Caroline: Cyprus & Moldova, 2023

I first heard about the work of Refugee Support Europe in 2019, when I attended an event at Bangor University focused on the displacement of people worldwide. John Sloan, one of the charity’s founders, and Bethan Edwards, a volunteer, delivered a presentation about what Refugee Support was and how to get involved in volunteering.I felt inspired after this evening and although I had previously done volunteer work in the UK, I had limited experience of solo travelling. I doubted myself and whether I’d be able to fly out to Cyprus alone to volunteer, even though I knew deep inside I would thrive in the role.Prior to volunteering with Refugee Support, I volunteered with a small UK-based organisation called Revive, which held immigration and social work drop in sessions in Manchester, as well as run an allotment project, food bank, ESOL lessons and a women’s group. When I moved back to Wales from Manchester, I found there was not a similar organisation that I could get involved with, and I really missed the connections I had made with the volunteers and service users of Revive.I have always had a calling in life to help others, probably something instilled in me since making my Brownie Guide promise as a young girl. Asylum seekers and refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and volunteering in this sector deeply reminds me how blessed I am to have the life I live. It is far too easy to forget how ‘lucky’ we are.It was not until 2023 that I organised my first volunteering trip with Refugee Support. I spent three weeks in April at the Dignity Centre in Cyprus. I was so nervous before arriving, but I can honestly say I had the best experience of my life. Firstly, I felt so proud to be a volunteer at the Dignity Centre. The work that goes on there is just phenomenal, and I truly felt like I was able to make a difference. Secondly, I felt grateful for the wonderful friends I made with my fellow volunteers, and I took away so many memories and new skills from the experience.

Caroline (centre) in Cyprus with our coordinators Summer (left) and Anna (right).

Growing up, I was extremely anxious, and I still often feel this way as an adult. I have always doubted my own abilities and had issues with self-confidence, which is why it took me almost four years to actually be brave enough to volunteer! During my interview with Marina, she explained how important being ‘assertive’ was when volunteering. I had never considered myself as an assertive person, but in Cyprus I realised that I was capable of so much more than I ever thought. I felt empowered by the team to be confident and assertive, and these are skills I am still practising in my life at home. I really didn’t want to leave Cyprus and wished I could have stayed longer. I knew how much I would miss seeing so many people every day, having conversations with people from all over the world, and connecting with others. I went back to my ‘normal life’ knowing it would never be the same, and it certainly wouldn’t be the end of my volunteering journey. So I decided to volunteer again during December 2023 (Boxing Day until the beginning of January), this time in Moldova at the Dignity Centre in Chisinau. Again, I had a wonderful volunteering experience in Moldova. Paula and the team of volunteers were really welcoming to me, and made sure I had a good understanding of how the Dignity Centre In Moldova worked. While the centre in Cyprus serves mostly single men primarily from Nigeria, Cameroon and DRC, the Dignity Centre in Moldova serves Ukrainian and Moldovan families who have been affected by the war in Ukraine. It really hit home to me when I was writing food tickets for members in Moldova, that many of the mums were my age or younger. I couldn’t help but feel saddened that these young women had young babies or were pregnant during the outbreak of war.

Caroline working in our Dignity Centre Chisinau, Moldova.

We brought the New Year in with a lovely volunteer dinner, and watched the fireworks in Chisinau. Again, I feel so grateful for the fantastic friends I have made during my Moldova experience, and enjoyed exploring a new country that I had never visited before. Chisinau has a lot of things to do during the evenings and weekends, and it is an inexpensive place to go out for coffee, food or drinks. I decided to stay in a private apartment this time instead of the shared accommodation, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Seeing in the New Year with new friends in Chisinau.

If you are considering volunteering with Refugee Support, my advice to you is to just ‘GO FOR IT’. In life, we only regret the chances we don’t take. The organisation is warm, supportive and caring, and the coordinators and other volunteers go above and beyond to support its members and all volunteers. To think only a few years ago I was a fearful, shy and unconfident girl who did not believe in herself … and now I have friends from other countries and have contributed to two international volunteering projects in one year, being assertive, strong and confident. I am really proud of myself for being brave, and so proud to wear my Refugee Support uniform and contribute towards the organisation’s values and goals.Thank you to everybody I have met along the way who have supported me on my journey.

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