Our Mental Health and Nature Event 14th May 2o21
As we walk in a Month full of promise, with lockdown measures slowly lifting we ought to pause our every-day rush for a moment and acknowledge that we are taking a leap of faith from an uncertain answer of months in lockdown, to an uncertain question: What will the new normal be like? We have hung our faith on the certainty, that we have done this before, therefore, we should be able to do this again – to commute to work every morning, to meet friends and family on weekends, to drive the kids to school, to have a Friday drink with your colleagues and whatever makes our routines, ours. We have done this before, so we should, in theory, be good at it still – but, as I see it, we are not the same people we were a year and a bit ago (in the pre-COVID-19 normal).
Given that, Shpresa Programme decided to create a virtual platform that offered space for that acknowledgment, self-reflection and delivered to its users, partners, volunteers and staff this message: ‘We are still here, we still care. We are together.’ During the Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, Shpresa Programme organized a Mental Health event on the evening of 14th of May. Small squares of friendly faces and names filled the ZOOM window and the attendance positively overwhelmed us all – given how delicate the topic of Mental Health is.
The event initiated with the melodic voice of the young Albanian artist Ingrid Havalja that continued to create a warm atmosphere for all of us during the whole event. A kind welcome by Luljeta Nuzi, the CEO of Shpresa Programme that welcomed and acknowledged the guests and attendees, with warm appreciation and understanding of the importance of Mental Health – especially at this moment in time.
Following the Young People, who else to better understand them than Clinton Waller, Deputy Outreach Manager at Croydon Drop-In. With almost 20 years of experience as a Youth Worker supporting young people and families, Clinton spoke about his journey at Shpresa Programme. He spoke about gaining the trust of the young Albanian people, creating grounds of common understanding through dedication, and offering a warm shoulder of support. Clinton Waller reminded us that Mental Health and Wellbeing have been stretched to the absolute limit in the past 12 Months, therefore the continuation of the support he offered during the past 2 years with Shpresa Programme is crucial.
We had the honour to introduce The Rt Hon Stephen Timms, who has been a Member of the Parliament for East Ham from 1994-2019, and the Labour Party’s Faith Envoy. Stephen Timms was the Shadow Minister for Employment from 2010 – 2015 and previously sat on the Exiting the European Union Select Committee. He held numerous posts, one of them being Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Financial Secretary to the Treasury. At the General Election 2015, he was the only MP to poll more than 40,000 votes. Stephen Timms has campaigned on Shpresa Programme’s behalf, sponsored events and visits to the Parliament, and on our event, he delivered just that: that he takes the issue of the people to the right ears.
The event continued as the number of attendees kept rising. We heard Ina’s inspiring journey from Shpresa Programme. Ina’s story was also commented by Hannah Gretton, community organizer at Citizens UK who emphasised Shpresa Programme as the second organization with most registered attendees on the Mayoral Assembly 2021, and Ina’s story as the most impactful. A tough act to follow, but Shpresa Programme is rich with impactful experiences, journeys, and partnerships: The vice-chairman of the board at Refugee Community Organization, Rema Duli spoke about her work with Shpresa Programme in the past 3 years, and the delivery of the Mental Health First Aid accreditation, especially targeted at Shpresa’s young people. Shpresa Programme is a warm nest full of colourful lived experiences.Having some of our volunteers describe their journey from when they knocked on Shpresa’s doors as users to being lead in a path of growth and personal development, where they volunteer and fuel Shpresa’s work in supporting other members of the community, was the perfect illustration of that.
Having heard the personal lived experiences from these current Mental Health champions, we wanted to give our attendees a more in-depth analysis of Shpresa’s work with Mental Health. Njomeza Kartallozi, a Senior Psychotherapist and Therapeutic Service Manager at Manor Gardens Welfare Trust powerfully took over the virtual stage of the event and spoke about the partnership and work with Shpresa Programme. Tackling the stigma, challenges that our Community faces in understanding the importance of therapy, especially having a history of past or current traumatic experience such as trafficking, domestic violence, undergone FGM etc. Njomeza talked about a journey of resilience, of patience and listening, not just to reply, but to understand.
With much appreciation for her work and support with Shpresa Programme, especially in the last year, we welcomed Adelina Toplica-Badivuku, who is a systemic family practitioner and senior family coach with specialism in couple, parent-child relationships, and parenting. Adelina, an advocate for children, women, and families’ right to better lives and positive changes, is also the Director at Total Family Coaching, a community-based organisation that she sat up. Adelina spoke about her dedicated work at Shpresa, the importance of mental health in our community and her personal, professional experience with an emphasis on the high success rate and demand of the Parenting Programme.
As we listened, we learnt, our understanding of Shpresa’s work on Mental Health and Wellbeing grew and set a warm glow on our hearts – to see such rapid changes in our community, is inspiring. That being said, we acknowledge that comic relief, a lighter tone is always necessary. The Guardians of the Environment presented their ‘Green Stories’, after all, Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 was dedicated to nature.
After showcasing their impressive work, ERIK, ANISE, LISA & RANIA talked about Shpresa Programme’s support on their Mental Health, how the Keeping It Wild Saturday sessions kept them active and inspired them to go outside, enjoy the green spaces and dedicate time to their mental health and wellbeing.
As we approached the end of the programme, we invited Catherine Heinemeyer, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at York St John University, who, with her brilliant students, run the Drama Club sessions every Saturday at Shpresa Programme, to share her experience. In her words: “The trust we had with the young people, was already there, because of Shpresa”.
Great work has been done at Shpresa Programme for Mental Health, but we are only building a strong foundation to grow stronger and better. We finalise our event with our closing act, warm goodbyes, information, gratitude and awareness. We close our show curtains, only to open them again, very soon.