Asylum seekers lead Glasgow city tour

Guided walks of Glasgow led by women from refugee backgrounds is sharing a different tale which crosses cultures

Walking tours of Glasgow are being led by asylum seekers as part of a project run by the Scottish Refugee Council. The idea is that they learn more about their adopted home and people in the city learn more about them and their lives.

"I just want to show people that even if we are asylum seekers we can still do something," says Matilda Chanda, who is originally from Zambia.

"So that they can look at us in a different perspective."

Glasgow may look glorious in the low autumn sunshine but for many city dwellers the demands of a busy life mean they may not even notice much of what is around them.

But as Ms Chanda leads the group of walkers through the streets, she invites questions, chats and shares stories about Glasgow landmarks.

This is not just about Scotland though, the idea is that each stop on the tour relates to something about the women's home countries and allows them to talk about what is different and what is the same. The women have chosen which stories they want to share.

Glasgow Cathedral leads to a story about the status of different religions in Africa Glasgow Cathedral leads to a story about the status of different religions in Africa

The group comes to a halt at a busy traffic junction to gaze up at the Tolbooth steeple. Its history as a prison prompts Ms Chanda to share something about prison conditions in Zambia.

Glasgow cathedral leads to a story not just about the cathedral itself, but about the status of different religions in Africa.

"Traditionally women's voices are not very well represented within the asylum system," says Victoria Beesley who has been working with the Scottish Refugee Council to develop the tours.

tollbooth The women have a different perspective on Glasgow landmarks such as the Tolbooth steeple.

"So it provided a really good opportunity to use Glasgow's sights and buildings and history to serve as a starting point for these women's voices to be given a bit of value."

"All of them have experienced, to varying degrees, bits of racism, bits of negative opinion towards them as refugees and asylum seekers, so this is really a way for them to claim Glasgow as their own city, to share their views of the city in a really positive way."

Asylum seekers come to the UK and Scotland from many countries, but according to the Scottish Refugee Council, some of the key ones are Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

Molebo Heng comes from South Africa and when she arrived in this country seeking asylum she says she felt lonely.

"Because of asylum I can't work, so I started volunteering and part of my volunteering involved doing these tours," she says.

"It has helped me learn more about Glasgow and share my life experiences with the people of Glasgow, more especially what Africa is about."

Hear stories

The walkers chat as they wend their way around the city. They are here for various reasons.

"We're all new to Glasgow," says one woman.

Molebo Heng Molebo Heng at a stop on the tour

"We just thought this would be a fantastic chance of seeing the city and learning about its history. It was just so interesting to hear stories about where they're from."

"I saw the city in a way I hadn't seen it for a really long time," says another.

"It was quite moving at points."

Candleriggs - another stop on the tour - was named after the candle makers. The group gathers around Molebo Heng to listen to the story.

But again there is something of Africa to share as she tells them about the "informal settlements" and the risk of fire from candles.

"If one candle falls and one shack burns down," she says, "that shack can catch all the other shacks around it and that's half the community destroyed."

And as she walks round, Matilda Chanda has this verdict on the tour.

"It has to do with sharing ideas and it's about people from different backgrounds coming together and sharing something in common."

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