The Reverend Dr David Munchin of St Mary's Church in Welwyn raised almost £6,000 for HWSF by cycling 1,700 miles to Rome this past autumn. We caught up with him recently to talk about the highs and lows of his extraordinary journey.
What inspired you to cycle to Rome?
Every twelve years clergy are lucky enough to have a sabbatical – three months for rest, reflection and renewal. I’ve been a keen cyclist for the last six years and knew that I wanted to include a long distance cycle ride. I had originally thought of taking the Camino to Santiago in Spain, but then a friend got a job in Rome, which meant I had a place to stay where I could enjoy a few weeks in Rome at the end of the ride. In fact the route from Canterbury to Rome was once a well known pilgrim route – the Via Francigena - and recently it was converted to a long distance Eurovelo cycling route, so I followed that.
Can you tell us about your decision to be sponsored in aid of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families?
My church’s giving action group wanted to help HWSF and it turned out to be an inspired choice. I’m careful to say that my experience was nothing like that of a refugee, apart from the fact that it involved a journey which could have been made easier. I had a destination, a home to go back to, a definite route, passport, money, a bed to sleep in every night, unlimited communications with loved ones. However having time to think made me realise how lucky I was, and what it would be like to do a journey like that with none of those things.
What were some of the challenges you experienced on the ride?
People always ask about my legs and my bum! But as a cyclist I knew I could do the ride itself, though it was a tough one. Getting over the Alps and Apennines with a fully laden bike was the challenge I wasn’t sure I would be up to. Logistics were far more of a worry – injury, accident, bike failure, kit failure. To be honest, the greatest worry was getting one’s laundry done and dried before running out of clean clothes!
Did you ever think that you wouldn't finish the journey?
It got easier as I went on. I remember being in Lille after three days of cycling and thinking ‘I can’t do this.’ The trick is convincing yourself that once you’ve done it for four days, even if it’s tiring, you can do it for four weeks, you just need to keep going. So that got easier as I went on – once I was over the Alps at the start of week 3, I knew that I could do it.
Do you have a particular memory from your trip that you'd like to share?
Arriving in Rome was one of the best moments ever. Apart from that riding on quite flat roads through Alsace was the best experience. Very beautiful countryside – we’re going back there on holiday this year – by car!
What advice would you give to people who want to help or welcome refugees into their local communities?
I think perhaps we might be tempted to think that people who arrive will be so grateful to be safe that all will be well. Of course they will be overwhelmingly thankful, but they will also be tired and anxious and maybe traumatised by their experiences. For me, just getting to Rome and seeing an old friend in a lovely flat, and having a suitcase flown out with friends, was overwhelming – but I also needed to get over the ride. So I probably needed to rest and eat rather too much the first day or two. That need to attend to oneself must be much greater in the case of refugees.
Do you know a teacher (or a retired teacher) who might be interested in volunteering a little time to tutor a Syrian child who is new to the UK?
HWSF is seeking teachers - both primary and secondary - to tutor children who need a little extra help with their schoolwork.
Please share this with any teachers that you know! To find out more, e-mail Carolineherring52@gmail.com
We are delighted to announce that we are now working on a new project called ‘Empowering refugee and other migrant women’ in partnership with CDA (Community Development Agency) thanks to a grant from the Tampon Tax Community Fund. The project involves setting up and supporting women’s groups across the county to provide language support, holiday activities, and greater access to information. Our volunteer coordinator, Caroline Herring, will be working on this project, which will include support for mothers of young children who may need to learn English in a more informal setting.
At a recent group (pictured above), the women discussed visiting the doctor, building vocabulary and understanding the roles and practices of medical professionals. The refugee women and volunteers provided lunch, which included spinach and cheese pies, hummus, salad, and (amazing) Harissa cakes.
We hope to share more updates across the county as these groups become established.
An event for the families and volunteers from St Albans and Hatfield was held at Dagnall Street Church this January. There was a shared meal, craft activities, and games for the children. We were also treated to a musical performance on the Buzuq by Bahram from Dacorum - his first public performance!
We look forward to hearing more from Bahram and also send our thanks to Dagnall Street Church for the use of their premises.
HWSF's Annual General Meeting will take place on Tuesday 9th April at 7.30 PM at the Vineyard Church St Albans. All are welcome.
A report and agenda will be circulated to members before the meeting. If you are not already a registered member and would like to become one, please fill out the form below and return it to email@example.com
A speaker from HWSF will be giving a talk this weekend at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Hatfield as part of an interfaith service. The service begins at 6.30 pm and all are welcome. Come along to hear more about our work in the Welwyn Hatfield area.
It’s January but the HWSF gatherings continue.
On 2nd January, HWSF and the Welwyn Garden Quakers hosted a party for refugee families from Hatfield, East Herts and North Herts. The children were treated to face painting, craft activities, and games such as pass the parcel. HWSF volunteers mingled with the families, several of whom were related. The atmosphere was lovely with families catching up on news and delighted children trying on super hero masks.
New volunteers - including a translator and a mentor helping refugees prepare for the UK driving test - were on hand, getting to know the families better. The event was capped off with a slap-up tea and some energetic circle dancing.
I caught up with Enas, the young Syrian artist who has designed HWSF's Christmas cards over the past two years. She arrived in Hertfordshire a few years ago and has been involved with HWSF during that time. If you'd like to purchase a pack of the Christmas cards she's designed (pictured below), please e-mail Catherine@hwsf.org.uk with your address. The cards cost £5 for a pack of ten - all proceeds support the work of HWSF.
HWSF: Can you tell us about something inspiring your art right now?
Enas: When I left Syria after the war started, I travelled to Egypt. Seeing different cultures and new people inspired me.
HWSF: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
Enas: Since I was a child I spent most of my holiday time drawing. I love it.
HWSF: Do you have a favourite subject for your art?
Enas: I prefer making portraits [of people].
HWSF: Have you seen any art works since you arrived in the UK that you loved?
Enas: I went to London and saw a lot of paintings by famous artists such as Picasso and van Gogh. I was really happy about that.
HWSF: What are you working on at the moment?
Enas: I am learning English and developing my IT skills. In five years, I hope to be finishing my studies, finding a good job, and drawing new things.
HWSF: What do you like to do in your free time?
Enas: I like walking, exploring new places and painting.
HWSF: Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you?
Enas: Every refugee comes from a war, but they carry many dreams and the energy to start a new life. Thanks for giving us this opportunity.
HWSF: Thank you, Enas! We really appreciate you answering these questions and designing such beautiful cards for us.
Christmas card designs by Enas.
There was a lot of laughter, singing and walking at the HWSF Dacorum, Watford and Three Rivers holiday party on Sunday 9 Dec.
Seventy-five of us gathered in Little Gaddesden village hall at noon and quickly got the children involved with pass-the-parcel. Seems to be a new favourite game!
After a buffet lunch, volunteers and families split into two groups: some went to the playground across the fields, while about thirty went on a walk into the beautiful Golden Valley.
After an hour of exercise and beautiful scenery, we returned to well-earned cake and hot cups of tea.
We were treated to singing from Bahram and Rachid, and the children enjoyed musical statues and chairs!
It was a wonderful afternoon seeing friends and meeting new ones and a lovely way to celebrate the holiday season.
Many thanks to all the volunteers, particularly Julia Bolton, for all their hard work and help in making it a brilliant day!
[Text and photo by Liv Bolton]