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Our Sangha: Mindfulness in Life and in Business

Our SanghaReading Time: 4 minutes

 

Our Sangha

 

By Katie McAdam, Sona Circle

After gaining a well-regarded role as an analyst at J.P Morgan, Amr Sabbah seemed to have it all. With a proud family, a secure income and a successful career, Sabbah was satisfied with his life. 

Following his first year at the global finance giant, Sabbah’s initial contentment faded as he became frustrated with the office’s toxic culture. Soon Sabbah’s mental health began to suffer as he developed anxiety and experienced frequent panic attacks. Stressed out at work, Sabbah needed a break to re-evaluate his life. 

For Sabbah, this desire for connection is a key feature in his life.  

Coming from Syria, Sabbah remembers the Damascus of his upbringing with fondness, missing the Mediterranean culture and strong sense of community. 

At the age of 19 during the Syrian civil war, Sabbah moved to the UK to study for a BA in Business Management at London Metropolitan University.  Moving to London saw a shift from Sabbah’s socially connected life in Damascus. For Sabbah, social isolation made life in the UK almost more difficult than the political instability in Syria.  

Determined to improve his situation, Sabbah worked hard to grow and develop his career at J.P Morgan’s Edinburgh office. But when the work was of detriment to his wellbeing, Sabbah needed greater peace in his life. 

In order to manage his anxiety, Sabbah turned to meditation. 

After seeing the benefits in his own life, Sabbah wanted to help other colleagues to benefit from meditation. Sabbah created a daily lunch-time meditation group to give others a space to recharge. The sessions proved to be popular at the Edinburgh branch and as a result, were implemented at J.P Morgan’s London office. 

Though meditation had been a welcome improvement, Sabbah was still unfulfilled and sought a more significant change. Sabbah moved to London with the aim of expanding his mediation groups into a business. 

With the support of The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), Sabbah established the social enterprise Sangha Gathers. Keen to improve his knowledge of the field, Sabbah enhanced his passion through his studies at the University of East London in his Masters of Positive Psychology. 

Initially, Sabbah was drawn to following the popular model of the mindfulness app and expanding Sangha Gathers on a mobile platform. With a desire to be unique, Sabbah instead focused his attentions on creating the Our Sangha Facebook group, as a low-cost alternative to bringing people together through meditation. The Facebook group forms an important part of Sabbah’s wider social enterprise at Sangha Gathers.  

Sabbah’s distinctive approach is eager to focus on the advantages of group meditation which is often regarded as a solitary activity. 

Sangha Gathers offers both paid-for and free support. From Sabbah’s previous business experience, he knew there was a demand for corporate wellbeing programmes. Sangha Gathers provides group mediation and positive psychology programmes to businesses across the country. Most recently it has partnered with the University of Cambridge to offer 28 sessions over two weeks to university staff. Sabbah’s success at J.P Morgan has been emulated through Sangha Gathers, with his clients fostering the resilience and mindfulness to better cope within the workplace. 

On the more charitable side of Sangha Gathers, Sabbah’s personal connection has motivated him to train refugees and those from disadvantaged backgrounds through virtual positive psychology and meditation groups, in partnership with the University of East London.  

This refugee-led programme equips individuals with the ability to apply the methods learned to solve the problems they have identified in the sessions. Throughout the Covid-19 lockdown maintaining good mental health has been particularly important. To respond to the need, free meditation courses have been given to the Sangha community. 

Sabbah continues to develop his passion through Sangha Gatherers as it continues to expand.  Sabbah advises those who want to lead a similar path, that it is vital to test your ideas as soon as possible in order to gather the feedback to adapt your activities. 

He also believes that though it may take time for your passion to come into reality, you should start small and just go for it. 

Mental health and entrepreneurship are two critical areas of refugee integration which have been covered by Sona Circle Recruitment blogs. This is why we partner with many diverse partner organisations (including Sangha Gathers) which all have one thing in common, a shared commitment to supporting the skilled refugee workforce.

At Sona Circle Recruitment, we partner with companies to provide paid internships and apprenticeships to refugees, helping to combat an elitist internship culture and the recruitment practices that currently exist. If you know of a company that would be interested in hiring from the dependable refugee workforce, they can get in touch with us here.

You can also show your support by donating on our JustGiving page or by purchasing an Equal Tee from our online shop where all the profits go to supporting refugee employment. 

By wearing a #EqualTee you are standing in solidarity with any group in society that has been unfairly treated or discriminated against. This goes further than refugees and asylum seekers, it includes the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and BAME rights.

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7 Effects of COVID-19 on Refugee Employment

RefugeesReading Time: 4 minutes

 

Refugee

 

By Zoe Allen, Sona Circle

Refugees already face an extensive range of barriers when looking for work in the UK, from low proficiency in English to lack of social connections and difficulty accessing services, to outright discrimination.

This leads to the rate of unemployment being four times higher than the UK average for refugee communities.  

However, it only gets worse. Refugees and people seeking asylum have been disproportionately negatively affected by the employment crisis which has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic, many being placed on furlough, losing their jobs, and facing financial hardship. 

We review recent research to reflect on how the barriers that refugees face to accessing employment and services have been impacted by the challenges of the pandemic, as shown in the figures below from the Breaking Barriers May 2020 Client Needs Assessment. 

How has the pandemic impacted refugee employment and employability?

1. Changing needs: Like everyone in the UK, the needs of refugees and people seeking asylum have changed dramatically during and after the pandemic. 45% report that their needs have changed during the pandemic and Breaking Barriers found that training and housing support were the top priorities going forward.

2. Access to services and training: In the Breaking Barriers survey, 82% reported support with services relating to employment, training and English lessons as one of their top three needs. This highlights that refugee communities do not just need direct access to jobs, but support with employability skills, training for work in the UK and support to improve English language skills. 

This issue is made even more complex by how difficult Covid-19 makes it to provide and access training like this, especially when only around half of the refugees surveyed had access to a laptop. 

3. Increased unemployment: Refugees were disproportionately affected by employment issues during the pandemic; 36% were furloughed, compared to 27% of the UK population as a whole, and 32% of respondents who had managed to secure employment prior to the crisis – despite all the barriers that face refugees – lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19.

UK wide unemployment rates are expected to rise from 4% to 10% after the height of the pandemic – much lower figures than those we have seen from this report for refugees. 

4. Isolation and social connections: Social isolation is a key barrier already faced by many refugees in the UK, as people seeking asylum often arrive alone, with few (if any) social connections in the UK. Therefore, when the whole of the UK had to go into lockdown, this issue was made much worse for refugees. 

In the Breaking Barriers report, relief from social isolation was flagged as a top need for refugee communities, alongside the need for employment and financial support.

Without the opportunity to build social connections in the UK, refugees cannot integrate into the UK and will, therefore, struggle further to access employment opportunities once they are available.

5. Wellbeing and mental health: As above, refugees have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with unemployment and social isolation exacerbating the issues refugees already face in the UK. They are therefore even more susceptible to the effects on mental health and wellbeing caused by these hardships. 

As refugees are already much more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the UK-born population, this is likely to lead to an extreme mental health crisis amongst refugee communities. 

6. Compounding work and skills gaps: Gaps in work history is another barrier that stops refugees accessing employment opportunities in the UK. Many refugees already have gaps in their work history by the necessity of the long journey to flee their home country; if refugees were unable to work during the pandemic, this is only compounded. 

This may be even worse for people seeking asylum who cannot work but may have had their asylum claims delayed because of Covid-19. 

However, research shows that 45% would have been essential workers during the pandemic, based on previous work experience. This has fuelled an ongoing campaign to allow asylum seekers to work as soon as they arrive in the UK; you can read more about the Lift the Ban campaign here. 

7. Financial impact: The Breaking Barriers report also notes that many refugees live in low-income households, so will be harder hit by redundancies and further barriers to employment. Many households also experienced increased expenditure on weekly shopping during lockdown, due to stock shortages in supermarkets. 

Financial support was reported as a key need for refugee communities. Alongside immediate financial relief, employability and employment support will only become more important to prevent and alleviate poverty in refugee communities. 

How will this progress?

We can only guess at how this situation will progress as the UK financial and employment landscape changes as the pandemic progresses. What these statistics from the Breaking Barriers report show, however, is that refugees and people seeking asylum are already being disproportionately affected by the issues that affect the UK population, as refugees already had higher rates of unemployment than the UK average. 

The possibility of a second UK-wide or further localised lockdowns leading to further redundancies and furloughs is likely to put further pressure on refugee communities, and make the need for employability and employment services for refugees and young people seeking asylum even more desperate. 

What can we do to help?

We must provide dynamic and adaptable employability solutions to help refugees overcome the barriers that have only been increased by the pandemic. 

At Sona Circle Recruitment, we partner with companies to provide paid internships and apprenticeships to refugees, helping to combat an elitist internship culture and the recruitment practices that currently exist. If you know of a company that would be interested in hiring from the skilled and dependable refugee workforce, they can get in touch with us here.

You can also show your support by donating on our JustGiving page or by purchasing an Equal Tee from our online shop where all the profits go to supporting refugee employment. 

By wearing a #EqualTee you are standing in solidarity with any group in society that has been unfairly treated or discriminated against. This goes further than refugees and asylum seekers, it includes the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and BAME rights. 

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Frozen Present: A Story of Resilience of Refugees in Malaysia

Refugees in MalaysiaReading Time: 2 minutes

 

Refugees in Malaysia

 

By Chiara Fabbro, Sona Circle Contributor (Insta: @Chi.fabb)

Zhara, Malika and Hussain are three young siblings. They live in a small flat in a 15 storey building in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They are Hazara and come from Afghanistan, but they had to flee their home country as Hazara people are still facing ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution.

The three siblings are alone. In Kuala Lumpur, Hussain provides for his sisters by working in a bakery. He is 18, the eldest. A quote from a post he put up on social media reads “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” His commitment and resilience are beyond moving.

Malika, the youngest, is really good with languages and often acts as an interpreter from Farsi to English for the others. She teaches English in kindergarten, in the local community centre for Afghan refugees, to kids aged four to five. ‘They are cute, but also a bit naughty’, she says laughing. She has the most infectious and sweet laugh you could imagine.

Zhara is a beautiful young woman, with a more reserved personality than her sister. She cooks delicious Afghan dishes that remind her of home and dreams of one day becoming a doctor.

In reality, Zhara, Malika and Hussain will need to fight for a chance to a bright future. Malaysia didn’t sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and it, therefore, doesn’t recognise the refugee status. Yet there are over 160,000 registered refugees in the country, and many more unregistered.

These are mostly Rohingya refugees who escaped from Myanmar, but other nationalities are present too – Syrian, Yemenis and Afghans amongst them. They aren’t allowed to work and cannot attend state schools, while the cost of private schooling is too high for all but a handful to afford. They rely heavily on UNHCR-issued ID cards for status. Under Malaysian law, they are liable to arrest or deportation, but showing this card provides some protection.

Since the refugees aren’t allowed to work legally they have no choice but to work off the books, with very low wages and no protection. Even worse, if they are found working by the police, they can be arrested or sometimes have to bribe them in exchange for turning a blind eye.

It’s a limbo – similar to asylum seekers awaiting a decision in Europe, the difference being, here it will last until Malaysia changes its policy relating to refugees.

The chance of relocation to a third country that could provide asylum is very slim. The USA is the main country of resettlement for this group and the chances of this happening have become increasingly slimmer in recent years due to the policies implemented by the Trump administration.

This is an everyday reality for tens of thousands of refugees in Malaysia, barely allowed to exist, let alone fight for a better future.

They are trapped between a painful past and a bleak tomorrow, far from home, they rely only on their incredible resilience, in a present that feels like it’s frozen.

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Refugees and Mental Health: The Hidden Pandemic and the Value of Kindness

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

By Agnese Pierobon, Sona Circle

I remember a couple of weeks after my move to a new country, I was walking around, trying my best not to get lost in a city unknown to me, when out of the blue, I heard a friendly voice. I turned and saw a refugee from the camp where I had recently started working; waving, he asked “Hi, boss, do you need directions?”

This interaction changed my perspective, things were turned upside-down; I was the stranger and he was the one who could guide me. This event gave me a small insight into the challenges that refugees face when they arrive in Europe. Being alone in a foreign country is never easy. For a refugee it could be dramatically harder.

Walking in the shoes of a refugee means; wondering how it would feel to be forced to leave your own country, to flee, leaving family and friends behind. It means travelling on a long journey, often vulnerable to extremely traumatic experiences, such as physical and sexual violence, torture, exploitation, hunger and thirst.

It means putting your life in the hands of smugglers, with the belief that they are your last and only chance to save yourself and reach a safe place to stay. Then, the lucky ones, those who survive the journey to Europe, start a long odyssey through multiple refugee camps, frequent police interrogations and complex bureaucracy. They begin the struggle to settle in their host country and to find a job. Many also have the responsibility to provide for their families, who are stuck in their home country.

Challenging

When refugees arrive in Europe, the procedures at reception centers focus on medical screening to check their physical wellbeing – but they don’t do enough to provide psychological assessment and, if needed, support. The refugee experience is extremely challenging and research from the Mental Health Foundation shows that displaced people are five times more likely to have problems with their mental health. Among the most common symptoms are anxiety, despair, a sense of helplessness and a loss of confidence in the future. The most severe cases suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which includes symptoms like flashbacks, hyperarousal, poor sleep and concentration as well as a loss of trust in other human beings.

To combat the mental health conditions refugees’ face, specific psychological treatments are very important and can have a deep positive impact. Individual or group therapy sessions, focused on discussing the traumatic event(s) is recommended in order to speed up the recovery process and to help refugees to start their new life.

However, as many psychologists highlight, this clinical relationship is not enough; in order to boost the effects of the therapy, it is fundamental that refugees also experience new, positive personal relationships with other people in their normal life. Forming a social network, developing friendly relationships with locals, not only with other migrants, can boost their integration and their self-empowerment.

So what can we, as members of the community, do in our daily lives to support refugees? We can be kind. We can remember that a single word may have a great impact. We can break down the wall of indifference and try to personally involve ourselves in supporting refugees.

We can go a step further. We can donate to organisations such as Sona Circle which help create employment opportunities for refugees within local communities. Sona Circle works with companies to employ refugees within their organisations, thereby providing a valuable resource to organisations that not only wish to hire a diverse workforce, but are socially conscious and wish to make a positive impact. We can donate towards the Sona Circle fundraiser here.

A single act of kindness can have a life changing impact on refugees and entire communities.

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Poems by Refugees

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Some of our readers and followers on Instagram, have sent in some of their poetry inspired by refugees and their own journeys.

The Guilt Trip

The infant soul, pelted stones
To save it’s father from greedy souls.
The father lost at zero cost, made the infant weep.
The infant wept and blamed itself for not pelting enough.
Later, the infant thought of the greedy sloths,
Asking that, why was its father lost at no cost .
The infant lost in the frosty thought
Chose the cost of its fathers loss .
That‟s where the trip of thoughts made him sought
For the cause of its fathers loss.
The warrior grew in the infant soul
Just for the cause of its fathers loss.

-Hatim Merchant

 

A Different World

I had a dream where all was bright
All darkness gone, to my delight!

And in this dream there was a world, so different, yet so possible.

Where borders were no longer real
We were as one and what a deal!

And in the eyes of a dear child, no signs of sadness from a far exile.

There was instead hope, a future!

Yes, hope indeed it must go on.
Hope for those who’ve chosen a different song, a different world.

For those who’ve chosen
To love , To smile
And greet with kindness every refugee and child

So welcome all to my sweet home, what’s mine is yours,
We are as one!

– Melissa Rossi

A Poem

This is a wave that’s washed ashore
As a wave of people gather round
A wave that’s spreading through the masses
A wave that connects without a sound

Waves that move underwater
In the air and underground
A wave of people who were lost
And displaced that are now found

This is a circle that builds trust
The hope that makes life so profound
A wave that breaks the chains of helplessness
In which millions were once bound

Exposed to all the elements
In a camp on foreign soil
Through the rain, snow and burning sun
One is daily forced to toil

Removed from home, family and society
Into extreme uncertainty we recoil
Due to famine and disasters
And Wars over ideology and oil

And so we choose to create networks
Through the smartphones that we tap
We find information and employment
Through the Sona Circle App

To be part of a society
And regain our sense of identity
In a group that inspires
Peace, progress and unity

– MesYeux

 

Be Brave

Like a leaf flying,
almost touching the ground
and being stepped on.
Like a candle going out,
we are burning down.

“Am I a shadow
that the sun does not light?”
The world is moving
and nothing is alright.

Dear hearts,
be brave.
It hurts looking in the mirror,
but remember
that courage defines the heroes.

Life is happenning now.
You are not living
the one you deserve,
but I believe something good for you
is reserved.

You need help getting out.
My question is “how”.
The windows do not open,
you need somebody now.

My arms are open.
And always will be.
Even when the moon
is the only light you see.

– Ana Rita

You have a name

“There is a place in the ocean where two seas meet, with currents so different that it creates a tide though there be no shore.

Let our love confound such waters. Let the differences between us melt into nothing and merge so that all remains is us, body to body. Skin that’s the same, hearts that follow the same repetitive thud thud thud.

I am you and you are surely my image too.”

– Laura Thompson