Leaving a trace

Paper snow crystals have been attached to the windows in my workshop, as a decoration, for more than two years. The crystals are so integrated in the environment that I not always «see» them.

In 2013 I started a cooperation with the reception centre for asylum-seekers in my hometown. I organize regularly art workshops for children and parents who live at the centre. The workshops are supported by The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration. Some of the participants have received a residence permit, and are waiting for a new hometown. Others don't know yet if they can stay in Norway. All of them are waiting.

I have met refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Russia, and this last year also refugees from Syria. The hours we spend together are supposed to give positive experiences, and to give the children a sense of a «normal» childhood". And they are often like any other kids. They can be quiet and «don't care about anything», they can quarrel and make up with each other. They can leave me with tables and floor covered with paint. But they can also come half an hour before we start, take my hand and say hei miss with excitement in their eyes.

The meetings with both children and adults have great impact on me. I have seen glimpses of how it is to be an asylum seeker. The Norwegian Minister of Immigration and Integration talks about immigrants «being carried into Norway in a golden chair». At the same time I hear about the small room a family of five shares, both day and night, not knowing when the waiting will come to an end.  I see a shadow crossing the face of the mother who arrived in Europe by boat.

And then there are those moments when I experience that what we are doing at the workshop is of  value. For example one afternoon when we make simple colourful kites, and run around the playground. There is laughter and loud voices, and the kites are dancing in the wind. Or that moment when a father is  relaxing for a short while, whilst folding a paper plane for his son. He remembers doing this when he himself was a young boy.

It is important to be seen. «Everyone at school knows my name» says one of the children proudly one day. A line in a sketchbook is a trace left by a hand, and can be seen by others.  With lines we can tell a story without using words.

One day I invited all the participants to come to my workspace for a Christmas workshop.  Sixteen persons of all ages were baking and decorating gingerbread cookies, and drinking non-alcoholic mulled wine. A woman started folding and cutting some sheets of paper. After a while the whole table was covered with the most wonderful paper snow crystals. She also showed me how to glue them on the windows with just some ordinary soap.

A few weeks later I learned that she, her husband and their little son had been sent out of Norway.

When I come into my workshop on a winter's day and the sun is shining, the crystals become clear silhouettes against the white mountains on the other side of the lake.