Thank you for reading! This blog post, an entry from a current BIRCH host will act as the first in a series of “Journey” blogs. This is where we will share the stories of those involved in the BIRCH community, from Hosts to Guests to Befrienders and volunteers. The aim for these blogs is give you a taste of what BIRCH does!
*For purposes of identity we have decided to use pseudonyms to protect privacy*
It doesn’t seem long since our first nervous foray into hosting. Saraf, we were told, only needed a room for a month while she awaited a place in a house for destitute women. A month! – only a month surely, however difficult it was we could cope for a month! We had only signed up for short-term hosting. With relatively young children a woman felt safest. Lizzy, who coordinated and supported Birch’s hosts would bring Saraf round to meet us and then all parties could have a little time to decide before proceeding. My son was too young, but we had asked my daughter’s views early on about hosting; she said it would be okay “as long as they aren’t sad”. I realised this reflected one of my fears. Would our home be filled with the sadness that anyone who feels forced to flee their country of origin must carry? Was it too much to ask that their sadness be at least partly contained?
We’d done the day’s training – some facts still fresh: Did you know that by far the greatest majority of the world’s refugees flee to neighbouring countries, who are themselves struggling with poverty and instability? We knew Saraf was from Guinea in West Africa; a quick Google: no major conflicts but plenty fled particularly young women. Our training had taught us not to ask about guests circumstances, potentially such traumatic ones. That advice felt a relief too, I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with hearing the details of the traumas that many seeking asylum have gone through.
The doorbell. One of our children hides the other runs into my arms, probably picking up on my anxiety. Lizzy walks in followed by Saraf. Our eyes meet and in the exchange of nervous smiles my fears subside and I know it’s going to be okay. Of course there were practical arrangements to iron out: We sometimes ate together; the “let’s just all be veggie” solution to a Halal diet in the family suits me well, but not so my husband! Saraf offered to cook on the days I worked later. My husband was nervous but after discussions about his preferences and a trip to the Halal butcher, he enjoys the chicken dishes that Saraf prepares. With encouragement Saraf talks about the foods native to Guinea that she loves and how they would cook outside.
I wondered how Saraf would feel about witnessing our easy life – perhaps a stark contrast with the life she had led in Africa? But Saraf is thoughtful and careful and only once during our stay am I reminded of how different things must have been for her in her early life: As I caution my son for getting mud on his clothes “Mummy’s got enough washing to do!”, Saraf just says one word “Washing?” I suddenly realise that piling clothes in and out of an automatic machine really isn’t washing them! But later that day as the sun shines down on our “automatically cleaned” clothes on the line, I hear much giggling from the bottom of the garden. The children have persuaded Saraf onto the trampoline for her first bounce ever time where all 3 are greatly amused by her uncontrolled antics.
How lovely to be sharing our good fortune !
I have just started working for BIRCH on their Family Befriending Project and we are currently looking for volunteers to join our scheme. Would you or someone you know be willing to host a young refugee (aged 16-25) in your home once a week or fortnight to help them feel welcome in Birmingham? Most of the young refugees we work with have no family in the UK and can be quite isolated, befriending is a way to reduce their isolation and also introduce them to new areas and activities, as well as introducing volunteers to new cultures and experiences.
One of our current volunteers had this to say:
“Grace has been coming about twice a month since October. She comes for food and we have practiced reading, written Christmas cards and played badminton. She loves playing games particularly Rumicub. We play the radio whilst playing games and she is a big Lionel Richie fan. She cooked for us some traditional Angolan food one evening and it was lovely to see how relaxed she was. She is a bright young lady with much potential.” (names have been changed)
To find our more contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in an Family Befriending Application Form 2018
An opportunity has arisen for a part-time Refugee and Migrant Support Practitioner to join our small team working 7 hours a week until 31 December 2018, with the intention to extend dependant on funding.
If you are interested in this opportunity please send a CV and covering letter to email@example.com by the 24th May 2018.
See here for more information: JB BIRCH FB May 2018
Our “Meet and Greet” family support sessions happen every Tuesday lunch time at a Youth and Community Centre based in central Birmingham. In 2017 an average of 25 individual children and 20 adults attended each session.
Children housed in initial accommodation are not attending school so our Meet and Greet offers some respite to families living in cramped hostel accommodation.
During the sessions we organise a programme of play, sports and arts activities for children. We have a pool of around twenty volunteers supervising activities. Alongside the BIRCH Volunteer Co-ordinator a staff member from the Children’s Society has organised arts activities. As from late September 2017 the Children’s Society have added two more staff members to help us with signing visitors in and out casework and general supervision. We have a small team of volunteer cooks, kitchen helpers and individuals helping to distribute donated clothes, toys, books and toiletries and other essential items.
This year, thanks to dedicated volunteers we organised knitting and crochet which has proved very popular with our visitors. A volunteer also came in and taught conversational English for a few months.
Every four weeks we hold bread making workshops organised by Bread2share CIC. The Meet and Greet in 2017 received support from Birmingham MIND staff who held counselling surgeries and art activities. We have had the occasional visit from a qualified cricket coach and a qualified masseuse. In December we had a session organised by Birmingham Community Art Therapy. Eastside Projects (local arts organization) have also supported us by organizing a badge making activity.
We receive donations from a number of sources including local schools, a local Muslim charity many kind hearted individuals. At Christmas a local Secondary school organised donations of Christmas shoe boxes of gifts for the adults and children who attend our session.
In September we held two volunteer training sessions for our volunteers. One of the sessions was dedicated to Child Protection and Safeguarding. In 2017 we held 46 weekly sessions with 1138 individual visits from children and 730 adults.
During 2017 we conducted a survey of our visitors to find out if they enjoyed our food and asked our visitors about the activities we have on offer. In response to this survey we have tried to widen the menu (which is mainly vegetarian) and improve the way we deliver activities to adults and children at a time that is full of anxiety and extremely stressful.
Many thanks to everyone who was part of the Meet and Greet in 2017!
David Hirst – Refugee and Migrant Practitioner.
Offering hospitality and friendship to those seeking sanctuary
2nd September, 10-3.30pm,
Birmingham Central Baptist Church Hall, 35 Ellen St, B18 7LF
We are a volunteer led, local charity working to welcome vulnerable refugees and undocumented migrants to Birmingham. We are running training for new volunteers to join us in the following roles:
The Family Befriending Project matches vulnerable young refugees aged 16-25 who have come to the UK without their families with volunteer families. Family befrienders offer a regular (weekly or fortnightly) meal within the family home to a young refugee wanting a taste of family life. Our volunteer families come in all shapes and sizes, from single people to multi-generational families.
Contact David, 07708 339 362, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on befriending
Community hosts offer to share their homes with an individual experiencing destitution, normally due to difficulties within the asylum process. Stays are usually from two weeks to a year, depending on the time set by the volunteer.
Contact Sarah, 07912 482 336 email@example.com for more information on hosting
Please do get in touch if you would like to book a place on the training and/or talk further about any of the above roles. To book a space on the course email firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more at www.birchnetwork.org.
This year, we at Birch celebrated five years of providing support to destitute asylum seekers. To date, we have provided in excess of 4600 nights of accommodation through our hosting programme and supported vulnerable families and young people through our other schemes. We couldn’t have done this without the support of our dedicated and passionate team of volunteers.
As we celebrate the start of 2017, we would like to let you know how you can support our work throughout the coming year. There are a range of opportunities, suitable for however much time you have and the level of commitment you feel able to give.
Continue reading New year, new opportunities to get involved!
Over the last month we have experienced unprecedented attention following the media attention of the worsening refugee crisis across Europe.
Continue reading Overwhelming response following refugee crisis