I have been working as a British Red Cross (BRC) volunteer for a couple of years and I am also an ESOL tutor. I was therefore very happy when I was asked if I would like to work with a couple of the new Syrian families and help them in learning some English. I have always recognised how important it is for non-English speakers to be able to understand some basic English, without which it can be very frightening and alienating whilst trying to settle into life in a new country. With the new families this has been particularly important for the mothers who have found it quite difficult to get out of the house very often as they have young children. Helping the mothers learn some basic vocabulary has hopefully helped them gain enough confidence to venture out alone to visit the schools or doctors when necessary.
It has been such a privilege to work with these mothers who I admire immensely for the way they have, and still are, coping with incredibly difficult circumstances. They have always made me very welcome into their homes and, although there are obviously language difficulties, we usually manage to understand each other and frequently laugh together.
In addition I feel very valued and supported by the Syrian Resettlement Team and Refugee Support Services of the BRC. It is wonderful to be working with such supportive and like-minded people.
I can honestly say that it is, without doubt, one of the most rewarding and also humbling experiences of my life. It is very worthwhile and I certainly hope I can continue supporting both the present families and any new families that will arrive in the future.
We became involved in RWMK because of a friend who is very involved as the furnishings coordinator for the homes for the refugees. So far this has involved concentrated bursts of spare time over weekends and in the evenings getting the houses safe, clean and furnished, and ready to be moved into by a family – anything from fitting a stairgate (well, lots of stairgates – Max has become quite an expert in fitting these in awkward spots!), hanging curtains and sorting crockery to shopping for last minute bits and pieces at local diy stores.
The team spirit has been wonderful to be part of. What we’ve done so far has only been a tiny part of a huge effort from volunteers across Milton Keynes, but it’s so good to feel that there’s something positive and tangible that we can do. Maureen’s choir (Milton Keynes Community Choir) also raised money for RWMK through our annual Christmas carol singing at The CentreMK and we hope to do more of this kind in the future. As the commitment to make refugees welcome in MK grows we’ll be looking at ways to keep involved and spread the word to others.
-Maureen Cox and Max Roe
I’m a retired MK resident, who, like many others, is concerned over many current issues in our lives today, in particular the huge number of refugees fleeing the terrible conflicts in parts of the Middle East. Back in May last year I spoke to a friend with similar concerns, who had attended an event run by CitizensMK. She gave me their email address, and I contacted them to ask what opportunities there might be for very part time volunteer (I have grandma duties, a garden to look after and I already do some volunteer work for AgeUK locally).
Over the next couple of months I met several of the lovely members of the Refugee Support team at the Milton Keynes Red Cross, and after signing up as a formal Red Cross volunteer and going on their fascinating three day training event, I started helping out one morning a week in their office. The work has been varied – I’ve sorted donated goods (from children’s toys, to bicycles to clothes), I’ve shopped – a trip to buy essential household goods for a family who were arriving in MK the next day – and I’ve done office work, from data entry to on-line research, finding how one of our Dads might get a driving licence, finding sites to help with toddler tantrums, and finding local events where our families might take their kids during school holidays at not too great expense (many thanks to Bletchley Park who have offered day visits for free).
I’ve met so many caring people who have shown me that the world isn’t all bad – and it’s been great to think that I have helped, even in a very small way, some of our Syrian families to feel welcome – I so much believe that only kindness and generosity will help solve the problems the world is facing at the moment.