried a couple of op-eds in 2012 putting a positive spin on the Somali Diaspora in Britain. There are reasons to be positive as the community begins to gain a foothold and individual Somalis make outstanding contributions. Nevertheless, the headings given to these articles, ‘Somali community in Britain begins to find its voice’ and ‘British Somalis: Nomads no more’ are somewhat misleading and do not accurately reflect the concerns of the authors.

Baraka Youth Association was been taking positive steps since long before David Cameron’s dud ‘big society’ idea was announced in 2010. During the preparations for Baraka’s 2012 Sweden visit, Abdullahi Ali, co-ordinator of the Youth Association told me of an idea he had: “Why not grow and sell our own fruit and veg? People will see Somalis in a positive light if we engage with them in business.”

True to form, Abdullahi and the Baraka Youth have made it happen. Baraka’s allotment in North Kensington is up and running and the ‘Garden of Hope’ Launch Event will take place this week.

Working in partnership with Groundwork London Baraka are raising awareness in their community about the environment and sustainable food issues by growing their own fruit and vegetables. The young people will showcase their hard work on their allotment at the launch event with an afternoon of gardening workshops, games, prizes, food and refreshments.

At Baraka’s HQ on Ladbroke Grove Abdullahi told me: “We held a meeting and asked the children and young people what they wanted us to do. They were keen on doing something environmental; specifically they wanted to know how food is grown. So I spoke to the Kensington and Chelsea Youth Service who set us up with the Groundwork Community Development Team, who were then able to meet with the young people and develop ideas that have now become a successful project. The young people have already attended a number of sessions with Alice and Richard from Groundwork and are blogging about their experiences.”

And the Baraka Youth themselves? “My experience with the project has enabled me to become proactive in leading a group as well as being in a team” Suad Nur told me. “We all work towards our goal together: to grow our fruit and vegetables and distribute them to our community. Our gardening sessions brought us together as a team, and the support from Groundwork really helped with that.”

The ‘Garden of Hope’ Launch Event will take place on Saturday the 13th of April, 12:00-3:00pm at the allotment in St Charles Centre for Health & Well-being. Everyone welcome.

This article was first published @ The Source Mag for Kensal Green, Kensal Rise, Queens Park and North Kensington

Baraka!*

In these austere times of high unemployment and cuts to essential services, the Somali community in North Kensington is probably better prepared than most to cope. They have, after all, been living with austerity and economic hardship for years.

detailed report by Kensington and Chelsea Social Council describes Somalis in the borough as a ‘Community in crisis’, outlining the many problems to affect the London section of the Somali Diaspora. The problems identified range from high levels of unemployment to drug addiction, a lack of integration and low educational attainment.

Raising educational standards is identified as the key to improving integration and enhancing the lives and prospects of this and future generations of British Somalis.

Given the right conditions, Somalis will prosper. According to Abdullahi Ali, co-ordinator of the Baraka Youth Association in North Kensington, Somalis have a natural flair for entrepreneurship: “Somalis are naturally business-minded people. We put in long hours to make our businesses work. This comes from Somalia itself, where opportunities to get rich are limited and so feeding your family is the biggest motivation”.

One of the problems Abdullahi identifies is that this work ethic and aptitude for business has struggled to translate in to success in Britain, and the host country has not yet harnessed the skills of its Somali community. “We need to put ourselves out there more if we are to be successful” Abdullahi tells UDL; “Somalis need to focus more on serving every community in Britain, not just their own.”

Baraka Youth Association (BYA) has been aware of the needs of the community for the past decade and has worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of young Somalis and their parents. BYA’s activities include supplementary schooling for GCSE and ‘A’ Level students, English lessons, football coaching every weekend, gym and swimming sessions for children, as well as advice sessions and IT classes for adults. BYA takes groups of local children on an annual field trip to East Sussex and this summer is taking a group of young Somalis to Gothenburg, Sweden on the first leg of a youth exchange programme. The children have raised the money for the trip themselves.

FC Baraka
Baraka field trip

BYA focuses on the twin goals of education and integration, helping young people to improve their grades and therefore their economic and social prospects. BYA also forms part of the Somali Network in Kensington and Chelsea, bringing together Somali organisations of all sizes to organise events and support each other’s work. The network held a successful joint conference on education in March.

This work, carried out mainly by volunteers, is set against a backdrop of hardship for the community. But, it needn’t be like that, according to Abdullahi Ali: “We provide role models for the younger generation through our mentoring scheme. We also help boost academic performance. But, we are also interested in pursing other ways forward, like supporting young people to undertake internships and scholarships”.

One of Baraka’s schemes is to facilitate Somalis taking up gardening in allotments; “Why not grow and sell our own fruit and veg?” says Abdullahi. “People will see Somalis in a positive light if we engage with them in business”.

When visiting supplementary classes and football coaching sessions, or visiting its office on Ladbroke Grove, the most striking thing about the Baraka Youth Association is that it is always looking outwards, striving to engage positively and encouraging its community to give to society in order to get more back.

For more on the Baraka Youth Association, visit it’s website here

For information on Baraka’s supplementary schools and free sports activities, contact Abdullahi Ali on 07949 727322.

*Blessings