Within minutes of their arrival at Savista, it felt like Wendy Williams and Chris Grace were old friends visiting, and not simply hotel guests. We had so much to share and talk about and so many interests in common, and their appreciation for what Savista had to offer was so fulsome, that the next two days went by like a song. It is three years since the date, and we are still in touch.
Wendy works with refugees and asylum seekers in Britain and South Africa, and Chris runs the supremely successful Shakespeare Schools Festival in Britain, now extended to several other English speaking countries.
In Chris’ previous work with Welsh television which involved making animation films, among the many things that he created was a character called Fireman Sam. Week after week Fireman Sam brought so much joy to millions of small children across the world – even as far away as India – that it made them want to become firemen when they grew up! To have the “Father” of Fireman Sam visiting Savista in the middle of the Indian countryside was one of those incredible things that happen at Savista from time to time, thanks to the wonderful people who choose to come and stay with us! Here is a brief glimpse into Wendy and Chris’ stories in their own words.
Wendy • “One of the many wonderful things that can arise out of a few days’ stay at Savista Retreat is the chance meeting with people with whom years later contact is made in a completely different context. In Cape Town last year where I was doing some voluntary work with refugees and asylum seekers I met a doctor and his wife who shared my very happy memories of a stay at Savista. There was an immediate connection and it was a very happy meeting. The work in Cape Town arose out of work in the UK as a member of a board that monitors the treatment of failed asylum seekers in a detention centre in London. These centres are often places of great despair and enormous fear – men who have escaped harsh conditions and fear for their lives if they are returned to their home countries, others who have lived for many years in the UK and who have families here, and other, younger men, who don’t remember life in any other country and who have no contact whatsoever with the country to which they are to be returned. The legal arguments, the rights and wrongs of each individual case, are often very complex, but what is indisputable is that these people’s lives are in limbo. So often they will say, this is much worse than prison, at least prisoners know when their sentence is going to come to an end and they will be released. The uncertainty in a detention centre is often difficult to bear. And many men cannot bear it. They self harm, they refuse food and drink and their mental health deteriorates. In these circumstances it’s sometimes difficult to remember that the Board is not a pressure group, it has privileged access that is not available to members of the public, and it’s role is to monitor the treatment of detainees, ensuring that their treatment is just and humane. And it’s most certainly a privilege to serve on such a Board. There are brave people in these Centres some of whom have risked all to come to the UK and others who accept their fate with astounding equanimity. And there is laughter, enormous camaraderie and mutual support. There are lessons to be learnt in the most unexpected of places.”
Christopher • “Whilst I was a commissioning editor of animation with Channel Four Wales / S4C, the Berlin Wall came down and an opportunity arose to work with Russian animators on abridged Shakespeare plays. The resulting twelve half hour films are still widely used by UK schools . The Shakespeare Schools Festival , which I run, evolved from that. The charity enables some 700 schools, rising soon to 2,000, to perform the half hour plays – four schools a night- in 100 professional theatres across the UK. Parents are incredulous and then so proud to see their children perform the great roles of Othello or Juliet. One of the most moving productions I saw was a Macbeth performed by deaf teenagers. Whilst they performed in sign language, another school’s students knelt on the stage with their backs to the audience and provided the voices in sync to the signing. Teachers tell us repeatedly what an impact learning and performing Shakespeare has on the confidence of their cast. And all this in the year when lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest heralded the start of the London Olympics. “