Volunteer Hazel Marie describes her efforts during lockdown.
What day is it today? Every day seems the same under lockdown! Oh it's Tuesday, the day I contact the Syrian family I’ve been assisting to practice English with the father of the family. You see I am a volunteer for Herts Welcomes Refugees and the Refugee Council. As a retired teacher I offered to help out with English language practice and some of the events for the refugee families when they first arrived. I must phone my current family and check if they were able to use their free school meal vouchers in ASDA today. I helped them yesterday as the vouchers were not accepted at the check out. Yes, they are happy now. All is well. They have bought their food with the vouchers. Hooray! We don't need to contact customer service or EdenRed to overcome problems with collecting the code or scanning at the checkout! The process is difficult enough for English parents, let alone parents with English as a second language!
The Syrian family have three daughters, two at Primary school and one in Year 7. To make life more complicated each school has a different voucher scheme. I was reminded of my own experience as a young mum dealing with school issues and letters from my children's different schools. It is more complicated these days with most school communications sent by email or put on websites. Some letters need to have forms printed off too, all very well if you have a computer printer at home, but many do not.
In this family, if the mum doesn't understand emails sent to her from school, she forwards them to me so that I can explain to her what is required. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Herts Welcomes Refugees, many of the families now have laptops or Chromebooks for their children. With homeschooling online during lockdown these have been invaluable. This distance learning, however, has highlighted the need for more computer skills for the children and their families. Our volunteers also help out with this. I have occasionally been helping the eldest daughter with her school assignments and liaising with the school and her year leader where necessary. Despite learning support from the schools and colleges, much of the language is too advanced for the children and families who are still learning English. This is also where volunteers can help.
Another bonus for the family I support has been the Bike scheme which Herts Welcomes Refugees runs. Being able to cycle to school and college, to go shopping and visit parks has been nothing short of fantastic for them! My husband sometimes helps out with repairs and collection and delivery of the bikes too.
Time has passed very quickly. Is it really four years since the first families from Syria arrived in Hertfordshire? It has been so good to see the families settle comfortably into their new way of life. We have many loyal and talented volunteers who are trained with Herts Welcomes Refugees and the Refugee Council. Their work with these families is so important in many different ways.
During these difficult times with lockdown and social distancing, the family has really appreciated meeting with me on Zoom or WhatsApp video. We’ve also shared English materials, goodies and some activities for the children. They are always so grateful for anything I do for them. That's the rewarding part of being a volunteer.......seeing progress in their language, sharing difficulties with them in their daily lives and most of all, helping them to be safe and happy!
Now I must speak to the father on Zoom and encourage him in our lesson with speaking, reading and writing English. Masalama!