Here, we shine a spotlight on one of our delivery partner organisations, Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC). They are among the first to deliver the 13-week in-person SFSC: Stronger Relationships Programme. See below for our interview with Abdiwahab Ali, Acting Director of SYDRC, Maryan Cabdi, Youth and Family Development Lead, and Abdikadir Ahmed, Youth Services Manager, at SYDRC.
Can you tell us about your history and your commitment to supporting youth and families in the Somali community?
The Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC) has been around since 2001 and was specifically set up to tackle Somali underachievement in terms of schooling.
At the time there was some research commissioned by Camden Council in partnership with a university and they found that the average GCSE pass rate was around 49%. In the Somali community, boys in particular, it was 3.2% so it was vast, in terms of the disparity to what the local and national average was at the time. Hence the reason why SYDRC was set up to tackle education underachievement.
Fast forward us to working with schools and holding our annual achievement awards. The awards inspired our young people to achieve better grades. To do this we worked more closely with schools and set up supplementary support with Somalian boys and girls in the community. We also created closer partnerships between Somali community organisations and the council.
A lot of work was done to tackle that educational underachievement and fast forward ten years and we celebrated [in 2010] that young Somali people are actually above the national average sitting at 49. 5%. So, there’s been a lot of work and progression in that 8 to 9-year period and the achievements from the families, not just in partnership work, but getting the community to buy into that agenda of underachievement amongst the Somali community.
We don’t just work for young people, we also work with under-fives, over 55s, parents. In terms of work, we facilitate the flagship Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities (SFSC) parenting programme as well as tackle inequalities within our community.
What drives your work in supporting the Somali youth and families and what is your main focus now as compared to before when you founded?
We’ve always worked with young people, but there wasn’t a holistic approach when it came to differences, development, and the impact we had on young people. While we were committed to working with schools, we realised that not involving parents meant we weren’t all on the same page, and our impact felt limited.
In 2019, we made a conscious decision to reassess our efforts. We were particularly concerned about the disproportionate violence affecting the Somali community. We asked ourselves, ‘What more can we do?’ This led us to delve into community work.
Our breakthrough came in 2019 when Maryan joined us, and we became acquainted with the Race Equality Foundation and the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities (SFSC) programme. It was then that everything fell into alignment with our values.
Our approach isn’t about instructing parents on how to be perfect parents. It’s about embarking on a journey of self-discovery, understanding one’s values, identity, and what motivates them. This self-awareness equips parents to better respond to their children, fostering healthier parent-child relationships.
As individuals who grew up and worked in a similar environment, we were drawn to this cause. We became passionate about empowering parents and families to thrive.
How do your values align with the goals of the SFSC programmes?
The SFSC parenting programme stands out compared to other parenting programmes. It’s unique because it empowers our culture and ethnicity, allowing us to connect with various values such as respect, equality, and faith. Our community places great importance on faith, making SFSC a suitable programme to teach these components.
SFSC also offers valuable tools for empowering our children, including nurturing their mother tongue, fostering pride in their identity, and helping them navigate being both British and Somali at the same time. This is particularly important given the urban environment we live in, especially in London, with its multitude of challenges and risk factors. SFSC combines all these vital elements, making it stand out as an exceptional parenting programme. We’re excited about implementing the new programme SFSC: Stronger Relationships, into our community.
We know you’ve only just started delivering the SFSC: Stronger Relationships programme, but tell us, how do you think it’s going?
The SFSC programme focuses more on discipline and special time, rather than nurturing the co-parent relationship. Right from the beginning, we are tackling things that can be a barrier for a healthy co-parent relationship. This has helped parents open up more quickly because it is a relevant topic to talk about.
For example, in our last session, we talked about the cycle of life, the different stages in a child’s life and the kinds of arguments that might occur between adults or between adults and their children. It was only the second session, and people were warming up and feeling very safe to share their personal experiences with us, which was amazing.
We’re not asking parents to share specific arguments they’ve had, but to explore their differences in parenting approaches that could lead to conflicts. I think it’s about unpicking and delving into these differences.
It was quite interesting to see where potential levels of conflict come from. It can be quite minute stuff, like what schools you want your children to attend. Are you happy with the prescribed activities for boys and girls? Who are they friends with? It was interesting to hear parents’ perspectives. We don’t want to focus on what are your conflicts, it’s more how can you find better solutions, find some sort of a common ground.
It’s also making sure that they’re receptive in terms of what their positions are. So for example, if you’re flexible, you’re more likely to be open-minded as well. I think for us it’s about planting those small things so you think about ‘what can I do differently’? Be a bit more accommodating.
You’ve delivered SFSC programmes before, but in reference to the Stronger Relationships Programme, have you found any challenges in recruiting parents? And are there any learnings that you can share with our readers?
Recruitment regardless of the programme is a challenge. We emphasise the importance of setting clear expectations from the beginning. As I mentioned earlier, it involves embarking on a journey of self-discovery, acquiring new skills, and aligning them with your own values.
When you relate to parents in this manner, you are more likely to be able to accommodate their needs and foster inclusivity rather than trying to fit them into boxes. Our goal is to ensure that we meet their needs and create an environment that welcomes them, rather than pigeonholing them.
Recruitment has always been a challenge, but it’s mainly about how we can engage those parents who come back. Often in the second week of a programme, we have parents attend, get an overview of the programme, then they go back to their friends and tell them to join.
In week two, we’ve had one or two parents who brought their friends along, and I believe we’ll have two or three more parents doing the same next week. It shows that as more people witness the programme’s value and benefits, they’re enthusiastic about inviting their friends to join alongside those who have already signed up.
How do you think your parents will benefit from the SFSC: Stronger Relationships programme and what kinds of conflict do you see regularly within your Somali community?
One thing that stands out for me is trying to replicate how you were brought up in Somalia. It’s important to realise that this won’t work here, you have to be more flexible and add your culture to the UK.
When parents and individuals become more aware of their surroundings they can assimilate. This difference is especially noticeable between the older generation who came to the UK first. It’s crucial to be aware of these differences. What stands out for our organisation is the challenge of trying to do things here the same way they were done back in another country.
I would say that the role of gender is also an area of conflict. The money and financial stability used to fall on the shoulders of the father and it was the mother who was at home making sure the children are going to school but it’s different here. There has to be involvement, emotional, spiritual, mental and physical support from both the father and mother.
You can link it back into the SFSC programme building blocks. If you want stronger parent relationships you have to be present. I think they have to be present and work with these changes in gender roles, specifically if you want to raise your children to model and have healthy relationships.
How does SYDRC adapt the SFSC programme to meet the specific needs and cultural considerations of the Somali community you work with and how does the suite of SFSC programmes connect with the Somali community?
Being able to run a programme in our language, with people who look and talk like them, and understand the daily challenges Somali people face is quite powerful. Maryan and I are both parents, so we can relate to some of these issues.
I believe that introducing the concept of the circle of life in our first session this week was significant. We’ve adapted it to better suit our understanding of the community because most of us are part of it, and many live here.
It’s all about relating to and understanding the everyday challenges of raising children and having families grow up in the UK. The power of having these discussions and the relatability factor are quite important as well.
We run our programme over 15 weeks as English tends not to be the first language. If the programmes are entirely in English, you’re not going to get that connection. Additionally, we personalise our help, we co-design and tailor our strategies to suit their households.
Especially with the registration process and the pre and post questionnaire. It requires a lot of hand holding.
Do you have anything else to add?
When Maryan came across, Race Equality Foundation, she fell in love with the SFSC programme and made sure that we all got SFSC trained. I think the training has helped us in our personal development and SFSC is embedded in our overall service.
We are so excited about SFSC: Stronger Relationship because it’s levelled up in terms of what kind of impact we can have on our clients and supporting them in many ways.