How did you first get involved with HWSF?
When I retired I wanted to find a volunteering opportunity where I could be of practical use. I was a solicitor but I did not want to spend my retirement giving legal advice so I had to think about what I could offer and what interested me.
Like most people, I have been deeply troubled by the stories and images coming out of Syria and felt I would like to help. I was primarily interested in providing language support to refugees, but that was really because I didn't have a view of what other sort of support might be needed.
I actually found it quite difficult to find the right organisation. I do not have a faith and so I was not keen to volunteer with a faith associated organisation. In the end, I heard about HWSF through a friend and when I spoke to the Convenor for Dacorum, I thought it sounded like the right fit for me. I started going along with my husband to a language support class in Hemel and really enjoyed it. I'm not quite sure how it has happened but I am now the Convenor for Dacorum!
As Dacorum's area Convenor, what kinds of things do you find yourself doing in a typical week?
One of the things I do is to co-ordinate requests for help from the Syrian families or from their case workers at Dacorum Borough Council. This week, I have helped organise transport for a medical appointment, sourced some household items through our donations page and arranged a visit from a TV repair man. I also spend time most weeks catching up with volunteers to make sure we all stay in the loop about what is going on and what is needed, as well as letting potential volunteers know how they might be able to help.
Once a month, I attend a HWSF Management Committee meeting to ensure that HWSF's strategic projects stay on track. These projects range from setting up women's groups to providing training for language support volunteers.
Then there are the really fun things like helping to organise social events where families and volunteers get together in a relaxed setting to chat, listen to music, eat amazing food and engage in strange British games like pass the parcel.
What have you enjoyed most about volunteering with HWSF?
I have really enjoyed getting to know the refugee families and getting an insight into their culture. I have huge respect for their adaptability and good humour. The challenges of learning English for an Arabic speaker, particularly for those who, like me, left school many decades ago, are not to be underestimated. Gaining fluency in English is key to finding work and settling happily here. A major challenge for the families is getting their English to the level that allows them to access work and other opportunities. Consequently it is a major challenge for HWSF to work out how best to support them in this.
I have also enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers and Management Committee members and finding out more about the area. Like a lot of career centred commuters, I never really felt that I had put down roots in Dacorum or got to know more than a handful of people here very well, but working with HWSF has made a definite difference to that.
What would you tell someone who is considering volunteering for HWSF?
Do it! Our website gives a good account of the kind of things you could get involved with but I’m happy to tell you more - just send an email and we can organise a meeting or call. Don't worry that you may not have the right skillset or that you cannot commit time on a regular basis. I am sure that we can find something that is useful to the refugees and rewarding for you.