Wacera Kamonji: Finding Sanctuary in our Communities


‘Writing allows you to discover your thoughts and work through emotions, create worlds, and communicate to those around you.’

Wacera Kamonji is a film Curator and Creative Cultural Practitioner who has a passion for film and social policy. Here she writes about how creativity can provide sanctuary.



In Tiwa Savage’s song Koroba, the first line to the song is ‘I no come this life to suffer’.

And it is true, we didn’t.

We hope that when we are born, we will be afforded at least the bare minimum to be able to live. But recently with the rise in cost of living many are finding themselves surviving.

With countries across the world emerging from the pandemic and many more countries fighting for survival, an increase in cost of living has put our most vulnerable in a more precarious situation.

In the United Kingdom, the 7th richest country in the world, where our most vulnerable were already fighting tooth and nail to be able to afford the bare minimum for themselves and their loved ones, the cost of living increase, doubled with the reduction or freeze in pay and aid, has left many grappling with what to do to keep themselves going.

After the second world war, the UK created a safety net, social security, providing healthcare and other public services for free. This meant that decent quality of life was guaranteed for all.

Now this social security is called welfare, and its often mentioned with such distain especially in relation to those who rely on these services who are looked down upon as beggars of the state, freeloading off other people’s money when all they need is a helping hand.

There have been and currently are many efforts by individuals and organisations who cater to the most vulnerable, but the problem is growing.

When I first moved to the UK, I thought it was great that there was a system available for people who were struggling to get by, that there was government help where people could get financial aid to be able to pay for their food, rent and bills, and at least afford a decent standard of living that would enable them to live, not just survive; that was their sanctuary.

But that sanctuary has been slowly pulled from under them, and people are protesting as to how many of the services they rely on are being decreased and that it is becoming harder and harder for them to cope. The 2019 Channel 4 documentary Growing up Poor: Breadline Kids gave an insight as to how some of the 4.1 million of children and families survive in poverty, with many detailing skipping meals, living in poor housing condition and their living conditions having an effect on their mental and physical health.

Throughout history, we see that the best way for all of us to live and thrive is by adopting the idea of community living. Where we help those who are struggling, providing the best care we can for our most vulnerable so that no one falls through the cracks. But with inflation rising quicker than dough, and budget cuts and freezes being introduced, we are abandoning others in the name of saving ourselves.

Recently MP Rachel Mclean came under fire for saying that for people to cope with the rising cost of living they should ‘work more hours or get better paying jobs’ adding that this method may not work for those with multiple jobs. Many found the statement tone deaf and insensitive as millions are working, taking extra shifts, and still struggling to make ends meet.

Many around the world, via Twitter or radio shows, have addressed their grievances to the government on how much the rise in cost of living has affected them. This has often been met with what some would call performative sympathy while not giving a solution to address the problems of the people.

The individualistic approach that some of the richest in the world have when it comes to tackling community issues is problematic to say the least. The idea that if you just work harder and pull your socks up will pay off doesn’t work for everyone. We all need help and support to be able to get over the hardest hurdles that daily life lays for us.

Celebrities as well have come under fire for similar sentiments, talking down to the masses about their lack of work ethic while sitting in their ivory towers, out of touch with many who don’t get to enjoy the same luxuries and necessities as them.

A community approach encourages equity and social connectedness. It means that people will have better control over their health and their lives and will aid the inequalities we have in this country.

So how do we implement a community approach to improve standard of living and quality of life? First by listening to each other. We all have our own subcommunities within wider society where we discuss issues that affect us, but we focus so much on an individual approach without thinking how one issue can aid in solving another. From home to charity and religious organisations and even in government, the individualistic approach is often pushed to benefit the few instead of thinking how it can benefit all.

Instead, we are fed the lives of the rich through reality tv shows as a way to escape – I’m guilty of watching such shows; Selling Sunset, anyone? – but though we may see those who managed to work extremely hard be able to afford the best of the best, it’s good to remind ourselves that we are only one pay check away from bankruptcy, it’s easier to lose it than to gain it and the mental strain it takes to work hard to reach a comfortable level of living can be both physically and mentally straining.

We rely on our government representatives to support us, be the voice of our needs and to bring balance and harmony to the country. But how can that harmony be achieved when they laugh at our pain, dance on our grievances, and steal from our pockets?

Every day, we see for ourselves our sanctuary crumble. That the idea of living life without hurdles is pushed out the window and that to survive and be successful and have a decent standard of living, we must first toil.

But why must it be so? Some say suffering makes you strong, a productive member of society. We celebrate those who manage to claw their way to the top, marvel at their struggle stories, hype 24/7 hustle, but it’s having a helping hand that strengthens you. To have people around you that support you, who you can lean on during hard times is vital. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It could be argued that it takes a community to build a stable society.

Sanctuary means a sacred place, a place for prayer, and has come to mean somewhere you feel safety and refuge. Sanctuary is in the silence where you are able to listen to yourself and your surroundings. Our world is sacred and should feel so and be treated as such, and we as a people deserve to feel safe, to know that no matter what happens we can find refuge in the spaces we create, in our own homes, in our communities, and the wider world around us.

Sanctuary can also be a place to discover and enjoy a sense of purpose. For many this may be found in the arts; being creative or appreciating creativity can be a way to find that enjoyment and a community of common purpose. Over the past two years, being confined to our own houses had made it hard to find or create these communities. But thank goodness for the internet and video call: many events were moved online, and this allowed many to be connected beyond their postcode. For me, personally, groups such as the Scottish BPOC Writers Network allowed me to explore my creativity in writing and challenge me to step out of my comfort zone, delve deep into my imagination and investigate topics that I am interested in exploring. Writing allows you to discover your thoughts and work through emotions, create worlds, and communicate to those around you. It allows you to reach different people, voice your opinions and even find the inner peace you have been searching for.

Having creative spaces allows you to channel and stress into something beautiful whether you want to share it with others or keep it to yourself.

As someone who has always found refuge in a creative experience, be it a movie, writing or dancing, I strongly advice everyone to pick up an artistic activity. You don’t have to be perfect at it, showcase it or monetize it. You might be surprised what you find out about yourself.

At a time where it feels we are all at competition, constantly striving to one up each other, and most likely having the worst work-life balance we have ever had, finding a community where you feel supported, safe, and heard is a way we could all find our purpose for living.

So why can’t we be each other’s refuge, and our world a place of refuge?


Wacera Kamonji is an Edinburgh based creative who works in various roles within festivals and grassroots organisations. She hopes to grow her work in film curation, exhibition and performance-based work collaborating with organisations to create space and opportunity for BIPOC and economically disadvantaged people to apply for roles, receive education and encourage diversity within the creative industries.

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