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Amos Schonfield is completing his MSc in Migration Studies while also running Our Second Home, a youth movement for refugees & asylum seekers in the UK aiming to empower and develop young leaders. Through residential camps, Our Second Home members develop their leadership skills in a nurturing and supportive environment, and they’re just about to go into their second summer residential. We spoke to Amos about how he started OSH in 2017, why he chose to study at ODID, and how he’s planning on expanding OSH across the UK.
What motivated you to start OSH in 2017?
During the so-called 'refugee crisis' in 2015, I was wondering how I could contribute to migrants reaching the UK. I have a lot of experience in youth movements - I was involved in in Noam Masorti Youth for 11 years, eventually becoming National Director - and I felt that the skills, experiences and community I gained in that space could be of benefit to them. I spent a couple of years scoping out the refugee sector to see whether something like this had been done, finding potential partners and building a team of volunteers who were keen to take this forward.
Your team has significantly expanded from one founder to nine volunteers now (and growing). Can you tell us more about this, how it happened and how the team has helped OSH grow?
The first person I spoke to about OSH was Nic Schlagman, who once upon a time led me in Noam and went on to work with refugee youth. The two of us nearly launched OSH a year early, but as volunteers we didn't have the capacity to make the project happen. I advertised an open meeting on Facebook and about 25 friends showed up to give feedback on the vision, and I asked a bunch of people from there to come on board. They leapt at the chance and built OSH from the ground up - they are as much co-founders as me at this point!
What does a residential camp at OSH look like, and what kind of activities do you do with the young leaders?
A day on an OSH residential can really vary. Our morning might be an activity run by our volunteers on an educational theme - last year it was 'Community' - and in the afternoon we could be doing a workshop learning everything from circus skills to discuss migrants' rights. In the evenings we might have a movie night or get everyone to work together to make dinner as a community. We're also trying to train our participants to become leaders themselves, so we give them as many opportunities to take control and make decisions as possible. We have amazing, creative volunteers who enjoy making every minute special, as you never know what might create a spark of excitement for our participants.
What made you choose to study at ODID, and how does that fit into your work on OSH?
I had a good practical grounding in the kind of work I wanted to do, but ODID and the community on my course (MSc Migration Studies) have been invaluable in linking up the work on the ground with wider theoretical debates and ideas. It's a once in a lifetime chance to be immersed in this place and the kind of events that are available every single day. I'd come back to every meeting with the OSH team with a new idea to improve or critique our work and vision. For example, I spent 8 weeks learning from Dr Tom Western about how we represent refugees and migrants in the media and advocacy. He encouraged me to bring my own work into the class, so I'm sure everyone was bored of hearing about it by the end!
What are the next steps for OSH? Where is it going from here, and where would you like it to be in a few years?
We are in the first stages of registering as a charity and hiring our first salaried staff. It's a really exciting time, where we're hoping to expand our capacity so that we can run more residentials and train more leaders. In the next few years, I hope we can break out of London and offer more regular activities too, as the picture of refugee provision is so different elsewhere.