At the weekend, my family and I watched the much-awaited film, ‘The Swimmers’ (on Netflix), which is based on the real-life story of two sisters, Yusra and Sara Mardini and their voyage from war-torn Syria to Germany. At home in Syria, the sisters are being trained for the Olympics by their swimming coach father but, against the backdrop of a large loving family and a vibrancy of lives being lived to the full, the distant bombing of war soon lands on their doorstep. The sisters make a break for safety and, after arriving by plane in Turkey, find themselves on an overcrowded dinghy making a treacherous crossing across the Aegean Sea to Greece on their way to Germany. During the crossing, the motor on the dinghy fails and both sisters attach themselves to ropes, jump in the water and make the swim of their lives to help drag the dinghy and its passengers to safety.
In the midst of war, family separation and other dark aspects of their story, the film illuminates often forgotten aspects that many unaccompanied children and young people may encounter when having to undertake a forced journey in to the abyss, for instance, the bravery of their movement, the life-long friendships made in extra-ordinary circumstances, the determination to keep moving forward, the drive to have a fulfilling life, and the blind faith they hold that their destination country will open their arms, pick them up, keep them safe, and help them rebuild their lives. The film also tackles the complexity of immigration and the ever-present stumbling blocks and hurdles that need to be jumped over before being accepted in a new country, or rejected. The sisters’ voyage to safety is just the beginning of their story.
In contrast, the Drawing Together project does not focus on what led our young refugee participants to leave their homeland but does focus on the new life they are building after permission to settle was granted in either Scotland, Norway, or Finland. We aim to understand how their important relationships over time (their past, present, and future) helps them to keep moving forward as they build their new lives. However, similar to some of the qualities that can be seen in Yusra and Sara, what I suspect will shine the brightest from our findings is our young people’s bravery, gratitude, ambition, talent, determination, openness to trust, amazing relationships, and their hopes and dreams for their future.
I highly recommended watching ‘The Swimmers’ if you have not yet seen it, as the film needs to be viewed to be appreciated. There are so many more powerful moments and impactful imagery that I have not mentioned here for fear of lessening their impact for anyone still to watch it. But if you do watch it, brace yourself because it demonstrates how life as we know it can change in a flash and the reality of what can happen when it does!