Sharing lived experiences through storytelling is a way of learning and opening the doors of inclusivity to people of different cultures. Learn how four individuals came together to build on this concept and develop an online communication platform for migrants and refugees.
Some people may talk about the seven-year itch, but this is not true for TogetherintheUK (TGIUK). Seven years after a group of like-minded individuals recognised a common cause and formed TogetherintheUK, the organisation has gone from strength to strength in providing a safe and inclusive platform for migrants to tell their stories.
We spoke with the four co-founders, Teresa Norman, Johann Taljaard, Kosta Eleftheriadis and Fatkma Mustafa, to discover what brought them together and what inspired them to establish this online community for refugees and migrants.
The inspiration for TGIUK came from Teresa, who befriended a family who had migrated to the UK. As she understood the story behind their journey and appreciated what was involved in settling into a new country, an idea began forming in her mind. This idea blossomed when she attended a seminar on behavioural insights and was reminded that people learn most from people with similar lived experiences.
It suddenly clicked that we all learn best from people who have walked in our shoes and that it would be useful for migrants arriving in the UK to hear the stories of other migrants. And so, the idea of TogetherintheUK as a story-sharing platform was born.
Teresa’s concept resonated with her three fellow co-founders, all with lived experiences and all with stories to tell. Teresa recalls that she already knew Johann professionally and personally and that they had often discussed doing more to break down barriers across diversity and inclusivity. Once Johann realised that Teresa intended to move forward and had registered TGIUK as a social enterprise at Companies House, he immediately offered to be part of the team establishing this new community-based platform.
I migrated to the UK in 1999 and vividly remembered the challenges my family and I faced. And even though I understood and spoke the language, recognised, and identified with the culture, and even had family members here, I struggled to integrate into a different working society in the early days.
Teresa connected with Kosta and Fatkma through work-related events, and both were so excited at the idea that they immediately volunteered their time and skills to make TGIUK happen. And in Johann’s words, “together we brought a rich cultural tapestry to the embryonic idea that became TGIUK”.
Storytelling is how we learn, how we learn about ourselves and other people. Through the narrative, we learn and create an image for ourselves and a way of understanding what we see. In fact, in the Greek language, according to Kosta, “…history and story are the same words.” And storytelling is at the core of TGIUK’s philosophy. As both Teresa and Fatkma explain, “Everyone has a story”. One of the highlights for TGIUK was their first StoryTelling competition held in 2021 during the unprecedented and most impactful global pandemic in recent history. TGIUK received poems, essays and prose from migrants and refugees throughout the UK. These writers shared their personal stories, some traumatic, all poignant and many uplifting and motivational, as they shared their hopes and dreams to make a better life in the UK. Recognising that these stories had to be shared with an even wider audience, TGIUK is working with Victorina Press, an independent publishing house, to publish an anthology, Hear Our Stories, due for release in August 2023. While the four colleagues and friends work together, Teresa and Johann took the lead in this project. Both see it as one of the greatest successes since TGIUK’s inception despite many organisational and technical challenges. Looking to the future, they see the anthology as creative means to reach a wider audience. To quote Lord Alf Dubs, who not only acted as a judge in the competition but who gracefully agreed to write the introduction to the anthology,
For me, a good story does not tell us how to think, but rather it gives us questions to make us think. I hope that by reading these stories, you will have a greater understanding of the challenges migrants and refugees face and open your hearts to be kind and welcoming.
A crucial part of TGIUK’s mission is the aim to provide migrants with reliable advice and insights into life in the UK. This element is very personal to Fatkma as she reflected on how she struggled to create a new life in the UK. We often hear the phrase “If I knew then, what I know now,” and this is how Fatkma describes the importance of sharing practical advice to ensure the transition stage of a migrant’s journey is quicker and more pleasant. Much of the advice provided on the platform results from the “if I had known that” scenarios that Fatkma shared with her co-founders. Kosta reaffirms the need for current practical advice, particularly in recent years,
Over the last seven years, we have seen many changes in immigration rules and regulations. In particular, the impact of Brexit on migrants coming from Europe to study, work and live in the UK. Every year, there is increased awareness of a different attitude to migration, and while some may see benefits from Brexit, it has made migration more difficult. TGIUK feel it is important as well as providing practical information on establishing yourself, we signpost people to the right sources of information on the different visas and routes.
As we all know, learning is a two-way process, and Fatkma sums it up beautifully when she reveals,
TGIUK has significantly changed my life…every project, step and story make me more compassionate and understanding. When we can truly walk in someone else’s shoes, it brings down walls, and we drop all kinds of judgements; we are brought together…TogetherintheUK.
And according to Kosta,
Being part of TGIUK, you cannot help but change for the better, and you are in contact with people from so many different walks of life.
What continues to delight Teresa is the dedication of the co-founders and the many volunteers who freely give their time and expertise.
TGIUK is a non-profit making entity, and we could not achieve anything without our volunteers. We have a diverse group of volunteers, some with lived experiences and some who have never had to leave their homes and families yet have a deep empathy with migrants. I am astounded by the generosity of our volunteers and by our wider network. It shows me that others will support you if you try to do something useful.
The four founders remain committed to developing and growing TGIUK, and while Johann may have taken a step back, he is still very much part of the TGIUK family and ethos. In addition to the anthology, the team is working on a new website, a range of branded products to generate much-needed income and a training course for employers of migrant workers. In addition, there is a steady stream of innovative social media postings, podcasts, and blogs, ensuring the storytelling continues.
TGIUK’s story is far from over. The team is committed to working together to support migrants and, most importantly, to listen to their stories and share those stories with the wider community. In the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
If you would like to share your story or volunteer with TGIUK, please email email@example.com.
TGIUK is an impartial non-profit making social organisation. Our mission is two-fold: to provide an unbiased communications platform for migrants and refugees to safely share their stories, while providing them with reliable advice and insights into life in the UK.
Our vision is to encourage society to embrace the stories of migrants and refugees and to recognise the challenges of leaving your country of origin and starting a new life in a different country.