If people were asked to name the main ethnic communities within Derby they would most likely say, West Indian, Indian, Pakistani, and East European; few would consider Africa, and the Middle East.
In 2009, 4 young East African men, in their early 20’s, and who had spent most of their lives in the UK, were aware that their community existed in this blind-spot and it was affecting their colleagues and friends. As active young men from the community, they helped out with some translation, form-filling and guidance on navigating the complicated processes through Derby City Council, and other Government institutions. They just wanted to make life easier for the new arrivals. Eventually, they realized that they needed to formalize their activity.
Abdulkadir Omar ( Somalia), Hashi Hadi ( Djibouti), Albashir Kuri (Sudan) and Ghirmay Tesfazghi (Eritrea) were the founders of Hamaari which means “Red Dust”; it is named after one of the most fertile soils in Africa. In their early days they were unfamiliar with the rules, regulations and protocols of running an organization in Derby. Time has brought them experience and contacts, and over those 5 years they have helped 2-3000 people, with 500 people being registered on their database. Despite their progress they remain painfully underfunded with most of the equipment and facilities they use being dependent on favours or personal finances.
Unlike a lot of organisations in Derby they have a broad spread of languages which allows them to engage with people from a vast geographical area.
As Omar, points out:
“Once you speak the language you also tend to think the way of the language”
Between them, and other colleagues in Hamaari, they speak:
Somali, Arabic, Amharic, and Swahili which means they can communicate with people from countries across the whole of North and East Africa, through Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, down to Tanzania and Mozambique, as well as most countries in the Middle East.
This positions them, uniquely, to help the many thousands in Derby from these nations, and to be advocates for the community needs with the local Council. It is much to their frustration that, despite their communities being in Derby for at least 15 years, they are being constantly overlooked when it comes to resources, and attention. The Council will make special provision for interpreters with Urdu, Punjabi, or Slavic languages, but few steps to accommodate the African based ones.
The problem is that the community is not visible. Hamaari wants to get them noticed, and to ensure that the peculiarities of their cultures are understood, and recognised. Without the attention, and positive engagement from the Council, then this community will become progressively disenfranchised, and that tends to be a store for longer term problems.
Derby is one of the many centres for asylum seeker disbursement in the UK whilst they wait for judgment on their refugee status. 90%+ of these people are from Africa, and many people will stay in Derby if they are given “leave to remain”. They need to help to understand how to integrate properly into British society, help to connect with the education / housing / health / tax systems, and this requires a language and culture sensitive approach.
“What they don’t understand is that we don’t have the same values, we are not the same people. Yes – we all share the same religion – Islam, Christianity, or whatever, but we are different people”
Omar, feels that they are often mis-categorised as either West Indians, or Asians depending on their personal skin tones, or clothing. Apart from being disrespectful and upsetting, it is dangerous. As Omar reminds me, the killers of Lee Rigby in London were Africans, and the majority of sellers of drugs on the streets in Derby are African – there are African issues! Most Africans in Derby don’t vote, because they don’t understand they system – this exacerbates their lack of voice and progressive alienation.
More people are becoming aware of the terrible practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); this is now a crime within the UK. Although not unique to African countries, or a specific religion, the incidence of it is most evident on the continent….and it occurs in Derby! Hamaari have been given a modest amount of funding from the Derby City Council to deliver an awareness campaign in the period December 2014 to April 2015.
It is difficult to see how Derby can truly consider itself to be a City of Sanctuary and one that caters for the needs of all members of the community when large sections seem to be largely invisible and sub-surface. Hopefully soon, Hamaari will not be a group of poorly-funded, dedicated volunteers in an office at the back of JET, for much longer but one that can actively be heard as an advocate for an important, diverse and blossoming section of the community.