When I was 18, I volunteered for a month in a charity that worked with Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the local community. It was in the closest city to my hometown, which meant getting a train every morning and evening, but I didn’t mind the travel at all, because it still stands as one of the most rewarding and educational experiences of my life.
I was studying International Relations with Arabic at University at the time, meaning I had some knowledge about Refugee situations and also, I was able to talk to many of the people in their own language. This was great practice for me and amusing to them - I’m sure partly due to my likely terrible accent, but also because for many I was the first white person they had met in the UK who spoke any Arabic at all.
During my time there I learnt so much, not just about the classification of refugees, the legal battles and all the other administrative barriers those seeking safety face, but about direct life experiences that I couldn’t fathom and had never come across before. It was amazing to see how much better their lives were (even if they were still met with a myriad of hardships everyday) now that they lived in the UK. I’m still in contact with the team there and remember my time volunteering for them very fondly.
How did you hear about Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees?
I actually heard about the project through my old Arabic teacher. One of the founding volunteers is a good friend of his and, since he knew my background and interests, he suggested I reach out and give any help I could. I knew it would be a project I would want to be a part of, and I was right.
What is your background? And how will you use your skills to progress the work of Bermondsey Welcomes Refugees?
I work in the non-profit sector over a couple of different projects and organisations, but due to the pandemic I have much more time on my hands and so I was looking for projects I could help during my free time – may as well use this time to make a difference if I can.
I work mostly in the communications team at BWR, with my skillset mostly focusing on Social Media and content creation. But the great thing is, everyone mucks in when there are jobs that need doing so I find myself doing multiple different tasks, from Arabic lessons for the team to writing a blog…
Have you ever worked in a community sponsorship group before?
I have never worked in a CSG before, but I’m finding it to be really rewarding and a great learning experience. The great thing about this group is that everyone comes from different backgrounds, so I’m meeting interesting people every day and since its completely voluntarily led, you know that everyone involved has a real passion to make a difference. It’s refreshing to work with people from different walks of life and I think everyone would enjoy getting closer to those in their community by joining a CSG.
What is your favourite thing about Community Sponsorship?
I think my favourite thing about CS is meeting new people and learning from them. I also think it’s a great opportunity for those with no prior knowledge of Refugee situations to learn about a very interesting, but often harrowing, part of many people’s lives. The nice part of CSGs is that once the family are in the country, they already have a network of people they can rely on with anything they need to make their new lives. Building community is important and it’s always an honour to welcome new people to it, especially those who could use some support.
I think it’s a great way to not only help a family in need, but bring those already in the community together and also widen their horizons, with a little insight into the lives of people who have walked a different path in life.