Refugee Week 2019: A Weston Welcome!

By Hilary Gambling

Way back in 2017 I read an article in The Salvationist magazine written by Major Nick Coke where he talked about the desire within his Raynes Park Corps and community to do something practical to help those caught up in the Syrian Crisis. It was powerful stuff and at our Corps Leadership meeting I floated the idea that we, at Bristol Easton Corps explore the possibility of us becoming involved in this, too. A few weeks later Nick visited the corps and on a Thursday evening a large number of corps folk attended to hear more about this ‘Community Sponsorship’ thing!

We were off and running with enthusiasm – preparing skills lists and looking for property. While in the background we were able to continue meeting with other groups in the city and attending a variety of forums with council officers, the Home office and other groups within the South West, that elusive landlord and property never materialized. It seemed as though this wasn’t perhaps the path God was wanting us to follow… but, in His time, we got our property in the sunny seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. This is some way from Bristol but still commutable and many of our volunteer group are based in and around North Somerset. And so, a small but beautifully formed volunteer group came together. Our council have been brilliant but like many others their support workers are over stretched so having both streams ready to support the family has been ideal.

The Syrian family of 4 arrived on 24th April 2019: dad Khaled, mum Sanaa, son Anas (aged 5) and daughter Jana (aged 2). They came from living in one room in Lebanon which had a makeshift stove on the table and which regularly flooded with dirty water. Corps volunteers helped to make the house ready for occupation through decorating, gardening, furniture moving and of course, cleaning post renovation. We discovered ‘skills’ we never knew we had and actually built a new fence almost from scratch – it’s a very good fence and looks fabulous!

It’s early days for the family but so far we have supported them by taking them to health assessment appointments, the doctor, the dentist, assisting with benefits and childcare during these lengthy appointments and of course, familiarizing them with the local area. The nearest halal butcher we have been able to find even after talking with other members of the Muslim community in Weston, is in Bristol, so it was out pleasure to introduce the whole family to trains and riding on a train as we journeyed to the supermarket!

There has been lots of laughter as we both struggle to make ourselves understood – Google translate is great but can translate the oddest things at times. Explaining recycling was a challenge and we are still struggling to reach understanding, as far as we can tell, with the heating. Previous experience has shown that the families like to have the heating on high but have the doors and windows open and as we all know that costs! Anas has started school and is building up his time each day and that has been good for him and will help the family settle better into a routine. Jana will start nursery this coming week and mum and dad have started their English lessons – having struggled to learn much Arabic ourselves; we wish them the best!

This past Saturday saw the family meeting a larger number of folk from the corps – people who had helped with the house preparation, the support group and others who have shown a real interest. This was a good sized group – not too big to be intimidating but a great opportunity for the family to meet new friends and practice their English. The weather drowned out the planned BBQ but warm inside one of our members houses, we all shared food together. Our family are making friends – how wonderful that must be for them to be able to relax and speak their own language! They have built up a good number of new friends and they all shared together for Eid celebration. We count it a huge privilege to be with our family; to have brought them to a place of safety and to give them the opportunity of a good future is an honour and not something everyone has the chance to do. Many within our corps at Bristol Easton are not able to be involved in a physical sense, but they are interested to talk about the family and are looking forward to meeting up with them very soon.

Hilary Gambling is a member of Bristol Easton Salvation Army; she is the Treasurer and the Holiday Club leader and leads the Community Sponsorship Support Team.

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