We willingly agreed and were guided in the whole process by the Church’s Refugee Coordination Officer who helped to recruit six local host families and provided training in order that we would be well prepared to give our guests a warm welcome and culturally sensitive hospitality.
In total our guests comprised 14 adults and 10 children and there was great excitement on the allotted day in October when we eventually got to meet them. There followed 4 very busy days of getting to know them, of showing them our beautiful island and introducing them to the community in which we live. We were blessed with good weather and our new friends really appreciated the scenery and couldn’t stop taking pictures! On the last evening, we had a ceilidh and shared meal which was open to the wider community, and we had a really enjoyable evening sharing our respective music and dance traditions.
In addition to the joint activities, we all enjoyed spending time at home with our families, getting to know them and finding out a little about their back stories.
The adults, although all learning English, were not fluent so communicating had its challenges and resulted in some amusing moments! Sign language came in useful as did the Google translate app. Some had taken traditional food items with them and very much enjoyed cooking for us.
Commenting afterwards, Jean Gillies, the congregational coordinator for the project said ‘an evaluation of the holiday was carried out afterwards and we were told that the feedback from our guests was very positive. From the hosts point of view, it was also a very rewarding experience. This opportunity to engage with and make friends with people from another culture and with very different life experiences was a humbling experience and we all felt the richer for it.’
Sinai Synagogue, Leeds
St Nicholas of Tolentino Church, Bristol
Rev McKay of St Nick’s says, “Basically, the world comes through our front door. Our commitment is to be a people at the service of the poor, both locally and globally; to be a community of warmth and welcome; to be a community of healing and hope.”
Alongside welcoming people from many different backgrounds into their congregation, the church hosts English classes, a drop-in and other activities run by the charity Borderlands.
Borderlands was set up as a result of the church’s work in the community, which has also included hitting the headlines in 2004 for giving sanctuary in the church to a young Rwandan woman facing deportation.
During the pandemic, the drop-in has been closed but food parcels and takeaway hot meals have been provided as well as mentoring support over the phone and regular welfare calls.
I am Salam Souliman, a member of WRBF, a group of volunteers based in Broughty Ferry, Dundee. We grew out a concern in the Broughty Ferry Churches regarding the needs of refugees fleeing into Europe to escape war in the Middle East and North Africa. We carry out a number of activities, including helping with the integration of refugees resettled into Dundee by the UK government.
The work has been challenging to say the least since March this year. Changes have had to be introduced to comply with the restrictions introduced to combat the virus. Coffee morning meetings and helping with the English language of New Scots and the refugees continued digitally.
WRBF Volunteering to help Project Scotland with refugee employability is also carried out digitally and outdoors in the form of workshops at the same time observing social distancing. A Bicycle Repair workshop has been successfully established with WRBF help and Dundee Refugees Support providing the workshop space, an initial four refugees were keen to join and attend the workshop. WRBF will contribute towards the attendance an advanced Bike repair course(see picture below) following finishing the basic course. We hope this project will help the refugees acquiring more confidence to tackle problems and find suitable solutions and also improve their English and communication skills. After completing the course they have the opportunity to apply for jobs in the field. This case actually forms a good example and a pilot for other projects or workshops involving sewing, drawing etc.
Other activities which were very successful this summer were the Green Spaces outdoors activities where families enjoyed the art lessons provided by two artists and also enjoyed the mental health benefits of walking and admiring the views. The family art sessions inspired by nature, their activities are posted on Instagram under Family Art Club Dundee. See picture below.
The Green Spaces activities were made possible by accessing grant funding, advertised by the Scottish Refugee Council, by different organisations. The funds were mainly used to purchase iPads for the refugees families to ensure they are socially connected and not isolated. These iPads were used to communicate within the families and in one to one English learning.
WRBF helps in language learning. Helen Patrick, one of our members, reflects here on the reality of this challenging work:
Sitting comfortably here, looking out over the garden, I am struck by the nagging question which hangs uncomfortably in the air, “Has our life changed for ever?” The question is the same, but for the refugees and immigrants with whom I work, the journey to this point has been starkly different to mine.
He shuffles slowly into the Centre, shoulders slouching, head bowed and fists forced deeply into his pockets. Looking neither right nor left, he moves towards the single seat at the table in the corner and sits down. People come and go in the café area, but his gaze is firmly fixed on the table top, no eye contact, no communication made with anyone. What images fill his head?
After persistent, but gentle encouragement over weeks, he is persuaded to join the small group with whom I work as a volunteer, helping our learners speak their first words of English. His posture says it all. This is the last place he wants to be, but, none the less, he regularly begins to attend. Twenty years of teaching all ages has not fully prepared me for the very intense, humbling experience which lies ahead.
We sit in a circle behind a large table. The tutor begins to talk, simultaneously mirroring what she is saying with ‘mime.’ We repeat, round the circle, simple phrases, ”My name is –“. “What is your name?” gently correcting the pronunciation as we go and endlessly encouraging and affirming. In the silences, shy smiles are shared and hushed voices begin to whisper in Arabic. The ice is melting just as it’s time for a break! Joining with other groups over coffee the Arabic voices swell, hugs are shared and broad smiles spread over the faces. At times we are drawn into the conversations and are invited to look at precious family photographs on the Mobile phones.
On our return, we are a bit more relaxed. A card with each person’s name printed on it is passed round. There are signs of recognition and more smiles. The letter sounds for each name are rehearsed slowly and carefully. As we come to the end of the session I see from the faces just how much energy has gone into the learning and how great the concentration and commitment. We affirm how well they have done and they leave satisfied and, in some cases, happy. They are fulsome with their thanks.
Fast forward six months and our new member of the group strides into the Centre. Looking around expectantly, he smiles as he recognises others in the group waiting for our session to begin. Strong handshakes are exchanged and he sits down beside them immediately conversing in his native tongue. The English language is still a considerable challenge for him, but he is determined and will get there.
Yes, his life has changed drastically and it is difficult for me to really understand what he and his family have gone through to reach this point. But quite unwittingly he has taught me something about change and the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
Helen Patrick (Voluntary tutor with ESOL Group in Dundee)
The link to WRBF group on Face Book