Bright stranger is here to boost Somali awareness

Dave Simmonds

Some of the pupils think she is from Tsunami, others believe the colourful stranger in their classroom is from Salami.

The visitor is, in fact, an artist from Somali. And Halima has become a central figure in a scheme to promote her culture in Cardiff schools.

The Somali Integration Society (SIS) is behind an initiative that uses characters and props to raise awareness among all nationalities through drama. Halima's most recent visit was to Grangetown primary, a school with a rainbow of nationalities and 17 different languages.

Enthralled pupils played detective during a workshop to find out more about her roots. Working with a group from Cardiff's Theatr Iolo, the children asked Halima questions about her family and country. However, pupils who did best had one thing in common - a knowledge of camels.

Esam, one of the pupils, comes from Yemen and he told his group about camel bells and camel branding. Rawand, from Kurdistan, was a bit concerned about camel stealing. He knew people were pretty honest in Japan, so he asked if Halima's country was like that.

And was it all camels, asked Saleena, or did they use horses too like her relatives in Pakistan?

Halima said: "Some of the questions were surprising. I was even asked what I would do if I was queen of my country for a day?"

During the visit she enthralled children by shrouding herself in unsi, an incense used by Somali woman to scent their clothes, homes and hair.

Wendy York, Theatr Iolo's administrative director, believes the development of the workshop formats with SIS has worked well.

She said: "We're using drama techniques to introduce new ideas, giving children the chance to discover for themselves, to ask questions, and not simply to make assumptions."

Although Cardiff has the oldest established Somali community in Britain, Ibrahim Harbi, SIS co-ordinator, said negative stereotypes - for example relating to unemployment, mental health problems and underachievement - needed to be addressed.

He said: "Our main aim is to help integrate the Somali community into Welsh society and so improve prospects."

Mr Harbi also believes it is important to boost the confidence of Somali children born here by teaching them about their roots.

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Dave Simmonds

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