For this week’s post, I thought I’d write about our Fresh Start Companionship project – an initiative aimed at pairing-up volunteers with newly-arrived individuals, offering a listening ear, assistance with English, and most of all a companion to walk alongside them as they begin their new lives here. The Director of the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Sabir Zazai, is himself a refugee from Afghanistan, and says that: “For me, the most important factor helping me to feel settled was the warm welcome I received, and human companionship. It made me feel as though I belonged here; no longer an outsider, but a citizen who belongs.”
I have built an excellent relationship over the past 18 months with a Syrian man called Dilbren, who I met through one of my English classes. He was resettled in the UK with his family in November 2015, and since then the two of us have spent a lot of time together; he’s a massive Real Madrid supporter, and (as shown in the picture above!), we’ve shared quite a few evenings in pubs watching them on the TV! I’ve also been able to help him to navigate challenges such as the driving theory test, explaining the meaning of certain words/phrases if he was struggling – he says that this has been invaluable, as the car has given him so much more freedom.
But more than anything, what me and Dilbren have is friendship. I often pop round to his house for a cuppa, and we just spend time chatting, watching TV, talking politics, watching Mr Bean…Yep, that’s right; Mr Bean. Mr Bean is apparently massive in Syria, and there’s no better way to unwind after an English class than to sit around and have a laugh together. Slightly more seriously, we’ve also had many chats about faith: Dilbren is a Muslim and truly believes that Islam holds the fullest revelation of God; yet he also has an enormous amount of respect for Christians, and says that the kindness shown to him by Christians since he’s arrived here has been incredible. Through these discussions, we’ve both learned that we have far more in common than divides us, yet have also talked about these divisions openly and respectfully in an attitude of building greater understanding.
It’s not always been easy, and in the early days I’m sure I put my foot in it a few times. But by persevering in spending time together, we have built a hugely-improbable friendship.
I want to stress at this point that our friendship is not a one-way street (though I perhaps arrogantly approached our friendship with an “I’m going to help you” attitude); but is one that I gain so much from. He is a man of real wisdom, and has given me lots of advice – based on what he’s learned – on how to build a successful and lasting marriage even in the worst of circumstances. He’s also taught and challenged me so much about hospitality – if I know I’m going to his for dinner, I won’t bother with lunch (or possibly even breakfast!) as I know that him and his wife will bless me so abundantly.
If you are interested in wanting to do something similar, you can apply to volunteer with us through our “Fresh Start Companions” initiative. The Volunteer Application Form can be found here . Or if you want to find out more about our work, please do drop me an email on: Matt.Robinson@CovCofE.org