Amina Ismail came to the UK as a refugee over 30 years ago. She spoke to us about the community spirit and warm welcome she received when she made Lewisham her home.
How long have you lived in Lewisham? ‘I came to London in 1988 as a refugee and I’ve lived in Lewisham for 22 years. I originally come from Somalia but lived in Yemen for most of my life. When I first came to Lewisham the first person who knocked on my door was my neighbour, who greeted me with a ‘welcome’. That was amazing and I can never forget her. Her name was Peggy.’
‘For someone to welcome you is amazing.’
What were the positive things about moving here? ‘It’s hard to count how many positives there’s been because since moving to Lewisham I have learned so much. Since I’d been in the UK, I never knew there was an organisation that helped refugees. This lady introduced me to the Lewisham Refugee Network and then from that moment, everything became easier for me. I started to go out more and take my children around the area and that helped me a lot. It was a big turning point for me.’ ‘Later on I got support with learning English and then got training to become a receptionist and I met other people that had the same struggles as me. I gained self-confidence and nearly 30 years later I’m still doing what I can to help others who were in the same situation I was in.’
‘Deptford is a really nice area. People don’t look at the colour of your skin. People look at you, as you.’
How does your area make you feel connected and at home? ‘Deptford is a really nice area. People don’t look at the colour of the skin. People look at you, as you.’ ‘When they first opened the 2000 Community Action Centre, I was walking by and a lady told me to come in. I was so surprised because I didn’t think I’d be allowed to go in there. Then later on I got to learn about what they do and that when people want to do things, there is something called a management committee where you sit and discuss how to get things done. I learned something.’ ‘It’s very important to integrate with other people to learn from them. They are learning from you, who you are and where you come from. We all have some sort of culture.’ Lewisham is known for having great community spirit, why do you think that is? ‘Lewisham is my home and there’s a lot of culture here. We have a lot of community spirit in Lewisham. You’re never alone. There’s a lot of refugees coming in and not one of them will tell you ‘I don’t want to live here’ because there’s a lot of community organisations that can help you.’
‘Lewisham is a place where you find everybody..it’s a home…it’s rich in culture.’
‘You can meet Congolese, Asian, European, Greek, Spanish and British people in the street. So many people from different cultures go to the Community Action Centre. So that’s why it’s so unique.’ ‘You find all types of people here with 70 languages which is a lot and every language has their own culture. Even though I’m a Somalian, Lewisham was the first place that I learned that we have different cultures in Somalia. I never knew that before…I learned that here!’ Why do you think Lewisham should be London Borough of Culture? ‘Because we help everybody here regardless of your background or religion. If we were to get Borough of Culture, we’ll do it together. That’s Lewisham’