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2 minutes with… Svenja, Community Sponsor, Canterbury

Svenja co-founded Canterbury Welcomes Refugees in 2018. Here she tells us how her own country’s history motivated her to get involved in Community Sponsorship – and how Canterbury’s response has delighted her.  

I became a volunteer... after seeing the horrendous images of people fleeing the war and destruction in Syria. I felt strongly that I wanted to help in some way. I come from Germany, which, in its not very distant past, created a lot of refugees. Watching that repeat itself right in front of my eyes stirred something in me.  

I chose Community Sponsorship because… it seemed to be aimed at ordinary people who wanted to help. My friend Domenica and I discussed it over many, many cups of tea. Was it something we could possibly do? Was it too big a step for us? In the end, we realised we could keep worrying about whether or not we had what it took to do it, or we could get on and do it. So we took the plunge!  

The hardest thing about Community Sponsorship is… finding a house for the family. Because the application process is so long, we lost two properties before we found the one the family live in now. The process has been streamlined since then, which should make securing a house a bit easier in the future.  

When we met the family at the airport… I stepped forward with the cuddly toys we’d brought for the younger children and that immediately broke the ice. In one sense the family were complete strangers but in another, it didn’t feel like that at all, because we’d been working towards their arrival for so long. For me, it felt as though they were part of our community from the moment we met.  

I’ll never forget… taking the children into school. The staff had organised for another Arabic speaking girl to take the family on a tour, and immediately she and the two children were off - they didn’t care about the rest of us! I think this was a big moment for the parents. After everything they had been through to get here, they were now watching their children happily running around their new school with a new friend. It was really lovely.    

The best thing about Community Sponsorship has been… seeing how many positive, supportive, welcoming people are out there. The media would sometimes have us believe that we're all lone rangers who never look out for one another and who certainly don't want strangers in our midst – but that’s not been our experience at all. Community Sponsorship has restored my belief in people.  

To someone considering Community Sponsorship, I’d say… you can do it! It is a big thing and it is time consuming, but it's all doable - and you’re not doing it on your own. There’s plenty of help from people in the community, from other Community Sponsorship groups and from Reset, who are fantastic.