In February 2022, I landed in a cold and windy Cyprus for two weeks with Refugee Support.
Although I arrived back home to London nearly three months ago now, the memories and feelings that the trip conjured up are still so immediate.
I first heard about Refugee Support EU through my 80 year old granny. She is an inspiring lady who had been to volunteer in Greece just before Covid. I had a few months off before starting a new job and I got the kind of text from granny that you can’t ignore! She’d seen on Facebook that Refugee Support were looking for volunteers and knew I was at a loose end – so really I had no excuse!
I arrived late but was warmly welcomed into the volunteer accommodation by my new roommates who had made me some food and saved me a glass of wine – a wonderful start.
The next day, we walked to the Dignity Centre where I worked for the next two weeks. I spent my first few days in the market where visitors would come and do a (critically important) weekly food shop. About 70% of all the shoppers were Nigerian men between 25 and 35. After establishing early on that I was married, the conversations quickly turned to music. The guys taught me about all the latest Nigerian music including ‘Davide’, an Igbo music star. They would pull up the song on Youtube to show me and then they’d dance as they shopped. It wasn’t a particularly efficient shopping experience but we had some magic moments and I learnt some great moves.
Despite the moments of joy, at times it was also gut-wrenchingly sad. Unsurprisingly, the Dignity Centre can only offer a certain number of people a food pass at any one time. Every day, people would arrive at the center hungry, having walked in from the camp in the hope that we’d be able to help. Tragically, we often had to turn them away and suggest they try again in a couple of weeks time when we may have space. In my first couple of days, I’d go into the stockroom and cry and then re-rally as we had guests we needed to serve.
After improving my Nigerian music knowledge in the market, I was promoted to ‘Global Head of Photocopying’ – an esteemed role that involved possibly 200 photocopies a day of CVs, labour cards and alien books. We’d get scrappy pieces of paper handed to us to copy and were able to staple their fresh sheets and put them in a plastic wallet. It was something so small but I got immense satisfaction from being able to give their critically important papers a wallet.
I learnt so much about the power of service from Summer. Summer ran the center with selfless dedication and it was infectious. I realised how much time I tend to spend in my head, caught up thinking about myself and trivial worries. At the center, you don’t have time for such luxuries and it’s remarkably freeing.
My mum is a headteacher and told her children at school about the time I’d spend in Cyprus. The children were so moved by what Refugee Support EU do, that they asked the school if they could do a fundraiser. They ended up walking/running/jogging/swimming/cycling over three months – raising an amazing £11,000. It’s so exciting to see people donating as I’ve seen first hand how every pound helps.
I am very grateful to Paul, Bethan, Summer, Granny (!) and everyone else involved in Refugee Support.