21st November 2016
When I started volunteering with DASH (Destitute Asylum Seekers in Huddersfield) I was unsure what I could offer seeing I had no ESOL skills. When I was asked to work with Acts 435 for Dash I was thrilled to be of use, but especially when I understood how the organisation works. The idea that folks with nothing could have specific needs met by others whom they had never met, seemed a wonderful but simple way of bringing people together.
For the Dash folks it is really an unlooked-for Godsend. I have two stories.
When I first met Zanab, an elderly Somali woman with no family locally, she was living in a small room. I was asked to sit with her and help her when she was moved across town to a completely new area. She was so grateful for my presence. I found her to be a warm, friendly woman with humour, always saying thank you for everything she received. When I became an advocate, I immediately thought of her. She had no winter coat and walks for miles around a cold Yorkshire town. I explained that unknown people may be willing to give her money to buy a winter coat. She found it hard to believe, saying Thank you! Thank you! I then explained that it might not happen but she nevertheless carried on saying thank you. I was amazed how quickly people gave the money. It cheered me up at the end of a difficult day.
So we went shopping for a coat. What fun. She was like a child in a candy factory. Wanting to try on this coat, that coat, all coats. It was such a special thing for someone who never goes shopping for new anything. She is a large lady and so the choice was limited but she found something that she really liked. It had ‘fur’ round the collar and she kept nuzzling into it and pulling the coat around her. Her smile was from here to infinity! Thank you! Thank you! I like! Lovely lovely! S warm! Thank you, thank you! Then she wanted to go immediately to Dash foregoing a cuppa so she could show her friends there. What joy, what help to keep her warm, what a demonstration of love for a stranger.
The second story is about an Eritrean man who has wife and 3 children. He is not allowed to live with them or support them. Asylum seekers must not work while waiting for Home Office approval to remain. In his culture it is unheard of. A man always works to support his family. But, despite all the difficulties, his loss of status as a father, he remains dignified, hopeful and patient. Last summer his 6 year old son asked him to take them on holiday. Obviously he could not do that but he started trying to find ways to take him out for the day. Nothing came up. When I met him it struck me how very hard it is not to be able to treat your child (especially as my great joy is treating my grandchildren). A day at a museum, educational as well as family time, seemed very little but meant a huge amount. His son is interested in science and planes. And so I hesitantly suggested you might be willing to fund such a day for him. He found it hard to believe. Again I told him it might not happen as was unsure whether folks would see it as meeting a need in the face of so many other needs. Nothing happened immediately and we both settled down to be patient. The news came through when we least expected it. It was wonderful. It meant so much to Benyam an encouraged many others. And so they went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. They went on the train and had a wonderful time exploring together as a family, like so many other families at half term. Being ordinary at times seems impossible, but you gave him the opportunity to do just that.
For myself, I have found the generosity and love behind these gifts that allow ordinary people to do things we can easily take for granted, has given me a new lease of ‘faith life’ after a difficult period. Thank you for the joy you have given to Benyam, Zanab and me.