As Refugee Week launches a programme of cultural events, promoting tolerance and friendship, Kirstin Innes talks to three teenagers with big ambitions
I’ve just met the UK’s hottest new teen sensation. They’re bright, sparky, gorgeous and talented - they act, they make films, they …
‘No! We can’t sing. Don’t put that we can sing!’ shrieks 14-year -old Hadrat Ahmed, clapping her hands over her mouth, eyes wide.
‘We do dancing, and rap, though. We make up raps about our lives - about young girls having fun. And we act. We’re good at acting’ says Fatma Mahfoudh (age: ‘16-in-September’). Fatma, Hadrat and Marlene Madenge (‘16-in-December’), call themselves Da Chicks. Da Chicks want to be actors, just like Beyonce (‘except without the singing,’ says Hadrat, looking worried). They want their own BBC TV series, just like Tracy Beaker. They giggle, swap text messages and refuse to give me their full attention, just like any teenage girls, but they’re not, not really. Da Chicks are all refugees - Hadrat and Fatma from Somalia, Marlene from Congo. They’ve been living in Glasgow for between four and seven years and have grown up differently here.
Da Chicks knew each other locally, but only formed the group after their involvement with ArtFactory, an outreach project run by Artists in Exile Glasgow. ArtFactory offers Glasgow pupils - mostly, though by no means exclusively, refugees and asylum seekers, the chance to work in different disciplines with a variety of international artists - some of them refugees themselves. One of the products of these sessions, the short film Trapped, will be screened during Refugee Week.
Trapped was scripted, acted, filmed, lit, edited and directed by a group of around 20 local kids, all under 16, with the assistance of filmmaker Victor Kennedy. Marlene has the lead role, as a teenage girl alternately floating, lost, through a forest, and flashing back to a night of underage drinking. Hadrat and Fatma are prominent in the film, too.
‘The effect the project has had on the kids has been amazing,’ says Chelsea McKinnon, who runs ArtFactory and produced the film. ‘They’ve all gained confidence - they talk back, these days.’ Hadrat agrees: ‘We’re more open now. We used to be so shy!’
Da Chicks are now working on a new theatre piece as part of the National Theatre of Scotland Exchange project, a sort of convention for youth theatre groups: their deadline is to be ready to perform in the Tron Theatre at the Artists in Exile Glasgow Cabaret evening on Saturday 23 June. The Exchange project asks participants to ‘explore, through a theme of metamorphosis, what it means to be young, Scottish and international.’ It’s high falutin’ language, but Da Chicks know what it means. ‘The play’s about change,’ says Marlene, softly. ‘Maybe the change that you go through when you grow up, you know, being a teenager, being a girl.’ ‘Or maybe it means change when you move,’ Fatma chimes in. ‘Change when you travel and swap countries, when you come halfway across the world. Like we did.’ Da Chicks nod, as one.
For full details of Refugee Week’s intensive programme, see www.refugeeweek.org.uk Trapped will be screened at the GMAC Mini Film Festival on Wednesday 20 June, and again at the Artists in Exile Cabaret on Sat 23 June.