See: Creating Sanctuary
Fred - St Dogmaels, West Wales - 'Hiraeth Hope'
In what way have you volunteered?
I have volunteered since I was in my teens in all kinds of projects, from nature reserves, to setting up rehabs, to school projects, to community projects. In September 2015 saddened by the images from the Mediterranean and Calais, I did a three peaks climb with my partner and daughter, where we raised some money. I visited Swansea and found that there were 1600 asylum seekers in poor conditions, individuals and families. I was very moved by their spirituality, grace, gratitude, respect and hope, given their huge losses. It was clear they needed a holiday from their rather bleak daily struggle, so I set up Hiraeth Hope and we began raising lots of money to bring individuals and families over to West Wales for weekend holidays, including three large group retreats. I also began creating work placements for mainly men. By May 2016 I was almost full time on it.
What was it that brought you to volunteering with refugees?
I was moved by the extraordinary dignity the refugees showed, despite their huge losses and the sometimes awful conditions they found themselves in their home office appointed homes in Swansea. I feel strongly that whilst we may not be able to instruct our government to change how it intervenes and often creates the wars that lead to so many having to flee, we can make a huge difference as individuals and a community by welcoming a few right into our homes. We are all human and need to know we are loved and cared for. The children in particular, as a dad, move me and I have a need to ensure what little we can give, is given.
What reward do you get from volunteering?
I have been humbled many times by the grace of the people from all over the world who have come into my home, their hope is infectious, their ability to transcend their awful losses and still strive for a place in this world monumentally inspiring, I feel honoured to share a small part of their journey and grateful that my children’s lives and understanding of life has been immeasurably enhanced by meeting many families and individuals. The sense of powerlessness I sometimes can experience as I watch world tragedies unfold is tempered by knowing I or we can help. Their are things I can do to make amends. And of course there is the cultural exchange that has blessed my life, the amazing meals, songs and stories we have enjoyed, from people all over the world!
What have been your struggles?
The plight of many we helped was so huge, I got drawn into doing more than I was resourced to do. It was a struggle witnessing human beings who have lost so much, not being offered all they needed by my country which has so much. It was a struggle as I got to know some of the refugees very well, to separate from, at times, deep grief and loss. It was a struggle to not give all I had to those that had so little. It was a struggle to not get the right help for some that needed it desperately, especially legal.
What would you say to your wider community to encourage others to be welcoming, or to work with refugees
I have found it best to say very little, but rather to bring men, women and children right into the heart of our communities and let human nature prevail, especially when kids have been involved! Even older refugees, which such a commitment to life when introduced to locals with some anxieties about refugees generally quickly win them over. The whole of St Davids turned out for thirteen families, which I took there last march, quite moving. More recently a macho digger driver I had hired for a few weeks was very anti me bringing in a young Syrian to help on the job. After a few days he was quite smitten by him and was looking for places for him to stay, what a gift to all involved, no words, actions.
What does volunteering to refugees bring to your community?
It has enabled local people who have wanted to directly help those displaced from their home countries get involved in providing much needed respite care and support for refugees. In bringing refugees to stay with members of our community, it has helped other locals challenge some of their negative attitudes held, generated by the media. In some cases becoming great advocates on behalf of refugees in our community. In volunteering in such great numbers locally in Pembrokeshire there has also been and integration between otherwise disparate groups of people, for example across the English Welsh divide and helping to integrate a lot of newcomers in the area into the community.
What difference has your volunteering made?
In volunteering to support refugees primarily on asylum in Swansea I have harnessed a huge amount of local energy to provide much needed respite care and work placement opportunities for the refugees who are often living in pretty dire circumstances in home office accommodation.
I have been told by many of the refugees who have come in groups of families that the weekends I organised were absolute life savers. It has enabled them to make substantial friendships over the weekends, that they were then able to take back with them to help live more benignly in Swansea.
I believe my family who have accommodated several refugee families have also benefited enormously in understanding how lucky we are in this country to have the security that we do. My children have had an experience that it would be difficult to teach them without the direct intimacy of living alongside those who have had to flee. It has had a lasting impact on all of us. I wish my financial circumstances were such that I could dedicate more of my time to supporting the extraordinarily, gracious, respectful and grateful refugees in Swansea.
website: Hiraeth Hope
facebook: Hiraeth Hope
website: Swansea City Of Sanctuary
website: Wales Refugee Council
UK wide organisation: City Of Sanctuary