Volunteer and refugees form ultimate UK support bubble
Knowing that my first year of university would be online left me feeling isolated and alone in a very new situation. I would probably still be staring out the window of a cold room in Manchester feeling sorry for myself if it weren’t for two French-speaking refugees. They reached out to me a few weeks ago for urgent support while in a crisis, but it was them who ended up helping me survive this second lockdown.
Meeting people in a crisis isn’t always smooth, and I can’t pretend it hasn’t been stressful at times. But then again, I think I was in a bit of a crisis myself. I can’t in any way compare my situation to theirs, but I think both me and the two refugees needed someone to reach out to in a time of deep isolation.
Together with them and a few other volunteers, we poured over 20-page government forms that are complicated enough to understand in English, let alone translate into French. We hunted down halal butchers and shops selling plantain and manioc. We translated Covid-19 regulations in preparation for when the local mosque reopens. And most important of all, we found a friendly French-speaking GP who understood the severity of my friends’ situation and saw them within 48 hours.
Getting to know them better was so enriching too. To think that three weeks ago I didn’t know the difference it made to put lemon (‘lenburu’ in Bambara) in black tea. I didn’t know that grind nuts are peanuts, which are the main ingredient of a delicious Ivorian dish with chicken and rice. I hadn’t been promised African cooking lessons and a job in the restaurant they want to set up. All this while being taught two new card games, which it turns out I am no better at than any other card game – much to everyone’s amusement!
My friends don’t leave their hotel unless it’s to see me, and I haven’t gone out recently to see anyone but them. I believe that together we have created the ultimate support bubble.
I hate to think how many other asylum seekers across the UK are in a similar situation to theirs, feeling isolated and alone, unable to talk to those around them. My friends aren’t the only ones: lockdown has made things difficult for all of us. Maybe for those who can, this is the ideal time to reach out to someone in need.
– written by Tia Bush, a volunteer
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