Like many others, I watched the plight of refugees on the news and really wanted to do something to help. Under the direction of Michelle Hern, the ward Relief Society in South Shields began collecting clothes, toiletries and other items to send to Calais, France. Elder Patrick Kearon’s talk ‘Refuge from the Storm’ in April 2016 spurred me to action.
'This moment does not define the refugees, but our response will help define us.'Patrick Kearon
My first step was to complete a free online FutureLearn course, entitled ‘Volunteering with Refugees’, which aims to “help volunteers understand how they can best support the linguistic and social needs of refugees.” At about the same time another sister in the ward, Geua Atkinson, volunteered at a local charity called ‘Compact for Racial Equality in South Tyneside’ (CREST). I now also volunteer at CREST each Tuesday morning to assist in English classes.
This encouraged other sisters to get involved. The Bishop gave permission to open up the meetinghouse to host weekly sessions for mothers who were refugees or asylum seekers. The sessions give them opportunities to learn about their new community, practice their English and meet other women from the area. They’re also able to obtain needed items donated by ward members, such as bedding, clothing and toys. I enjoy the chat and laughter.
I’ve seen how the ladies have become more relaxed over time, feeling safe and happy to attend.
On school holidays there’s usually an activity day for the children and their mothers at the meetinghouse. At least 50 come, and ward members are always invited.
The families we help are so grateful; some find it hard to account for the generosity of the church members who have bought coats and other items for them, as well as helped improve their very basic living accommodation. I have seen many tears of happiness and relief.
Without fail, our new friends want to give something back. This has included lessons in Egyptian cooking, making delicious desserts, cleaning the church building many times, helping a member to move to a new home, helping prepare our Stake Centre for a wedding, and much more.
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked, and ye clothed me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”Matthew 25:35-36
I’ve become good friends with many of these wonderful people; we have found lots of common ground in our beliefs and values. Sometimes they share their experiences and it’s heart breaking to hear the hardships they have endured. They have taught me humility and courage in the face of adversity. I am more determined to serve and help them integrate into the local community. I am privileged to be their friend; we meet each other with a two-kiss greeting and big smiles.
“There is a greater unity felt in Relief Society among the sisters, who had one purpose in mind - to help those who were in desperate need.'Michelle Hern, Relief Society President