PETRA GREW UP IN GERMANY AND CAME TO THE UK WHEN SHE WAS 19. ALTHOUGH SHE LEFT HER COUNTRY OF BIRTH BY CHOICE, RATHER THAN HAVING TO FLEE PERSECUTION OR WAR, SHE HAS SOME EXPERIENCE OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF MAKING A NEW LIFE AWAY FROM HOME, FAMILY AND FRIENDS.
“It’s more than 35 years since I arrived here, but I still remember what it felt like to be in a new country, completely unfamiliar surroundings – and a different culture and society. As a white European in England, I didn’t experience any ‘real’ racism – though of course there were the inevitable stereotypes and jokes about Germans. I mostly managed to shrug those off, but I did feel like an outsider for quite a long time.
“I remember the people who welcomed me and invited me into their families and their lives. Those people, and their kindness, really helped me to settle and, over time, to feel at home.
“I have always tried to extend the kindness I experienced to others. This has become increasingly important to me, knowing that there are thousands and thousands of people who have been forced to escape their home countries, to try and find a place of safety.”
Petra has worked as a volunteer in the Jungle in Calais with the Hummingbirds Youth Arts Project, which has provided a safe space and support for the hundreds of unaccompanied children and young people in the camp.
“It’s been a privilege to meet some of the amazing young people in Calais. Despite the horrendous experiences they have lived through and the terrible conditions they have to endure, they remain full of hope for the future. I want us to welcome as many as possible to the UK – and I believe that anyone who has the chance to meet them in person will feel the same. This is why I got involved in this project: to help people see that there is more to connect us than to set us apart.”
As a learning designer and writer, Petra is convinced of the power of story-telling. She has put together photos, captions and interviews from the Welcome to Our Jungle project to show the stories of Habibi and Mohammed. She has also researched and written up Elton’s story.