How did you first get involved with HWSF?
I knew about HWSF from the start through local friends and was keen to support them. I was very much aware of the growing refugee crisis. I initially volunteered with the Refugee Council to help newly arrived families with English language support, and to help them use public transport for getting to hospital visits and other appointments.
Can you tell us about some of the things that you do as a volunteer for HWSF?
I help a family in their second year in the UK with English, visiting them at home for a couple of hours every week. They often ask for help in understanding the letters they receive, for example from the NHS, or their children’s school. I don’t deal with these issues directly, but suggest what they might do, referring if necessary to the local Refugee Council which supports them. I also visit another family as a ‘befriender’ to help them cope with life in UK.
As well as working with individual families, I’ve been active in Ware with other volunteers setting up and running a fortnightly Women’s Group. We have a ‘bring and share’ lunch, followed by a group discussion or a presentation from a speaker (eg from the local Citizen’s Advice). Perhaps because of the lunch, the meetings are lively with lots of talk.
What have you enjoyed most about volunteering with HWSF?
Getting to know the families and seeing the brave progress they make settling into life in the UK. I particularly enjoy the Women’s Group.
What would you tell someone who is considering volunteering for HWSF?
There are lots of things you can do as a volunteer, whether you have time to make a regular commitment, or can only give an hour or two on an occasional basis. Volunteers support individual families as ‘befrienders’ - visiting from time to time to chat and help as needed (eg explaining ‘official’ letters) and identifying any difficulties. English language support at home (as back up to any more formal learning) means regular visits. Help with outings, meetings and fundraising activities is needed from time to time. If you have a particular skill (for example in IT, mending bicycles, speaking Arabic, gardening …) it could be invaluable. The reward is getting to know the families, and watching them progress, especially the children. They face huge difficulties, but have a terrific sense of fun.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your experiences so far? Syrian food is famous! The Syrians make delicious contributions to shared meals for meetings, Women’s Group etc. The families I support insist on feeding me cakes and occasionally a meal, in spite of my protests!