Photo by Nana Varveroppoulou
Hertfordshire Arrivals and Departures
An Event for Refugee Week
Organised by Herts Welcomes Syrian Families in collaboration with St Albans Folk Music and
St Albans Amnesty International Group.
8pm Thursday June 21st
Trinity United Reform Church,
1 Beaconsfield Road, St Albans AL1 3RD
● Songs from Na-Mara
● Talks by historians Kate Morris and Ken Griffin
● Stories from Syrian refugees now settled in Hertfordshire
● Arabic food prepared by local Syrian families.
Free Admission. Donations welcome.
HWSF were invited to have a stall at the performance of Human Cargo in St Albans. It was a very moving evening of stories and song on the themes of exile, transportation and slavery. This was the first evening of a national tour and wherever they perform they are linking with local organisations supporting refugees.
HWSF volunteers were able to talk to the audience before and after the show, as well as during the interval. Pictured above are some of our volunteers along with the show's creator Matthew Crampton (second from right) and the musician, Jeff Warner (far left).
HWSF is happy to announce that there will be a training session for new volunteers/ befrienders who wish to help our families improve their English. The session will be held on Tuesday, 5th June, from 7-9 pm at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, 121 St Peter’s Street, St Albans AL1 3EL.
The event will be geared towards volunteers new to teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). Volunteers will learn simple activities and ideas for language lessons. They will also gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced by adults learning to speak a new language.
If you'd like to attend this event, please RSVP to Caroline Herring email@example.com
This month marks one year since HWSF became a charity. When we set up in 2015 to begin lobbying for Syrian refugees to be resettled in Hertfordshire, we never imagined that in three years time we would have 38 new Syrian families in Hertfordshire or that we would be a charity.
We’ve had an extremely busy year as we’ve grown and developed, searching for the best ways to welcome, support, and help refugee families to integrate into our communities. Recently, we were runners up in the Social Justice category for the High Sheriff’s Award which was a real achievement for us and brought in some much needed funds.
We continue to host welcome meals for new families, and are happy to report that these meals are now being prepared by other recently resettled Syrians. The families who’ve been welcomed in this way say how important it is to be greeted by so many friendly faces, as well as to meet other Syrians who had settled in Hertfordshire before them.
HWSF organises events and outings all over the county to bring families and communities together, helping Syrians to explore different places and meet new people. Partnership work continues to be a key and we work closely with the Refugee Council, local councils, and organisations such as STAR, People not Borders, North Herts Minority Ethnic Group and many others.
Here are some other updates and achievements from our first year as a charity:
Our cycle scheme has proved extremely popular. We have now delivered 60 bikes and still have a waiting list. As well as repairing donated bikes to ensure that they are safe to ride, we supply helmets, locks and hi vis vests. Some children are growing out of their original bikes so we continue to need more.
Help to make families' houses into homes
We try to source donated goods for families who are setting up their homes. Gifts include lawn mowers and donated garden tools. When the families move in, their new gardens are often overgrown and many of them are keen to cultivate them and grow their own flowers and vegetables.
As language is key to integration, we have successfully bid for funding from Herts Community Foundation for a one year pilot project in Hertfordshire for an ESOL / Language Support Volunteer Coordinator. We thank East of England Strategic Migration Partnership and local councils for their contributions. This post is to support, through volunteers, the formal language provision being provided in the county.
Involving families in events
Our families are keen to be involved in both social and fund-raising events. Their contributions to meals and refreshments at our AGM and other events are most welcome.
The children continue to thrive in their schools and colleges. One young man is well established on a degree course at the University of Hertfordshire with others determined to follow in his wake.
Games to Get, a company based in Welwyn, chose us as their charity for 2018. They made a generous donation to our funds and are collaborating with us on a fundraising Quiz with a Difference, using their game 'Sussed' in September. We hope this will be the first of several such events as we are in constant need of funds.
Gifts to families
We were able to give a gift of £50 to each family at Christmas and the summer holidays to support activities and gifts for the children.
Our priorities for the coming year include:
Could you be part of this?
We need more support for our cycle scheme, including people to source, transport and store bikes across the county.
We need more ESOL / Language Support volunteer befrienders.
We need volunteer drivers.
Could you be part of a fundraising team or make a donation? http://www.hwsf.org.uk/get-involved.html
Fundraising will be essential to support all of the work that we do, from implementing our driver scheme to extending our ESOL Volunteer coordinator’s post - as well as continuing to plan events and activities which help to integrate Syrian families into our Hertfordshire communities. We would dearly love to give each family £50 again for summer activities but are not sure we can do this at the moment without additional funds.
Thank you for the support you have given so far and we look forward to your continued support.
HWSF Management Committee & Trustees
A big thank you to Dagnall Street Church for hosting an event for the refugee families in the St Albans and Hatfield area.
The hall was packed and it was great to see so many families and their children in attendance. There were lots of activities for the young people including table tennis, snooker, table football, and games organised by one of our volunteers. The children also enjoyed craft activities and playing with an assortment of toys.
The adults enjoyed meeting with and talking to members of the church as well as to the ESOL volunteers and teachers in attendance. We all enjoyed talking and sharing food together.
If you or your organisation is interested in hosting an event to welcome some of our
resettled refugee family members please get in touch with Irene Chair@hwsf.org.uk
It isn't always possible to match donated bikes to the resettled refugees waiting for them, and one twelve-year-old girl had been waiting for a bicycle through HWSF's cycle scheme for some time.
This is the moment when her brand new bike finally arrived. It was provided by a very generous donor along with a new helmet and hi-vis jacket. The girl's mother (pictured) received it, and we're told that her daughter is thrilled that she can finally ride around with her friends.
Currently, we have about thirty refugees waiting for bikes and only a few in stock. We are particularly short of men's bikes. If you think you might be able to donate a bike in good condition, please contact Vicky: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or if you are in East Herts, please contact Catherine: email@example.com
Photo by Tammy Leach Photography
Herts Welcomes Syrian Families was thrilled to win runner-up in the Social Justice category at the 23rd Annual High Sheriff Awards. Will Hobhouse, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, presented the awards at Micklefield Hall, to honour volunteering around the county.
One of the aims of High Sheriffs in England and Wales is to encourage social cohesion through the work of voluntary agencies. The financial awards come entirely from the High Sheriff's own pocket, and not from the public purse.
Irene Austin, chair of HWSF, commented: "We are so honoured to have been recognised by the High Sheriff and wish to thank everyone whose hard work has made this possible. We will be consulting with the families about how best to make use of the money."
Are you an ESOL volunteer or befriender - or are you hoping to be one in the future? Come along to a training session on 20th March:
HWSF ESOL Training Session
Getting to know your learner, building on their skills and exploiting resources.
Tuesday 20th March
7.15 pm for 7.30 pm until 9.15pm
Seventh Day Adventist Church
St Peter's Road, St Albans AL1 3EL
RSVP by Friday 16th March to: firstname.lastname@example.org
On an overcast February morning, a group of refugees arrange tables and chairs to create a makeshift classroom in a Hertfordshire community centre. They have gathered, along with five volunteers, to practise their English.
After a quick greeting of ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum', their teacher announces that they will be practising the words for the body, and leads them through a cheerful rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” A second group with more advanced English skills works at the back of the room with a volunteer who has brought in questions from the UK driving theory test so that they can build up vocabulary while also preparing for the practicalities of driving.
The two hour lesson involves writing, reading aloud, and practising oral expression using puzzles and games. Volunteers sit amongst the learners, helping and encouraging with each new challenge. A young toddler plays with coloured pencils and listens as his parents practice saying ‘eyes’ and ‘elbows.’
Learning language skills is a crucial part of adjusting to life in a new country; being able to communicate and advocate for oneself can open doors and help to heal trauma. HWSF has been working to create a network of volunteers who can assist resettled refugees with their English language skills throughout Hertfordshire. If you think you might be interested in volunteering, please get in touch with our new ESOL Volunteer Coordinator, Caroline Herring, e-mail: Carolineherring52@gmail.com
On a frozen night in Hertfordshire, a young Syrian woman wearing a sparkly pink headscarf stood before a large crowd of HWSF members and recounted how her neighbourhood in the suburbs of Damascus was transformed from a peaceful locale known for its population of well-educated people to a place where she feared for her life and that of her children. Forced to flee to Lebanon after a rocket hit her building, she witnessed the burning of a Syrian refugee camp by Lebanese militia before eventually succeeding in bringing her family to England - to Hertfordshire - where she has lived for the past seven months. “My children are in a safe place,” she said. “They have a good school and a better education.”
Members of Herts Welcomes Syrian Families, who gathered for their annual general meeting on 28th February, were visibly moved as the resettled Syrians, whom they have been working to support, bore witness to the escalating violence they experienced during the Syrian Civil War. A talented young Syrian photojournalist, now studying at the University of Hertfordshire, recalled how he’d needed to hide from soldiers after the war began: his grandmother hid him the first time, and later he’d sheltered in the loft while his brother was arrested.
Then there was the story of a Syrian father who was tortured after his son escaped from the army. His son had not wanted to shoot the peaceful protestors opposing Assad and so had shot himself in the leg, was sent to prison, and later fled the country after being forced back into the military. The family’s home was burned as a result and the father continues to suffer health problems from the torture he endured.
Members also heard from the young Syrian artist who designed HWSF’s highly successful Christmas cards. She had always wanted to be an artist but was unable to complete her studies in fine arts. She described her ambition to continue making art in England while slides of her portraits and still lifes appeared on screen.
Over the past year, Herts Welcomes Syrian Families has continued to support thirty-five refugee families across Hertfordshire with welcome meals and events, financial and practical support, and by providing bicycles, TVs, furniture, and friendship. Irene Austin, chair of HWSF, felt that one of the successes of the organisation’s work with the British Refugee Council has been in encouraging and helping resettled Syrian families to support each other. With more families coming soon, having an established network of Syrian people who can help these newcomers to navigate their new lives in the UK will be an invaluable resource.
Irene laid out an ambitious plan for HWSF for the coming year. The organisation’s priorities include establishing a vibrant language support network and a volunteer driver scheme, as well as focusing on finding organisations and people able to offer employment opportunities to refugees. Another goal was to increase the involvement of the Syrian families in the management of HWSF. As she pointed out, a year ago very few Syrians were present at the AGM, but this year, even on a snowy night, a number were there, speaking, listening, engaging, and supporting one another in a country that they were beginning to call home.