Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Saying Refugees Welcome by volunteering!

This year Refugee Week is celebrating the welcome shown to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. That’s what STAR is all about and one of the ways we do it is through our many volunteering projects. Each year hundreds of student volunteers get active to help refugees learn English, get to grips with their school work, get cycling, have fun, make friends and much more!

You can find out about one of them from Lesedi, a member of Birmingham University STAR, who set up a great project helping refugee women learn IT skills. Here is what she had to say about it…

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Asylum seekers in the UK have overcome immense trials only to be greeted with a daunting maze of challenges once they arrive in our country. The asylum system is one that is convoluted, uncertain, and ever-changing and integration into British society is marred by cultural, social, and structural barriers. While the government and mainstream media continue to stack the odds against asylum seekers and refugees, organisations – composed of volunteers and refugees alike – are always finding ways to rebuild lives, to find opportunities, and to promote unity. Student Action for Refugees is a part of this effort, utilising the talents and goodwill of students across the country towards a clear and simple message: refugees are welcome here.

Our Skills Sessions project, here in Birmingham, was developed over the course of the year as a collaboration between Birmingham STAR and Hope Projects, an organisation that provides support for asylum-seeking women. As the committee member responsible for initiating it, I’m really proud of all that we’ve achieved.

The greatest strength of our group of committed volunteers is their enthusiasm and willingness to commit time and effort. To harness that enthusiasm to make the biggest difference to the women at Hope, we worked directly with the staff and refugee women to find out what would be most useful. Together we came up with the idea of Skills Sessions, which so far have focused on Computer Literacy. Thanks to the Institute of Research into Superdiversity (IRiS) at the University of Birmingham, we were able to secure a room on campus with computers and a projector screen, where STAR Birmingham volunteers supported the women to get to grips with things like as Microsoft Office and developing typing abilities. I even introduced one woman to Duolingo and now she is learning Spanish!

Working together with the volunteers and the women from Hope has been a joy and an inspiration, receiving hugs and a thank you card from the women at the end of our last class was definitely a highlight for me! There was so much energy and kindness in those classrooms. More than sharing skills, we were creating a community. This is what I am most proud of and what I’m excited to see grow when the Skills Sessions pick up again next academic year.

I’m very grateful to IRiS for helping us access resources, to Hope for coordinating with us on this project, to the support of STAR National, and of course to the brilliant energy and love of the STAR Birmingham volunteers.

Posted by STAR team on 21/06/2016 at 05:29 PM