How did you get into volunteering?
I first heard about the benefits of volunteering when I was accessing support from Barnardo’s. I was isolated at home and struggling both mentally and financially, and they suggested that I look into volunteering. There were lots of options and I struggled to find where to start! When I heard about Refugee Council, they seemed very close to my heart as they offered support in a wide variety of ways so could offer me lots of opportunities.
How would you describe your role?
I volunteer as both a Befriender for the Leeds Resettlement Team, and a HARP Volunteer in Leeds.
As a Befriender, I support a resettled refugee to practice her English and become more independent. I felt nervous and stressed at first but once I met her I realised she was really nice and there was nothing to be worried about. She spoke lots in our first meeting and I learnt that we have shared similar challenges, which then made it easier for her to share more about herself. She also relaxed when she saw that I got on well with her son, which apparently is not very common!
One of the best days I’ve had as a Befriender was when I helped her to buy some new shoes. She has a problem with her leg but used to wear shoes that hurt her. I told her about Clarks and, while she was anxious at first, the server was very kind. She found a comfortable pair and wore them straight away – she was so happy! To me, it was only a little thing but it was huge for her and her family. She still loves the shoes and it has made a massive difference to her life.
As a HARP Volunteer, I help asylum seekers and refugees to learn English and get to know their rights to healthcare. I have attended ESOL training and help asylum seekers each week to learn how to talk about their health in English. It’s interesting because I might support someone for two hours and then never see them again. I have also attended training to help our clients use technology to access online health care services such as booking GP appointments online.
To me, to be a Befriender is to be a human, no matter what. To volunteer with HARP, you need to be brave. You will work with refugees and asylum seekers who are often ill and have gone through many challenges. You must be brave and strong in other to support them, and must be able to put your emotions to one side.
Since volunteering with Refugee Council I feel completely different – I used to be quite emotional but now I’m more composed and able to get what I want. I’ve gained lots of experiences and hearing stories from refugees and asylum seekers has made me emotionally stronger. My confidence has also increased, which has been noticed by other people. I’ve got better at advocating for myself and making sure my rights are protected. Without Refugee Council, I don’t think I would be this way.
What have been the highlights and challenges of your volunteer role?
The best bit of volunteering with Refugee Council has been getting to know lots of people and hearing clients’ stories and the difficulties they have faced. It has helped me get out of my bubble – I used to think it was only me in my situation but, since volunteering with Refugee Council, I have gained some perspective. I’ve also learn problem-solving skills which have helped me with my own journey.
One of the challenges is having a language barrier. Even though the refugee I befriend and I share a language, we speak different dialects so still don’t always understand each other. She has to repeat lots so I try and make sure that this doesn’t become frustrating. There is also often a language barrier when I volunteer with HARP.
What do you like to do outside of volunteering?
I like reading but I haven’t really read for four years because I found it hard to focus and concentrate. However, volunteering with Refugee Council has reignited my interest in reading – after a day’s volunteering I feel like my stress has been lifted so I’ve now started reading again.