Making a space where we ‘belong’: Reflections from Giulia, Manager of Lawrence House

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The Scalabrini team works with migrants and refugees every day. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Giulia, the Manager of Lawrence House. Having grown up in Germany as an Italian woman, ‘belonging’ is something that Giulia has always been very conscious of and it threads itself throughout her day-to-day work.  

Belonging is complex 

Raised in a migrant community, Giulia understands the importance of having a sense of belonging, and what it means if people don’t have this. “Growing up in Germany, I always felt like I was going to be Italian. But in Italy I was called the ‘German girl’. It’s something I experienced and it’s something I grew up in.” 

Lawrence House is a registered Child and Youth Care Centre, safeguarding and providing specialised services for up to 25 children and teenagers from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Children are placed at Lawrence House by the Department of Social Development for different reasons and for different lengths of time. Living in a different country and being without your family can have huge implications for one’s sense of belonging.  

“Belonging is complex – especially for yourself as a young person. It is crucial to your sense of self, your dignity and your sense of place in this world.”  

A quote by Jhumpa Lahiri – an author who herself struggled to find her identity and belonging after being born to parents who were migrants – echoes what is said by Giulia. “Language, identity, place, home: these are all of a piece – just different elements of belonging and not-belonging”. 

The system does not protect children enough 

Some children travel to South Africa on their own. Some travel with non-family members who have no legal obligation of care towards them. “I’ve seen that children remain extremely vulnerable in the process. They are not heard enough. Their needs and their circumstances are not taken into consideration properly, by law. There is not any real protection for them in the system.”  

Whether the children who come into Lawrence House are documented or not, they become wards of the state and the Lawrence House team make sure that their rights are protected and exercised.  

One of the most difficult aspects of Giulia’s job is seeing the pain that the children carry and not being able to offer them immediate solutions – it is something that the children need to work through with the help of Lawrence House team. “It’s hard to accept not finding a solution to a situation.” She also emphasises that ‘just because your intentions are good, that does not mean young people are going to trust you.’ 

We need more empathy and less judgment 

Giulia speaks of the importance of relationships at Lawrence House. They work by a golden rule: to ‘never assume’. Never assume that you have been understood or that you understand.  A change that she would like to see, is for people to be less judgmental before having had the chance to interact with someone. “The biggest problems come when there’s judgment before you engage with the person… We need less judgment from people and people being more open to encounters.” This ties back into Lawrence House’s golden rule – just because someone comes from a different background or lives a different way, don’t assume that you know who they are and what they are like.