BIG LEAF FOUNDATION
Big Leaf Foundation is a small charity working with displaced young people aged 16-25 living in Surrey.
Our aim is to provide a nurturing programme of activities, projects and events that focus on combating social isolation and improving wellbeing for the young people we support.
We want to engage the young people we work with to be excited about the opportunities available to them, and to value their unique talents and abilities so that they can rediscover their potential and move forward with renewed optimism.
We want to support and empower these young people to know they are more than the status they have been given, and help them find their place within the local community.
I co-founded Big Leaf Foundation with Vicki after running an academic programme for displaced young people and seeing first-hand how many neglected elements there were in the holistic care provided to them.
I have always been struck by how difficult it is to live with long-term uncertainty. Humans cannot tolerate ambiguity and yet we leave these young people in the limbo of resettlement sometimes for years, as they await the decisions of external powers on what their future can be. During these times, the presence of hope is paramount crucial to anyone’s ability to move forward.
Without hope, no one can look forward. It becomes ever more difficult to put one foot in front of the other. Even daily tasks become impossible. And then, what do you have left?
IMAGES | spark hope
I can never forget the lottery of life that has left my family in a position of huge privilege, where we are safe, fed and together. The young people we support are not much older than my own children, and yet they have had to leave their homes and take the dangerous journey into a complete unknown.
There is not one day that I don’t think of their mothers. The one thing I would want, if my children had to go and live in another country alone is that someone there would see them, and someone there would care about what happened to them.
IMAGES | share bread
We have so much in our lives; we have so much we don’t need and we have so much we can share. And this can be all the difference to someone else. At the end of it all, it is as simple as that.
I co-founded Big Leaf Foundation with Kayte and am the current chair of trustees. Since 2017 we have supported an increasing number of displaced young people in Surrey. Lockdown was a real challenge for us all. But for the young people we support it was an especially difficult time, with no school or college, no way to make new friends and worries about keeping safe or about friends and family back home. Combating social isolation and fostering a sense of stability and belonging is central to our ethos. And during lockdown, more than ever, it was essential that we keep talking to each other. So we put together a collection of online activities and challenges for displaced young people to help them improve English, be creative, stay connected and ask questions.
I studied illustration at college and one of the young people we support, MG, loves to draw. So when lockdown happened, I asked if he wanted to do some online art with me. He said yes… and over the next 10 weeks we came together once a week for art sessions on Zoom. We started with some of the basics of drawing - using simple shapes and outlines, proportions and using light and shade to build depth. He likes drawing people, so much of our subject matter centered on this. We drew hands, feet and faces. He made so much progress during our sessions. But it wasn’t just about him - I started to realise how much it was helping me, how grounding it was. During one of our sessions MG told me he had come across a saying that he liked “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift” and then he said with a smile that he thought today, that moment, was a gift. We talked about how hard it is to remember to line in the moment and appreciate each day because we all get caught up in thinking about the past and worrying about what the future might hold. For the young people Big Leaf supports, the past is often filled with unimaginable trauma and the future with worrying uncertainty… so living in the moment is harder than ever. Then we talked about how art helps us (both) to appreciate the moment because it focuses your mind and there isn’t space for thinking about other stuff. We agreed it’s a kind of meditation.
Then we drew hands… lots of hands.
It was my favourite lesson and it was in that moment that I realised just how grateful I was for having a reason to spend an hour in my art studio each week thinking of nothing but drawing.
I studied art with Vicki during lockdown. We drew a lot of things, like faces, feet, mouths, hands and eyes. It was quite hard for me because I didn’t have experience before but she is a great teacher and she helped me learn a lot of things. She helped me with English as well, she taught me some English words. I am really thankful to Vicki because she spent her time with me. I don’t know how I can explain to you, I can’ thank you enough. She did a lot for me, I even improved drawing because if you have a great teacher you can learn anything.
While I was drawing I felt very happy because I really like drawing people and animals, especially people. I really like drawing more than anything because when I start drawing I don’t think about anything else, I don’t stress and I just focus on drawing.
Lockdown was the hardest time for me as I have never experienced anything like it before. However, I kept myself busy by practicing my English and doing different activities with the people I live with, such as football, volleyball and exercise. I hope that time will never come back again, in my life or in this world.
I was studying English on a zoom with Vicki, Kayte and Louise. They taught me a lot of English idioms, such as “don’t cry over spilt milk” means don’t get upset about things you can’t change. “It’s not my cup of tea” means I don’t like it.
It was sensational. I learned a lot of new words and sentences.
I had breathing problems during lockdown due to sitting for the whole day in bed. One night I couldn’t breathe so I called the NHS on 999 but they didn’t help me, which made me frustrated at the time. But then I told myself "pain is temporary”. The good thing is I didn’t give up. Afterwards I planned to go running every morning and a week later I felt so much better. Since then I always go running every morning.
Then Vicki gave me a project to do, such as taking inside and outside pictures of windows which made me happy because it helped me to keep busy.
I work for Big Leaf Foundation as a caseworker, and I was helping out with activities before and during lockdown. I am also a foster carer with two foster sons who are displaced young people.
Personally, I found lockdown very difficult so a project like this which took my mind off my anxieties, made me focus on the bigger picture and be creative, was perfect.
I am conscious that I have led a very fortunate life in comparison with the young people we work with. However, I do find it helpful to draw on my own experiences of difficult times to connect with them.
IMAGES | more love
All of the young people we work with are separated from their families and so they are missing the love that our children take for granted. But I was also thinking that the whole world could do with more love, and especially at this difficult time.
IMAGES | food for all
Although sometimes it was hard to get the food we wanted during lockdown, I was grateful that we had food and realised that our young people had often been without food while they were travelling.