When I began working with SB Overseas, I would never have imagined that my first day ‘working in the centre’ would look something like this

I do not think my first workshop could have gone much better. I embraced my inner Nigella Lawson and made the fifteens alongside the boys. As always, the young people were extremely motivated and eager to learn. They were excited to try something new and enjoyed learning about ingredients they had never seen before. Our cultural exchange programme is beneficial in helping the youth integrate into society and to embrace change and newness. I was impressed that they did not resist trying a new food, something that can be daunting. I know that when I was their age I would have been much more resistant to trying something new.

The young people were even very helpful in tidying up! Unheard of in most teenagers. The only slight mishaps included me speaking too fast and using Northern-Irish colloquialisms. However, overall the workshop ran rather smoothly (albeit stickily with condensed milk and marshmallows).  The young people enjoyed themselves, laughing and joking together and showing those of us on zoom their mixture for approval. They were extremely patient with our technical difficulties and shared their fifteens with their friends in the centre.

A Zoom workshop, delivered by me from my living room in Northern Ireland, to the Woluwe-Saint-Pierre Fedasil Centre in Brussels… with my camera set-up involving my ironing board. My workshop was clearly an extremely high-tech operation.

As the SB Espoir Activity Development Intern, I am responsible for implementing activities in Belgian asylum centres to support the well-being and inclusion of asylum-seeking youth and women. In this workshop we focussed on cultural exchange by making ‘fifteens’, a traditional Northern Irish sweet treat that does not require any cooking. It was very popular. Anything consisting of such high quantities of sugar was bound to be well-liked. Of course, we also explained the health implications of too much sugar and outlined the importance of a good diet for looking after your health during the pandemic.

I was also saved from having to explain how to make fifteens in French which helped. Having an SB Overseas volunteer to translate into Arabic and Dari was extremely advantageous. The youth had lots of questions and were eager to learn about different cultures. It was amazing how motivated they were. The activity was so successful that we repeated it again in a different centre two weeks later. My family certainly wasn’t complaining about the abundance of fifteens.

Coronavirus has changed the nature of meetings and workshops for us all. I am now entirely familiar with the frustrations of zoom meetings. However, using zoom has also been advantageous for teaching IT skills to the youth in the centres, an extremely beneficial skill for integrating in today’s increasingly online world.

Sharing a favourite childhood treat via the internet with a group of patient, kind and motivated boys was definitely a highlight of 2020. We must continue to connect with one-another despite lockdown and to share moments of joy. We at SB Overseas are so pleased that we have managed to build a bridge to communicate with refugees in these centres and that we have continued this line of communication during a pandemic. We hope that it will soon be possible to have more of these connections in person to strengthen their integration into Belgian society.

If any readers would like to make fifteens for themselves (via zoom or just in their kitchen), the recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

  • 15 Digestive biscuits
  • 15 Marshmallows
  • 15 Glacé Cherries
  • ½ tin condensed milk (180ml)

Approximately 100g desiccated coconut

Method

  • Place the digestive biscuits into a sealed bag and crush them into a fine crumb using a rolling pin
  • Cut the marshmallows into quarters and the glacé cherries in half
  • Place the crushed biscuits, marshmallows and glacé cherries into a bowl with the condensed milk and stir together
  • Sprinkle desiccated coconut onto some aluminium foil or cling-film.
  • Place the mixture on top of the coconut and shape it into a log.
  • Sprinkle more coconut on the top of the log and wrap it tightly.
  • Place in the fridge for 2-3 hours, slice and enjoy.

Can you guess why they’re called fifteens?