The story so far

I PACKED THIS MYSELF was a project working with migrant workers and local communities in Cornwall, which started in 2006. We found instances of exploitation, discrimination and outright racism. I PACKED THIS MYSELF brought people together to increase understanding. This blog is a record of the work done over the following five years.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review of the day's workshops at Torpoint

Just home - an hour and a half drive north from Camborne to Torpoint. Though the scenery on the approach is lovely, the town itself doesn't seem overly prosperous. There is nowhere to buy a cup of coffee and breakfast except Londis - never a very good sign.
The school is a tough school: the staff talk about racism and and antagonism to foreigners. It's a monocultural area, even there is a lot of movement due to the naval base nearby (a girl in one class had moved 12 times in her life, and she is now 13. So she really understood the experience of moving to start life anew).
The sessions reveal a lack of understanding of the role played by migrant workers and their importance in the local economy.... We had to work hard to define the term and then explain that they were not 'here taking our jobs' and sponging off the state.
I think Inga Riaukaite, who has helped so much on the project and who accompanied us, was quite shaken by the response. It was brilliant, as usual, to have her there to answer questions: she could really explain what it's like. The work was tough, she said, but nothing compared to the emotional strains and the sheer unpleasantness of being taunted for 'not understanding' English - which has happened to her too often, really.
Steve Edser and Bev Faull, Cornwall Community Support Officers working on the migrant worker beat, came too. They were able to put some facts straight and talk about the situations they encountered. They explained that migrant workers could be exploited and gave examples. They also explained how workers often didn't know where to turn for help.
Inga, as she has done in previous workshops, showed everyone what she brought with her when she came to this country to find work: this is at the heart of I Packed This Myself. We asked everyone what they would take if they had to leave home. So many children suggested items given to them by their grandparents (that was interesting).  We handed out small prizes.
Five one-hour sessions during the day - quite a marathon.
We did, I think, open some minds. If we managed to change the mindset of six children in each session that would be quite an achievement.
But at the crux of the matter is an issue that we haven't truly tackled and have not discussed at length up to now: why won't local people do these jobs? Inga asked at one stage how many children in the class would work 15 hour days for the minimum wage. And only one or two hands went up.
The benefits culture is something that we need to look at closely and research how it links with the migrant worker issue.Which brings us, probably, to our next project area: worklessness.