A couple of months into my retirement I was looking to do some voluntary work. Having previously hosted for Refugees at Home and learned first hand how utterly appalling, inhumane and arbitrary our asylum system is, my natural passion was with refugees.
A good friend of mine, who works extremely hard to help others, suggested volunteering with Refugee Support Europe.
I had never heard of them so, I did my research, and I liked the sound of what they were doing at the Dignity Centre in Nicosia. So, to cut a long story short, I approached them, had a zoom “interview” and booked my flights and accommodation. Being honest, the thought of some sunshine in our Autumn was also appealing!
Slightly apprehensive, and after a fond farewell to my family, I embarked on my adventure.
I arrived on the first morning to a lovely welcome from everyone working there, from Paula (the superwoman boss) and the other volunteers. I was keen to get started.
Wow, it was busy, so I was straight in the deep end, which was exactly what I wanted. The days flew by and I soon felt at home.
I loved talking to the refugees, even though I sobbed down the phone to my husband after the second day, with the feeling of despair, anger, frustration and sheer hopelessness of their plight. I don’t know what happened to me after that, but somehow, practicality took over and, whilst one will always feel empathy and experience some sadness, you can steel yourself against it. I started to get what I can only describe as a rush of adrenaline and energy. I positively bounced into work every morning (something I had never experienced before!), absolutely loving every minute of it.
There were some laughs too. I remember sitting outside with a guy choosing his shopping. His first language wasn’t English and he was, shall we say, challenged in the hair department (i.e. totally bald). He asked for shampoo. Well my face must have been a picture and I let out an unguarded “what?”, because everyone waiting outside around us burst out laughing. A lovely lighter moment in an otherwise challenging world. When he had stopped laughing he explained he had got it mixed up with shower gel!
There were many other lighter moments and I started to get to know the regulars. I felt so sad to leave them.
It is honestly one of the BEST experiences of my life. I can’t find the words to explain how it made me feel. I am welling up as I write this!
I want to do more. I am searching around to find where I can be the most help. I get jealous when I see pictures of The Dignity Centre and feel a little irrationally niggled that these other volunteers are doing MY job!!!
If anyone is in 2 minds about going there, hold your nose and jump in. You will never regret it. It will enhance your life and you will make lasting friendships from all over the world. Talk to the people who work for this wonderful charity. They will tell you honestly what to expect and never pressure you.
This is only the start of my journey.
P S and it will improve your Geography when you get back to your room at night and look up exactly where the countries are these people have come from!
[You can also hear Mandie talk about Refugees at Home and her volunteering in the Selfish Altruist podcast]