Monday, April 18, 2016

What it’s like to volunteer with STAR

Annie-Rose Peterman, University of Leeds STAR and National Office

I initially become involved in STAR after being handed a leaflet by a bubbly volunteer at a ‘Refresher’s Fair’ in my first year at Leeds University. She chatted away about her experiences as a volunteer and I nodded along before wandering on to the next stall and the next leaflet.

Later that day I found the leaflet again in my pocket and decided to volunteer at the Wednesday Afternoon Conversation Club, a weekly group held at the Leeds Refugee Forum in the city centre. I absolutely loved my first class which I spent chatting to two men from Iraq and Syria about different kinds of food, their families and what they thought of their new home in Leeds. I was so impressed by how friendly they were and how enthusiastic they were about learning English.

The Wednesday Conversation Club is really popular with the people in the local refugee and asylum community who use Leeds Refugee Forum (LRF). All sorts of people attend the club from lots of different countries and we normally get around 20 refugees attending. One of the many issues that refugees face when settling in to their new home is loneliness and getting the chance to chat to other refugees and volunteers at the conversation club is a really good way of not only practicing their English, but getting out of the house and meeting new people.

Volunteering with STAR has taught me that it is impossible to stereotype a refugee and each of them has a different story to share. I’ve helped a young man write his personal statement for university, taught a group of women the English alphabet and shared recipes with young mothers before they dash off for the school run. The main thing that I’ve been struck by is how eager they are to improve their English and learn about our customs.

One man I taught had come from Syria where he had worked as an accountant. He had a master’s degree and spoke excellent English but UK asylum laws meant that he wasn’t allowed to work. He spent most of his day teaching himself English on the computer and loved coming to the conversation class because it gave him a chance to practice his English with a native speaker. You don’t need to teach people complicated grammar or long words to make a difference to their English, sometimes the opportunity to have a chat over a cup of tea is what people need to improve their confidence.

In my second year I became class coordinator and continued to enjoy working with both refugees and student volunteers to make the class a success. Students often have a lot of time on their hands and STAR helps to link them up with local volunteering projects to help them to make a real difference to people’s lives.

This year I am volunteering with the national office to help them with another side of STAR’s work; campaigns and in particular the Action Week campaign to offer refugees safe routes to save lives. Running effective awareness raising campaigns is a really important part of STAR’s work and helps to keep students informed about the issues facing refugees and what they can do to help.

Volunteering with STAR has been a big part of my life for the past few years and definitely one of the highlights of my time at university. I have really enjoyed being involved in making a positive impact on the lives of refugees in Leeds and campaigning for a better reception for refugees around the country.

Posted by STAR team on 18/04/2016 at 11:15 AM