I firmly believe that we should do everything in our power to make this world a better place – not just for ourselves, but for everyone. As a busy professional, I haven’t had much time to practise what I preach. But as I’ve had some spare time on my hands lately, I’ve used it to live up to my own ideals by volunteering to help refugees and immigrants settle into the UK, so they can realise a brighter future.
It’s hard to deny that we’re living through dark times at the moment. The ongoing instability in the Middle East has led to the rise of the Islamic State in the region, displacing millions of the area’s citizens. With no place to call home, Middle Easterners have been flooding into Europe in their millions and on this continent, we are now seeing the biggest migration of people since World War Two.
This has led to a major backlash among Western nations, fuelling the rise of nationalist populism, as figures such as US President Donald Trump preach the evils of immigration to a fearful population. I abhor this hateful rhetoric concerning immigrants and refugees, as well as the religion of Islam, that it currently being bandied about, and I believe it is our duty to provide them with refuge and hope.
It is one thing to say that as decent human beings, we should welcome people that have experienced so much suffering into our homes and our hearts. It is another, however, to act on this sentiment. The majority of us – myself included, lead hectic lives, and with work, family and our social lives to contend with, it can be difficult to find the time to help immigrants and refugees settle into British life.
As you might know, I was made redundant recently. I have found a new job thankfully, but I didn’t waste my time on the job market – I used it to get involved and help people. I am a member of the West Yorkshire Humanist Society and at one meeting, someone told me about our local Unitarian Church’s Thursday Conversation Club. This is a weekly gathering every Thursday, where volunteers help immigrants and refugees learn English, so they can assimilate and find work. I decided that while I had the time, I wanted to make a difference and help refugees, so I signed up to become a volunteer.
I have to admit, I was nervous the first time I walked into the Thursday Conversation Club. These people didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, so it was only natural to feel that way. I was immediately put at ease however, as everyone from the volunteers to the attendees made me feel right at home. Soon enough, I was drinking tea, playing games and engaging in lively discussions.
What I want to do is say something that you might have heard before, but I feel really needs hammering home, in the climate of fear we’re living in. Refugees and immigrants are just like us – they have the same dreams, and they struggle with many of the same issues. During my time at the Conversation Club this idea was reinforced in my mind, as I conversed with people who yes, have been through trying times, but are all the stronger for it, and just want to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Today is officially my last day as a member of the Thursday Conversation Club, as I’m moving to Manchester for my new job. I could not leave, however, without taking this chance to share my life-changing experience as a member of this amazing project with you, the reader. It taught me that the best way to dispel fear is to open a dialogue, and I hope that in the coming days, we all start to talk to those who are different to us, so we can find common ground and forge a better life for everyone.