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Community Sponsorship Stories: The privilege of getting to know a new family

Community Sponsorship Stories: The privilege of getting to know a new family

Welcoming Khaled and his family to Wales

Khaled and his family

When Lesley, (64), a retired college manager lived in Penarth, South Wales, she helped start a new Community Sponsorship group. Within eighteen months, the group welcomed Khaled and his family who, originally from Syria, arrived from Lebanon.

"I had taken early retirement from work and had more time on my hands, so I was really interested to do something positive to support Syrian refugees. I’m a church member and my faith is very important to me. I often prayed about the situation in Syria but discovering that I could actually do something was really exciting.

I became aware of the Community Sponsorship scheme in 2017 and got involved in a meeting in town - just outside Cardiff in Penarth. We formed a group and between us brought so many different skills to the table, one member was great at negotiating and got the house for us while others helped sort out the application and fundraising. We were all really determined to work as quickly as possible, always with a strong sense of urgency about the need to move a family from a terrible situation to our town.

The council originally had a very negative response but we were supported to stand our ground. We had some very difficult meetings with them, but that experience made us even more determined and drew in more support from across the town. Our MP was really supportive, even mentioning our difficulties in Parliament. We were told it couldn’t be done but we pushed on and eventually got there and helped welcome a family into our town.

We did a lot of fundraising and worked to get a house rented and set up and eventually got matched with Khaled and his family who arrived in September 2018. This was really amazing. After such a long period of work, seeing it finally happen felt wonderful. Khaled was very motivated to settle into life in Wales.

He got his driving license and passed his test within a few months of arriving and worked hard to improve his English. He was keen to continue working as a plumber, but without qualifications this was not possible. There were a lot of hoops we had to jump through to try and find work; we tried with the job centre, but we didn’t make much progress, so in the end Khaled looked independently and right at the beginning of COVID he found a job as a hospital cleaner. He is now working full time in that role.

Before the family arrived, I wondered how difficult it would be to communicate with them. Google translate was used a lot in the early days, but communication wasn't a significant problem and we generally managed to make ourselves understood, often with much laughter. Khaled is married with four children. Foza, his wife, is an amazing cook and hospitality is very important to them. I would always be offered food and drink, and often full meals - even if I had just eaten at home, they would insist that I ate with them too! The three older children went to a local primary school when they first arrived, whilst the youngest spent some time with a childminder so that his Mum could attend ESOL classes at the local college. Now, a few years on, they have all settled into life in the UK and only ask for help and support infrequently. Khaled would love to return to his work as a plumber.

One thing I would say to someone thinking about joining or starting a group is that it is a lot of work, but it is 100% worth it. I would do it again if I was in that situation without thinking. It has led to real lifelong friendships both with the family and with the sponsorship group.

You need a team that has the time and dedication to be supportive both before and for the aftercare as well. We spent a lot of time going into the schools and supporting the children to make sure they were settled and to give them the extra attention that they needed to progress. It’s important to remember that the family has experienced a lot of trauma and therefore an awareness and dedication to being this support system is really important.

You can’t save everybody but to have the privilege of getting to know a new family, and helping them this way, is priceless."

Three women involved in a Sponsor Refugees welcome group are outside a supermarket after some grocery shopping. The woman on the left is smiling and looking to her left, whilst the woman in the middle and on the right are laughing and hugging.

Find out how you can welcome and resettle a family in the UK.

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