Thoughts from a Citizenship Class “…And when you’re a citizen in a European Union country, you have the right to travel and stay and work in any country throughout the union.” The women sitting in front of me are nodding in acceptation as I tell them this. They seem to be painfully aware of the fact. A mixture of anger and guilt rises in me; how can it be that our rights and opportunities are still so different depending on where we were born? Do I deserve to stay in England any more than these struggling asylum seekers who are with me in this room? I try to reassemble my mind and getting on with the teaching on Britain’s political governance, thinking “After all this is why I came here; anger about our unjust world and a desire both to struggle to amend the system and to care for its victims.”
This happened an evening in September a few weeks after I came here from Sweden and started my internship at the Catholic Worker Farm. We had our weekly Citizenship Class, and doing this workshop on how Britain works and how it is to live here is one of our tasks as interns. During the past months I have probably learnt more from these classes than any of the ladies. We always first read from the “Life in the UK” book and then prepare a teaching session from a certain passage. It is also a challenge to make a workshop with people with so different experiences and knowledge of the English language and society. Despite this we have had many joyful and interesting moments together discussing the ways things work in Britain and sharing our notions and frames of reference.
I do find it a bit ironic that both Mirjam and I are coming straight from Sweden to teach asylum seekers about Britain. But it usually works out very well and the fact that I am also an immigrant sometimes raises my sense of equality with the ladies here, despite the dramatic difference in our positions that sometimes becomes very clear. In fact, only the children in this house were born in the UK, the rest of us have come from different parts of the world. It gives me a special sense of community when everybody around the dinner table starts interrupting each other with “but in my country…”.
So, apart from all the gardening and anti-war campaigning and Bible studying that has also been very instructive and delightful, I must say that the most valuable part of my experience here has been the encounters and relationships with people. The stories of the women that come to stay here always touch my heart and sometimes what they’ve been forced to go through really makes me upset. Often I wish I was able to do much more to change things and to help them, when the only possibility is to show my love and care. But when I try to see it from the divine perspective, I feel that love is after all not such a small or unimportant thing.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. […] And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-3;13, NIV).