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How African women are making tartan and supporting each other in Scotland

A group set up to suport refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow has helped them to bond and keep isolation at bay

Oxfam customers in Glasgow may soon be able to buy a new kind of tartan, woven from red, green and gold thread. The cloth, registered earlier this summer, is the most vivid expression of a support and advocacy group set up by a group of female refugees from Africa with the evocative name of Karibu Scotland.

Founder Henriette Koubakouenda was 50 years old when she arrived in the UK from her native Democratic Republic of the Congo in the summer of 2001, to join an existing community of African women in Scotland. Using her knowledge of English and her experience of working with women in community development (she had worked with the United Nations Development Programme back in Kinshasa), Koubakouenda would help her fellow asylum-seekers with their phone calls and letter-writing. "Many of the women didn't speak English and it was really difficult for them to access mainstream services," she tells me from her flat in Glasgow. "And I thought maybe if we can organise ourselves, this could be more formal and people will see us. The mainstream services will know our need and respond to it.

"I called that first meeting on the 31 August 2003, and around 15 to 20 women came into my flat," says Koubakouenda. Karibu Scotland was born – as a group for refugees and asylum seekers arriving in Glasgow.

As well as support and campaigning, for Koubakouenda, it was also about keeping isolation at bay. "When you come to a new country, you don't know the people and you don't speak the language. Can you imagine how hard that is? Getting together is also a way of breaking the isolation. Karibu helps these women to have a new bond of family."

The women who use Karibu also come for services such as ESOL English classes and IT lessons. The organisation also has a social enterprise arm: hence the sewing group that registered the tartan in the Karibu colours and the catering enterprise Taste of Africa (they cater events around Glasgow).

They are planning a Karibu Scotland cafe. "We are hoping to have the cafe before the Commonwealth Games. Many people will be coming from Africa, and if they can find a place where they can eat African food, it would be great," says Koubakouenda. "We just need to secure the funding." Laurentine Zibi, chair and former volunteer, says: "All the feedback we've had on our services and events has always been so positive." She adds: "We did not choose to be here but now that we are – this is our home, this is our country and our voice should be heard through our projects, events and skills."

Fonte: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/oct/01/african-women-making-tartan-scotland?newsfeed=true - 01.10.12


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