Refugee Week 2019: In their eyes…

By Major Gordon Cotterill

In his eyes…

I looked into his eyes and I saw why we had invested so much of ourselves into this project. “Thank you thank you thank you….”, we were at the airport and the Syrian family we will be sponsoring were with us in arrivals. The boys were beyond themselves with happiness. Jamal looks at his family and then me and  whispers ‘thank you’.

Communicating through google translate Jamal reads my message, “we are looking forward to sharing life with you”, he looks up at me, tears well up. Full of emotion Jamal speaks into the phone and shows me the translation, “nothing I can say will let you know how grateful we are… we are safe”.

Out in the garden, high above an EasyJet Airbus banks and changes direction, the engines whine in protest, Jamal violently sucks in air, ducks and looks at me with eyes of terror. For a moment hope cowered. I try to reassure but sense the indelible memories of a life only seen by me on the BBC. With a sharp exhale of relief the moment is gone,  and I recognise what we have done through Community Sponsorship. 

Tonight a family sleep safely in a home lovingly prepared by a church I am immensely proud. Tomorrow is the first day of a new life for us all!

In her eyes…

Three years of planning, form filling, team building. Three years of fund raising, house buying, permission seeking. Three years of anticipation, emotion, excitement and the moment had arrived, suddenly our passport photograph family were stood with us. Suddenly Community Sponsorship was more than an idea, a project, more than names, this was real. 

Beyond the chaos of suitcase upon suitcase upon suitcase and translated hellos was Rana. Below her perfect hijab, were mother eyes beyond tiredness, telling an unimaginable story. What does it take to choose an uncertain future, to trust her family to passport photographs? Everything for this moment risked, Gatwick her portal from a life known to a life unknown. Certainty, albeit fragmented, gone. Heavy, grey eyes reflect belongings and loved ones left behind for an unshaped dream. 

Bewildered she trusts and we leave. 

Not a week later she explains, “for many months I have not slept, who are these people? Only photos and names”. 

We’re eating, sharing, laughing. Two cultures collide to create something new over chicken shawarma,  tabbouleh, yogurt and sweet sweet coffee. The room dominated by our welcome sign, a comforting reminder, an art installation of  corporate love. Her eyes now different. She laughs, her head rolls back and the room is full of joy. The faceless greyness of uncertainty replaced with the beauty and deep colours of hope.

Gordon Cotterill is the Corps Officer at Sutton Salvation Army. You can read more of Gordon’s reflections on his blog Urban Army.

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