Stories from Our Sisters Preview

Untold stories of migration, integration and settlement by women from diverse communities living in Sunderland are portrayed through oral history recordings, creative activities and photographic exploration in a heritage project.

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Women of Sunderland, along with their family and friends will soon gather to celebrate their stories through a major community heritage project that aims to raise the profile of the positive contributions made by the women from diverse backgrounds and highlight their achievements. A preview of a community heritage exhibition ‘Stories From Our Sisters In Sunderland’ on Friday, 27th June 2014, 4pm at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Sunderland.

Led by Sangini, a women’s charity based in Sunderland, Stories from Our Sisters in Sunderland explores the lives of women who have lived in the city since migrating from countries including Senegal, Zimbabwe, Assam, China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Malta.

Through the project, women recorded their personal stories , and explored how their lives have been shaped by Sunderland and how in turn they have shaped the city through their cultural traditions.

More than 100 women of all ages have engaged with their heritage so far, learning new skills in recording oral history to collect each other’s personal stories as part of the project and it aims to continue to do so.

Sreelekha Reddy, founder member of Sangini and project participant, commented: “Taking part in the project has helped me to remember a part of my life that I had left behind in India, and recollect the journey I undertook since arriving in Britain. It has been deeply moving to retrace the early steps I took to settle down in Sunderland. This is where I settled with my family and my children have grown up.”

By recording the stories of those women who have migrated to Sunderland, the project seeks to celebrate the achievements of those women who led the way in establishing their community.

Sreelekha, set up the Sangini in 2002, after identifying a gap in mainstream health provision for women from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and developed ways to tackle inequalities through creative intervention while enhancing social cohesion.

Dr Gitika Banerjee, 77, one of the participants, grew up during World War II in Burma. Her account of surviving through the war, achieving a medical degree and travelling to Britain is a testament to her courage and determination not to allow circumstances to dictate her life. The first Asian Tyne & Wear High Sheriff, she continues to work with the Children’s Foundation and raises money for charities based in Sunderland and India.

Gitika said in her story, ‘Wherever I went, I mixed with people because I enjoyed finding out what they were like? Was there anything interesting, which I could learn (from them)? So from that point of view, I found it very funny, but as soon they took my ways of life and I took their ways of life, we never got upset about anything.’

Faced with racial discrimination during her early settlement, Juliana Henderson, 71, was later involved in the development of the Race Relations Act and now helps Refugees with their English language. Her story is about reform, dedication to change and helping others. A quietly spoken person, Juliana is an example to all the women that everyone can make a difference to the society. Juliana said, ‘My message is that we should look forward for a better course, because all of us have to change at some time in our lives. There is always a possibility of change. Because life is about growing.’

Shruti Jain, Trustee from Sangini, said:“Everyone has a story to tell. It’s important to preserve this unique aspect of our local heritage by collecting the unknown and hidden stories from women who migrated to Sunderland before they are lost.”

“We want to share the stories with the wider community in a celebration of the significant contribution of the women who have made Sunderland their home and of our shared cultural diversity.”

All the personal stories collected through the project are being captured and shared with a wider audience through a dedicated website. To listen these stories, please visit www.sanginistories.org.uk.

18 months in the making, the Stories from Our Sisters in Sunderland culminates in an exhibition presenting the breadth of engagement through the project including a range of trips to museums and galleries and a range of creative workshops. Participants have worked with artists to recall and share memories of their homeland, cultural habits and their achievements in Sunderland.

Women have created their own textile map of Sunderland with artist Gaynor Devaney capturing buildings and landmarks in the city and its neighbourhoods most significant to them. Kate Sweeny, visual artist, and Phyllis Christopher, photographer worked with participants to produce a series of portraits that capture the moments of reminiscence in the workshops but also give a deep sense of belonging in a place that is different in every way. Yvette Hawkins, a book artist used maps to inspire women to ask questions about each other’s countries, share memories and talk about the geographical aspects of migration and settlement.

The exhibition bringing together all the oral history recordings, artwork and photographs will be held at Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden at the end of June.

There is still opportunity to be part of this exciting project in a variety of ways, such as help set up the exhibition, take heritage trips with other women, join the coffee-morning group to continue sharing and enjoying each other’s company or simply make art.

The project is supported through a generous grant from Heritage Lottery Fund, Community Foundation and Sherburn Trust.

The project is organised in partnership with Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Sunderland Library Services, Tyne & Wear Archives, Local Studies Group and local community groups.

To find out more about the project please contact Padma Rao, Project co-ordinator on 07930175319 or via email: storiesfromoursisters@hotmail.co.uk or visit the website at www.sanginistories.org.uk.