All posts by LAadmin

Work with us!

An opportunity has arisen for two part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioners with youth and play work experience to join our small staff team & volunteers to organise our “Meet & Greet Project” for newly arrived asylum – seeking families with children plus other isolated asylum – seeking adults with children.

If you are interested in this opportunity please apply via Charity Job here.

See here for more information: BIRCH JD M&G Oct 2019 BLF

We’re ‘Happy to Host’ …

Saturday 13th July saw the introduction of the ‘Happy to Host’ Convention organised by NACCOM.

Taking place at Amnesty’s Human Rights Centre, in London, around 80 individuals from NACCOM’s hosting communities signed up to attend the conference. Gathering from all over the UK, those who took part in the event brought their different experiences and insights of participating in hosting. Whether they had experience hosting a vulnerable individual or were guests who had experience being supported by a host, or staff from organisations supporting hosting projects the event enabled like-minded discussion to be made and valuable networking.

The convention began with a thoughtful panel discussion on what hosting is like. The panel consisted of two guests (Asadullah Kohistan and Betty Johnson) and two experienced hosts (Jane Henson and Carol Munro). The panel was hosted by the quick-witted Nico Ndlovu. A variety of workshop events were held throughout the day and delicious vegan lunch was provided by Won Tegegn and the Ethiopic Kitchen. I attended two workshop events, The global refugee situation hosted by London-based Senior External Relations Office from UNHCR Matthew Saltmarsh, and Self-care, Vicarious Trauma and boundaries by Psychologist and practising Psychotherapist, Mirjam Thullesen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hilarious comedy entertainment was also organised after lunch by stand up comedians No Direction Home. As well as, an enthralling talk by Zrinka Bralo, from Migrants Organise on speaking out for change and taking leaps in life to make a difference. Zrinka also made light of the growing campaign, Patients Not Passports, which seeks to advocate for migrants who face a range of challenges when needing to seek NHS care. Including financial charges which they cannot afford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to know how you can get involved with hosting-related activities, visit the  NACCOM website https://naccom.org.uk/. Alternatively, look into your local charities like Birch!

 

Some information from the global refugee situation workshop (UNHCR):

  • Refugees and migrants have different rights…
  • An asylum seeker is someone seeking refugee status. There were around 3.5 million asylum applications pending at the end of 2018 (globally).
  • In 2018, 71 million people were forcibly displaced around the world. 25.9 million of those are refugees.
  • 37,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict/ persecution.
  • Turkey is currently the largest host of refugees in the world. 3.7 million refugees currently inhabit Turkey.
  • There is an ongoing crisis in Venezuela, four million individuals have left due to the deteriorating political, socioeconomic and human rights conditions.
  • The Rohingya people (stateless) continue to receive systematic persecution by the Rakhine State.
  • Syria is now in its eighth year of the war. More than half of the Syrian population have been displaced. Neighbouring countries have begun to show unwelcoming attitudes towards the Syrian refugees. However 75% of those who left Syria intent to return when it is safe.
  • The controversy of Libya’s power and detention centres continues. It is estimated that 5,400 refugees and migrants are being held in Libyan detention centres.
  • South Sudan, is currently the third-largest humanitarian crisis after Syria and Afghanistan. However, projects in South Sudan are significantly underfunded.
  • In the UK, there are an estimated 121,000 refugees. In 2018, there were 29,380 asylum applications made. The UK is also the third-largest resettlement country in the world following Canada and the USA.
  • A record 27,256 cases are still pending an initial decision by the UK Home Office which continues to leave people anxiously waiting and in a “limbo” state.

 

 

 

Esther Bakari.

Birch’s Sponsored Night Bus Ride!

Last Friday, nine members of our Birch community embarked on a sponsored night bus ride fundraiser to raise money for Birch’s hosting project. Our hosting project seeks to accommodate destitute and homeless refugees and asylum-seekers. 

Who? ‘The Night Riders’ consisted of David Hirst, Andy Jolly, Louise Kinsella, Esther Bakari, Abraham Silcott, Margeret Murray, Danny, Maggie Le Mare and Nas Popalzi. As well as Mandy Ross and Glenys Thomas who took part in a daytime bus ride.

 

What? The group gathered at 10:30 pm at the newly opened Mix Cafe, a community cafe located in the Old Prints Works, Balsall Heath. Complimentary (delicious) food and hot drinks were provided by the staff at the Mix. The group also got to a chance to see the beautiful exhibition currently showing at the  GAP projects which has been created by artist Haseebah Ali

         

 

 

 

12 am: smiles and enthusiasm as the group set out onto the 50 bus to Druids Heath with the intention of staying on to go back-round into the city centre. 

 

12: 42 am: after arriving at Druids Heath on the 50 bus, the bus driver announced that it was his final journey and wouldn’t be going back to the city centre. A slight detour was made as the group walked from Druids Heath to Maypole to catch a bus into the city centre. The temperature had dropped by this time yet the company and conversation were warm.

 

At around 1:55 am: the group arrived in the city centre from Maypole. A short walk from the 50 bus stop to the X1. Surprisingly, the city centre was quiet – no late party-goers or aggressive individuals. 

 

2:07 am: the group boarded the X1 (limited stop) to Birmingham Airport. Perhaps a strange look or two from the bus driver as all nine of us keenly boarded. 

 

2:49 am: the group arrived at Birmingham Airport. Almost halfway through the night bus ride. A break was needed, we headed for Costa coffee. The airport was quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At around 3:50 am: the group left Birmingham Airport heading for Birmingham City Centre. The journey from this point was unclear. Maggie distributed her tasty homemade Parkin which went down a treat!                                                                               Whilst on the X1, amid the low fog that could be seen on planes of some parks the group also witnessed the gradual colour change of the night sky into the warm morning colours. 

 

After arriving back into the city centre, the group gathered at the X1 bus stop to decide the next steps. The group chose to board the X1 again back to the Airport. The bus driver overhearing parts of the discussion didn’t quite understand what we were doing (or why). Again a strange look.

For the group, a small decision to make. Unfortunately, for those who really have to make this decision regularly in order to get shelter, it’s a different story entirely. 

Many migrants in the UK struggle to gain recognition as refugees or have their right to stay recognised must live in painfully difficult circumstances. Asylum seekers are barred from working and after an initial asylum claim is refused, the very basic government support they have to live on is cut off. Many of those who have fled here for safety are made destitute, pushed into homelessness, and left with no way to meet their basic needs.

The destitution of ‘refused asylum seekers’ and other migrants with ‘no recourse to public funds’ is a deliberate aim of government policy. There is a myriad of policy and legal instruments that make it increasingly difficult for undocumented migrants to meet their basic needs and more and more day-to-day activities for them. This is the ‘hostile environment’ which we have heard so much about recently in the media

The hostile environment operates on several levels so that undocumented migrants are increasingly trapped in a tightening web. On the one hand, it bars them from accessing the very things they need to survive. On the other, it seeks to exert maximal and unaccountable control over them: policies render it harder and harder for undocumented migrants to gain recognition as refugees or other types of leave to remain and hold out the continual threat of detention and removal into danger.

 

Arriving at Birmingham Airport for a second time, the scene was completely different. There were busy passengers and impatient families at the check-in. 

 

At 4:51 am: weary, the group departed from Birmingham Airport to the city centre. 

 

At around 5:30 am: exhausted and fatigued the group arrived back into the city centre on the X1 from the Birmingham Airport. By this time, the sun had risen brilliantly and the city appeared to come back to life again. A few members of the group yearning for their beds departed early whilst the others grouped for a well-deserved Maccies breakfast.

 

It was a success!

 

Thanks: to everyone who helped out to organise the event (HELEN HIBBERD), the staff at the Mix Cafe (Kerry and Arron!);  Jane Thakoordin for being on standby (in case anyone wanted to leave early); and the Birmingham night bus drivers who we came across (and for all those we didn’t, thank you. Without them there would be no 24-hour bus services’ which acts a shelter for many vulnerable individuals).

 

So far we’ve raised £2700! A massive thank you to everyone who has donated so far! Don’t worry, there is still a chance to donate if you haven’t: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/displayEventDetails.action?eventId=32704 

Alternatively, you can share this link with your friends and family!

 

Birch is also organising a fundraiser event with LushSpa in Solihull on Saturday  6th and Sunday 7th July 2019 to raise money for the Hosting project.  For more information contact: david@birchnetwork.org

LUSH also made a short film regarding our hosting project http://player.lush.com/channels/times/tv/behind-headlines-seeking-asylum-spare-room

 

What will your donation help to do? 

Last year we:

 

  • provided 2186 nights of accommodation to people experiencing destitution 
  • accommodated 14 individuals through the Hosting Network
  • had twelve volunteer community hosts/families on our books, nine of these families provided accommodation during the year to individuals who found themselves destitute with nowhere else to go
  • supported 12 destitute asylum seekers and two undocumented migrants (applying for visas).

 

Outcomes for guests were varied: three guests moved to other voluntary sector provision; two guests moved on to Section 4 Home Office accommodation due to the progression of their Home Office applications; one guest claimed asylum and moved into Section 95 accommodation, another finally got her residency visa after a long wait; one guest received Leave to Remain; a long term guest is awaiting the outcome of a lengthy residence application after the Home Office admitted in writing that they had lost all her application paperwork (https://www.facebook.com/groups/IAmEsther/). 

Two guests were taken into local authority accommodation (one being an unaccompanied care leaver). Four remaining guests had ongoing placements into the next period, and are preparing further representations.

Since we were established in April 2011 BIRCH hosts have now provided 13,054 nights of accommodation to people who would have been otherwise been made homeless and destitute. 

 

 

 

Esther Bakari

Work with us!

An opportunity has arisen for a part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioner – Family Befriending Project, to join our small team working 22 hours a week on a fixed term 12 month contract with a likely extension to 24 months.

If you are interested in this opportunity please send a CV and covering letter to lizzy@birchnetwork.org by Wed 5th June 2019 midnight.

See here for more information: BIRCH JD FB May 2019

Sponsored Night Bus Ride!

BIRCH Sponsored Night Bus Ride 2019

Friday 21st June 2019       

Join our sponsored night bus ride team to raise money for our hosting project for destitute refugees and asylum seekers

What’s involved?

We are asking volunteers to ride Birmingham’s buses throughout the night from 10:30pm, in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers who face destitution and can end up street homeless. You will ride
a variety of buses across Birmingham and ask friends/family/supporters to sponsor you to do so. All funds will go towards our hosting project and will help more asylum seekers move out of destitution.
If you are interested, please call Helen on 07709645097 or email us here

You can join our team of night bus riders here

If you would like to donate to our hosting project and support our night bus riders, please donate here

Work with us!

An opportunity has arisen for a part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioner – Family Befriending Project, to join our small team working 22 hours a week on a fixed term 12 month maternity cover contract.

If you are interested in this opportunity please send a CV and covering letter to lizzy@birchnetwork.org by the Friday 26th April 2019.

See here for more information: BIRCH JD FB April 2019 Mat Cover

Upcoming volunteer training

Family befriending and community hosting training
This training is aimed at anyone who might be interested in finding out more about BIRCH’s Family Befriending and Hosting projects and are thinking about volunteering for one of the projects.

 

 

 

When: Sat 16th March 2019
Where: Friends of the Earth, The Warehouse, 54-57 Allison Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5TH
Time: 9.45-16.00

The plan for the day is as follows:

Morning – tea/coffee etc Introductions, ice-breakers, hopes and fears, background to BIRCH’s activities

Mid-morning: background information on where do refugees come from, the asylum process, key terms/jargon, what is destitution, and cultural awareness sessions.

Lunch – buffet lunch will be provided

Afternoon – Q & A with current BIRCH befriender/host
Discussion about the needs of refugees, expectations and qualities we look for in volunteers, boundaries and guidance.
Revisit hopes and fears and final questions.

If you would be interested in coming or have any questions or queries, please contact Helen on 07709645097 or helen@birchnetwork.org

Nas can stay!

Context: Like many within the Birch community, last month I discovered that Nas Popalzia had been granted Leave to Remain, for 5 years as a refugee! A long-awaited achievement which took a collaborative effort from Nas, his befriender Jane Thakoordin ;and dedicated individuals from ASIRT and Migrant Voice networks. In a time where the Home Office’s decisions are undoubtedly questionable; I thought it crucial to sit down with Nas and Jane in order to share their story of success and great friendship.

A photo of Nas and Jane

From being in their presence for a few minutes, I naturally assumed that they had been good friends for years. To my surprise, Nas and Jane had only met in July last year. They met when Nas was sharing his story for the first time in front of an audience, at the Ikon gallery in Birmingham,  for Refugee Week. Regardless of this, both of them agreed that it felt as though they had known each other for a lot longer. Jane who attended the event with her husband Paul, mentioned that “What was so powerful about that event was, it was an event for Migrant week. And people were asked to come along and talk about their involvement in organisations that support refugees/ asylum seekers…. then of course Nas got up … and Nas told his story… Nas was the exact epitome of all the things people were talking about. He was the face of those people. Not a distant person”.

When deciding to start his campaign Nas came across infamous stories of the Windrush generation. Nas felt encouraged to share his story and stand up against injustice due to the way the windrush generation had been treated. Nas got in contact with Migrant Voice and they began to support Nas throughout his campaign. In particular, Nas said multiple times, that he is grateful for the support and friendship of Salman Mirza from Migrant Voice.

Prior to speaking at the Ikon, Nas tells me that he wasn’t in a good place at that time. Roughly in March/ April of last year Nas had been refused asylum. From my understanding this was the sixth time (yes six!) that Nas had been wrongfully refused. “I didn’t know what was happening, it was hurting me and those people (the Home Office) saying that there is a law in this country, but the law doesn’t apply to them”. Rightfully, Nas feared leaving his friends behind and the life that he had built in Birmingham. “All I know is here”. Born in a small village called Urozgan, North of Kandahar in Afghanistan. Nas lived in Kabul for three months when his mother handed him to a smuggler. He could speak the language but Nas could not write or read. He didn’t know anyone and he was worried about getting work. Since coming to the UK, as a minor,  age 14, Birmingham has been Nas’ home.

A significant factor as to why Jane decided to support Nas is because she discovered that he is only a month older than her eldest daughter – Nas turned 23 on February 1st. “If the situation had been different, if it had been her (Jane’s daughter) in the situation; coming to a new country with a whole different set of difficulties and challenges. I would wish that there would be somebody like me looking out for her”.  Eventually, Jane and her husband began befriending Nas through Birch, whilst helping him run his campaign.

Jane has been involved with Birch for several years having previously befriended a young Iranian man. She has also been able to use her experience as a befriender to train others who have shown an interest in befriending. Jane is also a freelance artist and a part-time mental health social worker. Though Jane’s family background has been in advocating against social injustices. Furthermore, Nas mentions that it was Jane who suggested that he should volunteer at  Birch’s Meet and Greet project. He now regularly volunteers at the sessions: he helps bring newly arrived asylum seekers from a nearby hostel (initial accommodation centre) to the Meet and Greet, where lunch and activities are hosted. Nas can also speak several languages including Pashto therefore he acts as translator for those coming from the hostel who cannot speak english.

We began discussing the campaign, both Jane and Nas were keen on emphasising that it was a collaborative effort. Jane affirmed that the campaign wouldn’t have been successful without the maximum input of everyone involved; “When we all put our skills together, we all worked really brilliantly”. Although, Nas says that in the beginning he had lost his confidence and had been feeling stressed -“I lost hope”. Nas also mentions that at times, during the campaign he felt emotional and it was hard to repeat his story to different audiences. Sometimes Nas would have to speak 3 or 4 times a day and he was required to commute on his own to different venues. He even appealed to different MPs who refused to take action on his behalf because he wasn’t apart of their constituency.

Moreover, Nas touches on the tragic stories that he knows of long-lost friends from the Afghanistan community who had been in the asylum process for so long that they gave up and went ‘underground’. “They end up on the street, with no support and that’s why it’s a kind of punishment. What the guys decide to do is to go underground and work with some criminals”. He further mentions that these individuals will end up getting exploited and employed for as low as £2. Nas had feared that he too would end up in a similar situation.                                                                                                                                            Yet despite this, Nas calmly says that during the campaign he did what he needed to do and what was asked from him. “It was a good experience, I learnt a lot, about the campaign and I actually learnt from people about helping people… It was good, a good campaign”. Jane also recognised that it was hard for Nas at times, she was worried that he may get pulled in different directions for people’s own purposes. Jane believes that is was down to having “a small group of committed people at the core” surrounding Nas during the campaign who enabled him to keep grounded.

Towards the end of the interview, I was curious to know whether Jane felt as though she ever needed to separate campaign life from her personal life. “I think it all just blends in together really. I couldn’t imagine Nas not being a part of our family life, and Nas can come and go when he pleases. I wouldn’t put expectations on him… He’s a part of that family unit”. Jane goes on further to say that Salman Mirza and herself want to make sure that Nas gets the “absolute best out of life” – whatever Nas decides to do in future.

Finally, I asked Jane and Nas, what one thing they admire about each other. Jane responded sincerely “I admire his spirit and personality really, he’s just a very good nice person”. It took Nas a while to respond “If I start now it’s going to take at least one hour”. However, as Jane stepped out the room, he continued “If I could give her a Nobel Peace Prize award, I would give her one, to Jane and Salman. Whatever they can do they will do for you”.

A flyer from Nas’s campaign

A big thank you to Nas and Jane for letting me interview them and write this blog piece. I know if we’d gone into more detail, I could probably write a book about their experiences. Congratulations to Nas for getting his stay!

https://www.change.org/p/sajid-nas-must-stay/u/23891942?recruiter=13187484&utm_source=share_update&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3TEXyourzM9lpSthm9-wDwZ1KKfspOWAPo-XTPj7UBdtzcbvE1ypzHQrE

Also congratulations to end deportations, Stansted 15! https://freedomnews.org.uk/breaking-no-jail-for-stansted-15/?fbclid=IwAR1580N7nIFh8liNSup0MW8GreO7Wq6EzcLEz7g1EXE5qAhAAMe0msyZ8xE

The Voices of the Workers

Happy New Year everyone! We have all had a safe and positive festive season. We wish that 2019 brings you good health and well-being.
As you get inundated by the idea that the New Year is for fresh starts and as everyone begins to ask you what your ‘New Year’s resolutions’ are; the focus of the blog this month will be from the Birch employees and volunteers perspective. The Voices of the Workers. It’s safe to say that Birch would not be what it is now, and growing, without it’s employees and volunteers. As a charity, whether it be conscious or unconscious, it echoes compassion from its core. That compassion which also lies within the hearts of those who choose to work in any capacity for Birch.

Photo of David Hirst

I had the pleasure of recently coming across one of these compassionate souls. We discussed his role at Birch and his life from the perspective of someone who works for the charity. David Hirst, has been working with asylum-seekers and refugees for the past 10 years. He joined the Birch team in Autumn 2015 following a large influx of the public wanting to host a “Syrian refugee”. Since then David has immersed himself into Birch’s projects, from tending to host-guest relationships to coordinating the Family Befriending and continues to help organise the weekly Meet and Greet session for newly arrived families. Although having spent thirty years working as a Youth and Community Worker, David acknowledges that he hasn’t had any specialist background knowledge surrounding the refugee and asylum-seeking sector. He learnt the majority of what he now knows whilst on the job and through experiences.

During our chat, David explained that some of the major reasons resulting in the public’s interest in hosting stemmed from the media coverage of the Syrian civil war. In particular, he mentioned the shocking image of a Kurdish toddler drowned and washed up on a shore in Turkey. This image swept the nation and motivated the public to seek information about ways they could help refugees and asylum seekers. However, David believes that things have changed since then and people have become almost desensitized to the ongoing news of refugees fleeing war and persecution. In addition, he pointed out that this loss of public enthusiasm has been exacerbated by the Home Office’s “Hostile Environment” policy. This policy seeks to restrict undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from employment, receiving benefits, renting a property, obtaining a driving licence as well fostering general antipathy against those seeking sanctuary through political statements in the media. Despite this, David highlighted that he has been overwhelmed by the high percentage of those still interested in hosting schemes and family befriending.

Furthermore, I discussed with David what his thoughts were on the government since working within the refugee sector. He acknowledged some occasions where he was made aware of the “unsympathetic side of the Home Office”. A sadness filled my heart when he brought to light that there is a great stress and strain put on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers as a result of their contact with the Home Office. David mentions the mental health pressures that can arise in refugees from harsh encounters with the Home Office and quite often refugees and asylum seekers are unsupported, left to face them alone.

This led to me question David on the pressures he feels as someone working alongside these vulnerable people. He was very open about occasionally finding himself being emotionally involved those he supports. Especially, the younger adults, who I suppose look up to David and see him as a friendly and respectable figure. He mentions that being in such a profession, it’s not unusual for individuals to take on a lot of work. Although, he finds it is necessary to intermittently take breaks in order to “recharge the batteries” as the job can get “quite upsetting”. David raised an important point about the employees finding the best way to be supported when they take on a lot of emotional baggage. It appears to be quite easy for work to converge with home/personal life. David has said there needs to be a balance between the two. Though he can often find that if the phone rings and a destitute asylum seeker is in need of somewhere to stay, he will drop everything and try to help “but it comes with the territory” he said modestly.

Towards the end of our discussion, it only seemed right for me to ask David about the happy moments he has found working within the refugee sector. “Apart from being Father Christmas” he grins… David enjoys helping to facilitate the weekly Meet and Greet session. This is a collaborative project with colleagues employed by the Children Society, which aims to host activities and creative workshops for newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees, in particular the families. David explained “Our visitors come from what’s called the initial accommodation centre. Where people first, when they claim asylum, that’s where they are first housed before they’re dispersed. All over the country sometimes. These people can often stay in the hostel for up to 2 months, sometimes shorter”.

Finally, I asked David if there was one piece of advice you could give yourself 10 years ago when you started the job what would it be? And why? I think we both laughed at the question. I could see from his face this wouldn’t be an easy one to answer, and he almost gave up. But in the end he spoke about the balance of being a friendly professional or being a professional friend – “Sometimes you need to be aware of this, sometimes you need to just hold back a bit, because you want to help people… it’s a difficult thing”.

I’d like to thank David for taking the time to be so honest and open about his experiences and job role.

My first experience as a guest

This is the second instalment in the “Journeys” series! This entry is from a current guest living with a host family.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

I don’t think I really understood it… I mean, maybe I understood it but I hadn’t really internalised it. I think experiences like this change you… From being a guest in someone’s home, then that home becoming your home and then the people in that home becoming like… family. Even if it’s for a short period of time, you change.                                                                                    Why would you let complete strangers into your home?                                                                                                                 We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?

I got used to the idea of ‘home’ being wherever I lay my head at night. Temporary accommodation after temporary accommodation, I think we’d moved about 11 times by the time I was 18 years old. You learn to adapt but the world seems harsher and harsher. You hear stories about people migrating for years seeking refuge in unmerciful countries; being refused asylum over and over again, waiting for – Of course I had thought about going back. We have some family over there and the weather’s better. But it’s never that easy.  So the world is harsh and my spirits were broken.  I remember being tired because I had taken my suitcases with me on two bus trips to get to their house. It’s funny how I hadn’t got used to carrying my suitcases across long distances by now, I had done it countless times before. The area was familiar, I was certain I had taken the bus past it a couple of times. Walking up to the hosts’ house, I don’t think I would describe them as nerves, although I had been prone to bad anxiety. But I wasn’t exactly scared. I tried my best to keep an open mind, to not have any prejudgment – just neutral thoughts. We’ve been through worse, how much worse could this be?                                                 

I think it took awhile for me to really settle, I found myself confused at first by the eating times and when my host would say “help yourself to anything”. Honestly, I hadn’t seen a fridge that full in a long time. And it continued to be full, so were the cupboards and the pantry. Help yourself to anything I think after a year with my host and her family I still hadn’t really grasped at the sheer peak of human generosity that had been bestowed upon me. At the beginning I don’t think I spent much time at the house; I remember feeling quite shy around everyone. I was sceptical of where to be around the house at times, whether or not I was just subject to my room. It’s funny because I don’t consider myself to be a shy a person at all.  The children reminded me of my nieces, but more well-behaved than my nieces; their excitement and energy always uplifted my mood. I think from the beginning I was always bound to get along with my host. We have similar views about the world and she was a vegetarian (like myself) attempting to be a vegan in a house full of keen carnivores. We’d discuss her sneaky attempts to gradually convert the family to herbivores and find humour in her failed attempts. She began to encourage me to start cooking and baking. I was finding my confidence again. During religious holidays and fasting the family were completely respectful and cautious of my well-being. They’re not particularly religious but aim to acknowledge the beauty and value of all backgrounds. I’ll always be grateful for them and grateful they allowed me into their home.