To my refugee Grandma, who feeds me love and wisdom: a letter from a grateful grandson
In this occasional series, we will feature letters from people to refugees who have shaped their lives.
In the letter below, Aryan Sanghrajka, 18, writes to his grandma (Ba), who fled Uganda in 1972 due to the forced expulsion of Asian residents (the family was originally from India). Considered part of a persecuted minority, she was able to move to the United Kingdom as part of a government resettlement programme. The stories Ba shared around the family dinner table inspired Aryan to create Forced To Flee, a youth-led NGO advocating for refugees.
Aryan's letter is the first in a new series to run occasionally on the UNHCR web site that features real letters written to refugees who've profoundly affected the writers' lives.
This letter has been edited for length and clarity.
Listen to Aryan read the letter:
UNHCR, UN Refugee Agency · My Dear Ba
Thanks for cooking my favourite dinner after I passed my driving test, especially with the added treat of keri rus and banana bhajiya!
I promise I’ll take you to Sainsbury’s grocery whenever you need to go shopping. I can only make up for our countless trips to the Broadwalk Shopping Centre with the cousins during the holidays to choose our Diwali presents. You have always looked after and cared for all of your grandchildren ever since we were little, and I’ll forever be grateful.
I just wanted to let you know the impact you’ve had on my life. Your strength and resolve are what inspire me the most. Since coming to the United Kingdom from Uganda in 1972, you have taken care of our family through even the toughest of times. You settled in Edgware, north of London, living in a cramped house and taking the bus everyday to the shoe factory where you worked. We still live in the same neighbourhood, all these years later, just one street apart from one another.
We have built a community here with roots, foundations and connections that are unshakeable, and memories that will last a lifetime. Much of it thanks to you and Dada [grandfather].
Ba, you have shown me the importance of family, caring for others, and most of all, not letting your hardships define who you are. Despite not being able to speak the language when you got here, having to understand a completely different way of life to the one you were used to and needing to search for work to be able to put food on the table, you persevered and made it become home.
Because home truly is where the heart is.
I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be told that you were no longer wanted, uprooted from your own home for being who you are and that you must leave the country where you have lived and had a son with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes.
Listening to our family’s story, your story, had an immense effect on my life. It was a story that I had never known until I sat around your dinner table back in 2017, interviewing you for my school project. It is the reason why I am doing the work I do today. It has led me to better understand my identity and made me appreciate the importance of living life to the fullest every single day.
You told the story so honestly and with conviction, making it one of strength, not sadness, and it is an evening I will never forget.
Every day, families just like ours are displaced due to war, conflict, persecution and natural disaster. Not all of them are so lucky to be welcomed quickly by another country. Many travel miles on dangerous and life-threatening journeys in search of safety. Sometimes, like you, they find safety across borders, and other times they are left displaced within their own countries.
Just the other day, I was emailing a family from Ukraine who got in touch with [his NGO] Forced To Flee to share their story with us so we could tell people what it is like on the ground. They had been forced to flee to Poland – a mother and her one-year-old son – who is just a bit older than Pups [Dad] was when you left Kampala with him. The mother, Olena, told me how they grabbed what they could in the minutes they had and left most of their belongings behind at their house – a house which no longer exists.
As you did, they have to start their life all over again, in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language. Speaking to Olena, I could see that the experience of forcible displacement has not changed much in the 50 years since you left. Many of the barriers you faced when you arrived remain in place, and around the world, migrants and refugees are not always afforded the friendliest of welcomes. But nevertheless, you still rebuilt our family here whilst never losing touch with our culture and heritage, no matter how much it was different from the ‘norm’.
I owe a lot to you, not just for instilling in me my passions, but for who I am as a person. I get my resolve, confidence, and tenacity all from you, and of course my love of sugar and a good cup of chai! For this, I want to say thank you.
I will be moving out of Edgware next year to start university. But no worries, I will only be one tube ride away. In the years to come, wherever my journey takes me, I will never forget that conversation over dinner and that everything I have done since, and will do in the future, is because of you.
This letter is part of a series written by young people to a forcibly displaced or stateless person who has had a major impact on their lives. If you are interested in writing a letter to a refugee friend, family member, or anyone who has inspired you, share your idea with us at [email protected]