“I was abandoned by the system, I was neglected and I don’t know how to move forward. So when I came I found each volunteer trying to put in their best effort to welcome me with my name, which in itself is a source of comfort. Each time, each encounter gives me strength to fight for my life.”
I was touched by these words from Han, one of our refugee friends, as they really captured our work to accompany refugees and people seeking asylum. Han is one of our friends whom we welcome into our weekly Day Centre. People come throughout the day – some staying for 5 minutes, but many others staying for an hour or more sharing lunch and conversation. It brings great joy to hear the clatter of cutlery and the laughter of friends meeting together. Alongside a hot lunch and practical help, our Day Centre offers access to a series of activities and accompaniment throughout the week: gospel choir, drama workshops, bicycle training and English classes to name a few!
These activities have immense benefits for those who participate; they help our refugee friends to discover a new hobby, practice skills and offers the opportunity for their talents to flourish. This is extremely important when considering most of our refugee friends are denied the right to work and the chance to contribute fully to society.
Alongside the outward purpose of the activities themselves, whether it be to sing or act in a play, these also play a much deeper, more meaningful role in our friends’ lives; they can be places of sharing stories and coming together to support one another and to feel united. Raymond is a friend of JRS for five years and has taken part in a wide range of activities such as the choir and drama groups. For him, these activities are “an opportunity for us to meet, to share our stories, share the situations that we face. And we are able to lift, if there is a need to lift one up.”
The importance of these activities cannot be overstated. At JRS UK we strive above all to see the person in front of us as a whole human being; somebody with talents, skills and interests whose identity is not simply their legal status. In the words of Han, who attends the Choir each week: “the Home Office has identified me as a person with no purpose in life. When you don’t have a legal status that is what people attach to you and that is why you are isolated.” For Han, the JRS Refugee Choir serves to counter this isolation and detachment, “It rejuvenates the mind, soul […] I find it very inspiring and it is calming, a sort of stress reliever. It encourages me to face challenges in life, [because it is gospel song.] It motivates and it is very inspiring to move forward in life.”
It is wonderful to witness the joy on our friends’ faces when they perform as part of our Choir and Drama groups in front of an audience – be it large or small. It reminds me of the importance of having a platform where everyone’s unique gifts and voices are recognized and cherished; a space of warmth and welcome that can counter the hostility our refugee friends experience on a daily basis.
We are living in times that often feel dark, challenging and full of despair; an environment deliberately framed as ‘hostile’; government policies aimed at disrupting, detaching and isolating some of the most vulnerable people. It is up to us to create and foster a counterculture of love, acceptance and togetherness. There is so much more to this than merely attending to people’s most basic needs; what often makes a difference is how we allow someone not just to survive but to flourish.
We aim to create such spaces for our refugee friends through the activities we run at JRS UK. Whether it is through singing, acting or learning a language, our friends can share with us a part of who they are and what makes them unique. We are enriched by every encounter with them and we come together each week to create something new and full of hope.
We are only to offer activities, such as choir and drama, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. With your help we can continue to accompany Han, Raymond and our refugee friends in a spirit of hospitality of welcome.