'Speak Out' launch seeks your voice for change

The launch of the 'Speak Out' campaign has heard an asylum seeker urge Scots to overcome their personal fears and anxiety about refugees and welcome them into their communities with open arms.

Aimee Ottroh is originally from the Ivory Coast in West Africa and recently received the right to remain in her adopted home in Glasgow.

She issued the impassioned plea today as Scotland prepares to open its doors to some of the thousands of people fleeing persecution in Syria. Ms Ottroh fled her native country for fear of being raped and imprisoned because she belonged to the same tribe as President Laurent Gbagbo, when he was deposed in 2011. She said it is her hope that the hand of friendship provided to her will be extended to others.

The 41-year-old spoke out after the Church of Scotland launched its 'Speak Out – 10,000 voices for change' campaign at Gorbals Parish Church in Glasgow.The initiative, which has been backed by musician and anti-poverty campaigner Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue fame, seeks to engage with 10,000 people across the country over the next four months. Its aim is to hear first hand from Scots across the nation what kind of the country they want to live in by the year 2035. The results will be used to coordinate the objectives of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council for the next 10 years.

Ms Ottroh said she hoped refugees, who will likely make Scotland their homes for many years to come, will take part in the exercise to send a message to politicians about the kind of country they want to help shape.

"I understand it is not easy for some people in Scotland to accept refugees because many are struggling themselves," she said. "But I hope Scottish people look beyond their fears of the unknown and personal struggles and accept that refugees are human beings like them and need support, encouragement and guidance."

Ms Ottroh, who lives in the Knightswood area with her twin nine-year-old daughters Anne and Annielle and was granted right to remain status in January last year, said refugees were merely seeking somewhere safe and secure to live.

"When you are refugee you are full of hope, fear and have worries as well in terms of how you think will be received," she added. "Your situation can make you think that everyone is against you. People seeking refuge are desperate and traumatised and they need understanding and support, they do not need to be blamed. They need to be welcomed and shown that they are valued because most will want to contribute to society and be grateful for the opportunity."
Ms Ottroh, who is studying community development at Glasgow University, said she was very nervous when she arrived in Glasgow in 2011 but was fortunate enough to be given guidance and support from community groups and now has a good circle of friends.

Launching Speak Out, Ricky Ross said refugees seeking to settle in Scotland would be a "fantastic asset" to the country and hoped they would wholeheartedly engage with the Church of Scotland's campaign.
"This campaign is a very good idea and it is important to hear the voices of ordinary people on how they want to change society – they often have very good and wise things to say and if we do not listen we will not learn anything," he added.

The campaign is being spearheaded by the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council which wants local churches, politicians, voluntary organisations and wider society to get involved. The work will result in a list of key aims and priorities which the Church will encourage political parties to embrace, as a first step, before the Scottish Parliament election in May.

The Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council, said: "The best people to set the priorities to make the kind of changes we need to make in Scotland are the people who live, work, love and learn here, especially those who have to live with the results of this upside down economic system. People need to get involved and if we can get 10,000 voices from across Scotland telling us how we can make things better, that will have a huge impact. One of the great things about the Church of Scotland is we do not have to respond to short termism, we have the potential to keep plugging away at the issues highlighted for the next 10-15 years."

Learn more about 'Speak Out' and how to take part