See: Creating Sanctuary
Ceri - Newport, SE Wales - 'The Sanctuary Project Bethal Community Church'
In what ways have you volunteered?
I help in The Sanctuary Project Bethel Community Church, an organisation which helps refugees, who have fled their war torn countries. My particular contribution is helping the young men to learn to speak English.
What was it that brought you to volunteering with refugees?
There were two major factors which brought about my volunteering career; my husband had died recently and just before he died I had more or less given up my tutoring work. I felt lost. Always having been an active person, my life suddenly seemed to have no purpose. But it took a very wobbly path to the volunteering I do now. My daughter, who lives in the States, was aware of my growing depressive state, and being well past the usual retirement age, she suggested I do some voluntary work. I realised she might be right, but I was in no mood to do anything about it. She rang Newport local Authority, and was put through to Newport Voluntary Services. I have a lot to thank them for. They contacted me and arranged a meeting. In the end, it was several meetings. They suggested lots of worthwhile opportunities, all involving children, giving me the relevant information needed to get in touch. I was interested, but nothing really seemed to appeal. Finally, they suggested the Sanctuary and arranged to meet me in town and walked up Stow Hill to ‘The Sanctuary’ . I admit I tried to back out, but she was having none of it. When we arrived I liked what Sarah at ‘The Sanctuary’ was talking about and I went for a few weeks to work with the Mothers and children. The young mothers were interested in girly things like nail painting and hairstyles etc. (not my forte) and there were plenty of nice toys for the children, so they weren’t interested in my interference. Sarah suggested I might prefer to work with George, teaching the young men to speak English. Having been a teacher, I was immediately in my comfort zone, and very soon it became the very beginning of the happy new life I lead today.
What reward do you get from volunteering?
Volunteering has made a huge difference to my life. I have two children and although they are in frequent touch they don’t live close by. One lives in London, the other in the States, and sadly, I don’t have or likely to have any grandchildren of my own.
I am a very active person and love to be out and about. I live on my own most of the time, and though that’s ok, I need purpose in my life. Volunteering has certainly provided that purpose. Not only do I meet various young men on Tuesday in the Sanctuary desperate to learn to speak fluent English, I have also made friends with a few of them and meet them at other times of the week. My partner and I have been adopted by two young refugees from Syria, as their surrogate British parents. My partner has helped both. One needed to pass the ‘The International English Language Testing System’ (IELTS test) with an average of 70%, A pretty daunting task for one who had only recently come to the UK. I found it too difficult, so I enlisted the help of my partner, who is a Cambridge Graduate, and worked for more than 20 years for the United Nations. He took the task very seriously; he bought all the necessary IELTS books on how to pass the test and proceeded to teach him. Knowing the ropes of academic life, he arranged for the three of us us to visit the open day at the Cardiff Metropolitan University. It was the turning point. He had to try three times before he got the necessary pass mark. He finally got it the Wednesday before the Monday start date. Richard told one of the senior lecturers we met that they would never regret accepting him and sure enough, at the end of the first term he won a Best Student award, with a nice cheque. Now his wife has joined him in the UK and Richard is repeating the process with her. They are both very bright young people and work very hard. He also has a job with Marks and Spencer, starting at 4am, seeing the lorries in, unloading them and transferring them up to the cold storage rooms, then loading the shelves with what is required. There are a team of six, but he is the holder of all the keys and pass codes, a fact of which he is vey proud.
What have been your struggles?
After working for a few weeks in the Sanctuary, I felt the need of some help. I found a ‘Teaching English As A Foreign Language’ course (TEFL), which included a comprehensive Grammar course on line, plus 20 hours practical work which included a tutor teaching a team of ten of us. As an English graduate I thought the grammar course would be easy, and most of it was manageable, but the verbs section I found extremely difficult: gerunds, modules and mixed conditionals almost got the better of me, and we had to get at least 70% in every section. But I enjoyed the course and it was very helpful. It gave me more confidence teaching the refugees. The other difficulty is not knowing whether I’ll be teaching someone who has some English, little English or no English. It depends who turns up. The longer I teach the easier it is getting, as I now have a build-up of what works.
What would you say to your wider community to encourage others to be welcoming, or to work with refugees?
There is no doubt, there is a quite a large section of the community who resent the refugees in their neighbourhood, but every refugee I have met and taught, is spotlessly clean and neatly dressed; they are polite and grateful for the friendly welcome. They have suffered much hardship and danger to get here, and would like to settle and get work and contribute to their new society. They are prepared to work long hours in not always good conditions. Jobs the local people are not always prepared to do. I have made lasting friendships with a few of them. They love to help me with jobs I find difficult to do. And I am grateful.
What does your volunteering bring to your community?
If in our settled and well established communities if we are able to accept the refugees and integrate them into our lives, I believe we would benefit enormously. We in the UK are becoming an ageing population and the problems of caring for this growing less able group, is becoming almost impossible to comprehend. The new immigrants have suffered much in their efforts to get here and are young, strong, healthy and wanting to work. If we were able to encourage integration, rather than damage our society, it could create a society that was more balanced. The mixed workforce building a richer better community.
What difference has your volunteering made?
Volunteering has made a huge difference to my life. I understand this different group of people to be my own, and am able to speak to them all with an ease I didn’t have initially. They very rarely complain, they just need help to understand their new community rules and regulations and most of all speak English so they can be understood and get work. I help them in various ways, such as showing them and enrolling them in the library, going to charity shops to see if they would like volunteers for any tasks, showing them the various banks, taking them to Waste Savers where they can get furniture and other household goods at a very low price. They recognise me when I’m in town and will always stop for a chat.
Facebook: Refugees Welcome Newport Wales
website: Wales Refugee Council
UK wide organisation: City Of Sanctuary