Volunteer story: Bethan

Well, what can I say? I’m not usually lost for words, but having just returned home after the most inspiring fortnight at the Dignity Centre in Nicosia, I’m not sure where to start!

From our short stint there, my father and I saw with our own eyes how the Dignity Centre definitely lives up to its name in every way, dignity oozes out of every corner. We’ll cherish the memories of hope, opportunity, smiles and laughter forever. So many amazing developments were seen in such a short space of time – this can only bode well for the centre’s future.

Beautiful products will be flying out of the sewing room in abundance in no time – thanks for sorting my Christmas gift list! Some ladies entered the sewing room having never touched a sewing machine in their lives. In less than a week, under the caring guidance of Ba, our talented tailor, they were able to make their own simple garment or bag – amazing achievement. Safe in the knowledge that their children were having fun with caring volunteers in the kids room, or their babies were sleeping soundly in baby bouncers donated from the UK, they could then enjoy independence for the first time since their arrival in Cyprus, and develop or learn a new skill at the same time. Their gratitude was humbling.

I just love babies and children and during my first week I thoroughly enjoyed spending time getting to know so many in the children’s room and having fun painting, doing craft work, playing Twister and singing – typical Welsh trait! Dad and I also learnt so much from the children themselves – being a mathematician, I was in heaven when an 8 year old girl offered to teach me Kurdish numbers. She then insisted on giving me a Maths lesson to make sure I’d understood everything properly! So many children left us in awe at their ability to learn languages so effortlessly – being able to speak Greek bridged many nations when they had no other language in common. Truly inspirational.

Dad loved his role as bike fixer – he was in heaven fiddling with his favourite toys! The refugees obviously loved helping and learning from him and the smile on their faces when they realised their own personal bike was good to go was a sight to behold. This would open up opportunities for them to find work and give them freedom to live more independently. We often saw the kids whizzing around the local area on their new bikes – beaming smiles galore.

One of my personal highlights was serving breakfast three times a week at the Caritas Migrant Centre just up the road. Everyone who came were so grateful for the simple gesture of offering fresh bread and jam with a hot cup of tea – an easy task for us went a long way to show them that people do care, despite the negativity they encounter along the way to rebuilding their lives.

Another heartwarming experience was a trip to see the containers where all the donations from the UK are stored. Having volunteered for a few years with Pobl i Bobl, my local refugee organisation here in north Wales, my heart leapt when I saw our white sacks with the familiar labelling waiting to be unloaded and delivered back to the Dignity Centre, where they were received with open arms. The circle of love was complete.

It was very refreshing to see the local community integrating with the refugee community in such a welcoming way. During our short time, we met so many individuals who wanted to offer their services, be it Greek lessons or yoga classes, or just wanted to help in general. Integration and acceptance are crucial to ensure the success of the Dignity Centre and I’m in no doubt that it will go from strength to strength, enriching the lives of refugees by helping them back on their feet in a truly dignified way.

I’m so glad I chose Refugee Support for my first ever volunteering experience abroad – one of many I hope – you tick all the boxes in the way you operate. A truly rewarding experience in every sense, and we hopefully made a tiny difference to the lives of the people we met during our stay – they certainly made a difference to ours.

To everyone at Refugee Support – thank you, thank you, thank you for everything… or as we say in Welsh, DIOLCH YN FAWR!

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