Welcoming asylum seekers into worshipping communities through volunteering

Published: Tuesday February 21, 2023

Henrietta Couzens and volunteersIn recent years, Gloucester has seen an influx of asylum seekers looking to start a new life here having escaped conflict in their war-torn home countries. Worshipping communities from across the Diocese have been welcoming men, women and families from countries like El Salvador, Sudan and Iran, and helping them transition from exclusion and boredom to inclusion and fulfilment.

Henrietta Cozens, from St Catharine’s Church Gloucester, shares her story.

Henrietta says, “At the start of 2022, we wanted to help those with limited English living in the Kingsholm area by providing English conversation sessions one morning a week. We invited a couple of people, but instead four men turned up from another parish, having recently arrived from Iran and desperate to learn the language. So we pulled up some chairs and gave an impromptu English lesson.

“The next week word had got round and the number doubled. The week after, the number doubled again. Now we see a regular stream of some 30 to 50 people every week. We sit round tables of about eight people with a volunteer teacher and often a volunteer assistant too. We have two people from our worshipping community who are qualified ESOL teachers; we also have two people who were Bible translators overseas and were excited to volunteer their time to teach a language again. Then we have a wonderful individual called Roz, who GARAS sent our way. She started off as an observer, but now teaches too. Her table of learners from Central America say she is fantastic.

“Roz’s learners asked her if she knew of any volunteering they could do. She looked on an app called Next Door, and there was an opportunity that week with someone asking for volunteers to come and paint street railings.”

Next Door is a virtual hub bringing local communities, businesses and public services together. Its aim is to help local people get the most out of everything nearby.

Henrietta says, “Roz contacted the organiser and went along with her group of learners to paint the railings and make the area more beautiful. The lovely thing was that the man who had asked for volunteers treated them to fish and chips in their lunch break and also took them all to watch a firework display in Cheltenham. There are a lot of kind people out there. The same group were back the following week for a litter pick-up.”

From empty days to busy, fulfilling lives

“Some asylum seekers have now moved from very empty schedules to very busy ones – which is good. There is nothing worse than being alone in your room with nothing to do and no one to talk to, not being allowed to work and only the TV for company with constant pictures through news channels of the ongoing tragedies back home and the survivor guilt that comes with that.

“Others too in the city are welcoming. There are also English classes at St James’ Church, Trinity Baptist Church, Adult Education, and Roots Café. Friendship Café in Gloucester runs a cooking club once a week and they now borrow a minibus from Fair Shares community time banks, to transport those with limited mobility. Two women from Pakistan who are in my St Catherine’s English group go to the cooking club as well. It’s really nice to know they are being looked after in other settings. Meanwhile, Family Haven is being enjoyed by some parents with very young children. Longlevens Football Club have also run football sessions twice a week, which the men seemed to enjoy.

“There are plenty of opportunities to show kindness to those around us alongside decisions our governments make on global migration.”

 

More information about the community resources mentioned above:

Nextdoor

Fair Shares | Time Bank Resource Sharing Gloucestershire

Coffee Shop | The Friendship Cafe

Home – The Family Haven

 

Do you have a similar story to share? We’d love to hear it. Contact Âku.1716971114gro.c1716971114oidso1716971114lg@ne1716971114wok1716971114

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