Oasis Women’s Away Day in Brussels
Another follow-up article on how the EUU social action grants awarded last summer were used, here is a description of the Oasis Women’s Away Day that took place in Brussels last October.
By Abriel Schieffelers (Oasis Belgium) and Emilie Jarrett (Brussels Unitarian Universalist Fellowship)
On October 13th last year, assorted staff and volunteers of Oasis Belgium invited mothers from many parts of the world to a day of renewal, fun and friendship, hosted by Brussels UU member and Oasis volunteer Sheryl Abrahams. All of these women come from a migrant background (mainly Southeast Asia and North Africa), and many have been victims of violence or exploitation. Oasis Belgium has worked individually with many of these women to empower them to leave an abusive situation, gain financial and emotional stability, and care for their children. Many of these women work tirelessly to provide for the children, with little time for themselves. Because of this, we, Oasis Belgium, try to make Away Days such as this as stress free as possible, providing childcare and loosely structured relaxing activities. At one of the previous Away Days, a young mother took a much-needed nap on the couch while we did yoga and Thai massage!
Oasis Belgium volunteers prepared food for the event, watched children of all ages, and facilitated activities to bring the women together and help create a warm environment. As the women introduced themselves to the group, their personal stories also came forward, revealing the pain they live with every day. A mother of three shared with tears in her eyes how she moved from an Asian country at a young age to be with her Belgian husband, facing discrimination from her in-laws and difficulty in making a home for her family in a strange environment. Many of the women expressed relief at being around people who understood the hardships of migration and motherhood and simply felt heard and welcomed for once. As participants and volunteers painted each other’s nails, made aromatherapy rice bags for aches and pains, ate Thai salad, and translated for one another among many languages, a bond was created that goes far beyond service delivery and the often hierarchical relationship of beneficiary and benefactor.
For volunteers such as myself and Emilie Jarrett, who joined from the Brussels UU Fellowship (BUUF), this was also an opportunity to engage with women in Brussels and its surroundings whom I rarely encounter and to offer them an attentive, open ear. I realized that for these women, moments such as these—focusing on themselves, rather than on work, children, and family—wererare and precious. Though the structure of the day was loose, I left feeling that perhaps more, or at least something else, had been achieved that would not have, if the day only included activities aimed to build specific skills or knowledge. Feeling safe and supported, something so basic that I have often taken it for granted in my own life, was a real necessity for these women.
It’s the hope of Oasis Belgium’s staff and volunteers to continue with these Women’s Away Days and that as we learn from these experiences, we can better facilitate relationships and safe spaces for these women. At the heart of these events is th
e belief that the strongest tool for healing is relationship and the feeling of belonging that comes with a shared meal and activity.
Oasis Belgium would like to express thanks and gratitude to the European UU community who made this event possible! As featured in previous editions of the Unifier, the Brussels UU Fellowship secured a €500 grant for Oasis Belgium from EUU as p
art of a social action initiative, with the aim of increasing collaboration with this local organization by co-organizing Women’s Away Days. The BUUF has contributed to Oasis Belgium’s work in the past by preparing goodie bags for the women they work with around holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Though BUUF is a small fellowship, its members place special importance on social action, and the fellowship seeks to engage with the wider community in Brussels and Belgium. This grant and the opportunity it provides us to intensify our support and work with Oasis Belgium, particularly around these Women’s Away Days, is another step that in that direction.
If you’d like to find out more about the work of Oasis Belgium, please visit www.oasisbe.org.