Interview with Nergiz Kurdish Women’s Group

The Nergiz Kurdish Women’s Group are an advocacy organisation, based in Nottingham, who support Kurdish women in the community. Our Managing Editor, Pa Modou Faal, caught up with a few members of the group to see how they’ve been coping during the coronavirus pandemic. 

What role does your organisation play in community support?

The Nergiz Kurdish Women’s Group (NKWG) help Kurdish women in employment, educational courses and training; we do anything that will help make Kurdish women more independent and help them stand on their own feet. We also help asylum seekers get access to translation services, and support them through the accommodation process, as well as work with local foodbanks to improve the welfare of the most vulnerable in Nottingham. 

During the last year, we’ve hosted activities online for mothers and children to combat loneliness and to bring the community closer together. We’ve also had the opportunity to run computer literacy training through the Nottingham Community Centre which our team and other members of the group completed. 

On International Women’s day we arranged several discussion groups explaining Kurdish women’s history, with the hope of empowering women in our community. Because of the pandemic, many of our sessions have had to move online- but we’ve still managed to do our vital work by delivering virtual meetings on wellbeing, mental health and gynaecology. We’ve even hosted virtual yoga sessions!

What other groups do you work with in the community?

We work closely with the City Council, especially with the Community Cohesion Officer Shazia Khan- she’s been a great ambassador for our organisation. One benefit of the pandemic is that we’ve been able to interact with more groups across Nottingham and other cities nationwide, and created more solidarity between women’s advocacy groups. 

It’s true though that there’s only so much you can do in online sessions in terms of the positive impact we want to make to Kurdish Women’s lives. For example, with issues around mental health, we need to engage in person to really make a difference, because online spaces can be overwhelming. It’s easier to understand how best to serve the community’s needs when we meet in person, but we’re making the best of meeting virtually. 

How is the NKWG funded?

Government grants have been really useful this year and have meant we’ve been able to continue to fund our community support work. In fact, lots of organisations representing diverse communities have benefitted from grants and have been able to help each other out in terms of which ones to apply for. 

What activities have you hosted for children?

Over Zoom, we’ve been able to put on lots of fun activities for the kids- they’ve enjoyed drawing, arts and crafts and expressing themselves creatively. We also opened a school for the children to learn the basics of Kurdish language. We’ve given out care packages to the children, full of toys and games as an outlet for their energy during a time when they’re probably quite bored and can’t see their friends. Their mothers are very appreciative- it’s given everyone a real boost to interact with one another. The best part of our work is the fact that it feels meaningful, you get a real sense that it’s making an immediate impact. 

What activities have you hosted for women?

Our coffee mornings have been great to generate conversations amongst our group- and when we were able to meet in person, we hired out a local church and invited guest speakers to address the group in both Kurdish and English. We’ve had talks with doctors, gynaecologists and other medical professionals. Most of them give their time voluntarily which is really kind, and we have productive discussions about mental health, physical wellbeing, weight, female health, which the women really find very helpful. Since October we’ve been running wellbeing sessions online, breast cancer awareness and domestic abuse seminars. It’s a really useful space where women can ask questions and get answers back in Kurdish. They might not have been able to do at their local GP surgery, so these sessions really help our community understand how they can better look after their health. 

For us at the organisation, meeting people from different backgrounds, and interacting with new people every day has in fact improved our own social and presentation skills and self-esteem. It’s strengthened our connection to the Kurdish community and helped us tailor our support. 

What are some of the challenges your organisation has faced?

Every start-up, or grassroots organisation, has challenges when they first begin their advocacy work. At first, Kurdish Women in the community were reluctant to come to our meetings. But once we’d hosted a few events, our coffee mornings got up-and-running and the word spread. Gradually they knew that we’re here to help them and they’re now more enthusiastic to get involved. 

Obviously, the social disruption of the coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic for a sociable culture like ours. We’ve not been able to hold our coffee mornings in the same way. But we still do have a good turnout at our regular online meetings. Our virtual dance, Zumba, and yoga sessions have helped encourage participation. Moving our support and activities online did mean that lots of people could join in our celebrations during the Kurdish New Year at the end of March- we could even connect with some of the women who moved back to Kurdistan. 

Lockdown has perhaps made us appreciate our normal lives more, the small things in life and the routine. But as we’ve said, you can’t compare the joy of an in-person session with meetings on Zoom, and it would be nice to make up for this lost time in the summer, and dance together again. 

What future projects do you have coming up?

We’ve currently got some funding from the National Lottery so we are hoping to expand our groups to possibly set up franchises in other cities, and further reconnect with the Kurdish diaspora. There’s also more work to be done to help more Kurdish women into employment. Some of our group members worked in Kurdistan as teachers and artists but can’t use their skills in this country because of language barriers and other factors. 

As well as this, we’re currently in discussions about setting up a permanent space in Nottingham for the group. A community centre to act as focal point would really encourage more participation from the Kurdish community. We want to make sure we are as accessible as possible, so that Kurdish women know that we are here to support them in any way that we can. 

To find out more about the Nergiz Kurdish Women’s Group, check out their social media pages- on Facebook and Twitter.  

Written by Joseph Hughes

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