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Spotlight on Member: Barking & Dagenham Somali Women's Association

By Zainab and Amal Musa

 

Degmo Farm –  Member Spotlight on BDWSA’s Summer At a Rural Farm

 

At Haringheld Farm, a Degmo (settlement) has been created, one in which Somali families can engage in a number of activities that are common in nomad pastoralist communities in Somalia.  Set in the scenic rural welsh countryside is Degmo Farm, a green space clustered with large tents designed to resemble an area of encampments set up by nomads families in Somalia.

Tents set up in the Welsh countryside to resemble a Degmo

Tents set up in the Welsh countryside to resemble a Degmo.
Photograph: Zahra Ibrahim, BDSWA

 

The Barking and Dagenham Somali Women’s Association (BDSWA) recently travelled as a group with 8 Somali families to a rustic area in Wales, a farm which acts as a spring/summer home away from home. The families have enjoyed a number of activities to experience the Somali culture, traditions that many are unable to experience within urban cities in Britain. BDSWA’s three night stay at Degmo Farm gave families the chance to experience farm like activities that reflect both the British and Somali rural way of life. This includes working with animals and listening to Somali poetry and songs. The families are imbued with an understanding of their culture of oral storytelling and the herdsman lifestyle, as well as an appreciation for the fresh air and open spaces.

 

Hamish Wilson, the driving force behind Degmo Farm, is keen to present to the families the pastoral culture that may be missing from their lives in Britain today. The types of activities that they experience at the farm mirror the types of activities that nomads would carry out in rural Somalia, and they are often left with a very positive and insightful image of Somalia once they leave the leafy hills of Wales. This provides British Somalis with the chance to reconnect their roots in a meaningful way as they understand and appreciate the life their family may have led before they moved to Britain, empowering them to feel proud of their lineage and culture.

 

The Director of BDSWA standing in the middle pictured with a child and woman  towards her right who came to visit the farm.

The Director of BDSWA standing in the middle pictured with a child and woman towards her right who came to visit the farm.
Photograph: Zahra Ibrahim, BDSWA

 

Hamish Wilson gave the 8 families a lecture of the traditions and the history of Somali nomadic culture as they were given a tour of the farm. He passionately spoke to the young people in the group about how educated nomadic people are in other areas of their life despite not having gone through a formal education in their formative years. He said:

 

“…some of you younger people here would go to school and would look at these people in Somaliland and think: well hang on a minute they have never went to school, they are with their animals all the time therefore they are not educated. This is very wrong. These people are educated they just learn different subjects to you. They do not learn maths, physics, and chemistry and English... what they learn is to survive in this situation. They have to know, in fact they do know signs; they know all the names of different trees; they know which one is poisonous and which one is medicine. They know how to navigate. They know how to fight off wild animals, and they also know how to care for their camels, sheep and goats…”

 

He further lectured the families about how great civilisations wanted to visit Somalia and do business with the country and pointed out his own family’s personal experience living there through books and photographs throughout the tour. He said:

 

“and many, many, many great civilisation would go to great trouble to be able to visit the Somali lands, so we know the Pharaohs of Egypt made processions to visit the Somali lands 4000-5000 years ago. We know the Sasanians; the Persians; the Great Arab civilisation; the Greeks, and the Romans wanted to visit the Somali lands…” 

 

The farm was designed to accommodate groups of Somali families for which rural life has become something of the past. For the Somali community who live scattered among urban cities in the UK, many families have lost their nomadic culture and Somali traditions as they settle in cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Sheffield.

 

Families leisurely playing football and young children  curiously touching a goat.

 Families leisurely playing football and young children curiously touching a goat.
Photograph: Zahra Ibrahim, BDSWA

 

Among the herb picking and scenic country walks, Somali families have been able to share and experience the joys of milking the many sheep and goats, making butter and cheese and learning about the traditional life of the Somali nomad.

 

The trip to the farm has enabled the families to engage and create dialog with their elders on the traditions and culture their lineage have passed down, even if they are now living in an urban centre. For many Somalis in Britain, the Somali nomad way of life may be lost, but there is great comfort in the ideals of Degmo farm, a place where families can go to experience their history and culture and ensure that it is never forgotten.

 

Barking and Dagenham Somali Women’s Association (BDSWA) is a frontline organisation run by women for women to primarily help disadvantaged women and their families to access services that are not available to them. BDSWA provides and offers a wide range of services that will tailor to the needs of their service users as well as providing the community a positive platform in finding ways to overcome barriers. The different services and activities that BDSWA provide are community café and drop-in-sessions, information and advice, women wellbeing projects and many more. If you’re interested in volunteering with BDSWA, want to access their services or want to book a trip to go to Degmo Farm with the organisation, please email zahra.ibrahim@excelwomenscentre.org.uk or alternatively you can contact BDSWA via phone on 020 8594 3730.

 

If you would like to visit Degmo Farm, please visit here. If you would like to learn more about what services and support BDSWA provide, please click here . Follow their Twitter  @bdsomaliwomen  and Facebook page to receive news on future workshops and projects