Carol started volunteering with her local Community Sponsorship group, CHARIS Exeter, in 2018. Here she shares the toughest and best bits about Community Sponsorship and describes an emotional reunion at Exeter airport.
Before volunteering… I set up and ran a nursery and then had a 26-year career in family support.
I started volunteering…to find a new purpose after my husband passed away.
I chose Community Sponsorship because… I already knew of CHARIS Exeter through my church. They needed a female volunteer to support a refugee family coming from Syria.
The hardest thing about Community Sponsorship is… finding houses. To find a family home in Exeter for £715 a month [the rate of housing benefit] is nigh on impossible. Fortunately, we’ve found some very benevolent landlords who are willing to take reduced rent.
I’ll never forget… meeting the refugee family at Exeter airport. It turned out that there were two older daughters living in London, and one of them came to their airport with her husband and young children. She hadn’t seen her parents and siblings in five years. They had no idea she’d be there to meet them. When they came through, there was lots of hugging and crying – it was quite overwhelming. We realised we’d helped the family not just to reach safety, but to be reunited with their daughters after so many years apart.
I’ve learned so much from the family
When the family first arrived, my role was… quite consuming, which was just what I needed. I was busy maintaining their diary, coordinating lots of medical and bank appointments and visits from befrienders and English teachers. The family have been doing really well with their English.
Next time we resettle a family… I’ll be sure to welcome them with cups and saucers! I put lots of mugs in our first family’s kitchen cupboards. Later I discovered that they’d gone to the charity shop to find tiny cups for their Arabic coffee, which they serve from a little copper pot. They do use the mugs for tea though!
The best thing about Community Sponsorship has been… getting to know the family and watching them grow. I’ve learned so much from them. They lost their home; they left family behind; they’ve been through a lot of pain and trauma – and now they are motivated to help other people. The father is going to be a mentor for other refugees and the children are thinking about careers in nursing and human rights law. I find them so inspiring.
To someone considering Community Sponsorship, I’d say… do it. It will change your life!
Find out how you can join or set up a Community Sponsorship group.