Into the unknown - starting over again

c.UNHCR B.Szandelszky

Stella is a volunteer at the British Red Cross Refugee Women’s Support Project in Glasgow. This service offers one-to-one volunteer support to newly arrived and particularly vulnerable women.  

It helps people to find their feet in their new environment. Volunteers empower people to access services and opportunities, find their way around the city and offer emotional support.

My name is Stella and I came from East Africa a few years ago.  I have just finished my ESOL classes at college to improve my English and I’m about to finish my Social Care Course at college.  I hope one day to become a doctor.

Starting over again

Before coming to UK I had very difficult childhood and I was forced to leave my country and separate from my family due to family problems.  I felt lonely without my family around, no future ahead, but I put on brave face ready to face wherever was to come ahead of me. 

It was very hard at first as there were cultural differences: language, dress code, foods, weather etc.  But luckily I met some incredible people and organisations who helped me throughout my stay here in Scotland. I was amazed by the way I was treated by different people and organisations.  They were very friendly, supportive and offered a welcoming atmosphere.  And for the first time I felt valued and with good understanding.  Through them I managed to gain my own self back, gaining more self esteem and confidence back.

The invisible women

In my country, men see women as invisible creatures when it comes to important issues concerning families and society in general; I was not allowed to talk or contribute anything.  As a woman, I was expected to produce babies, do all house work, be a good house wife and take orders from men or else there would be consequences.  Since I came to this country I managed to keep in contact with my family regularly, and wish to help my siblings as much as I can one day.

Helping others, giving back

I started volunteering with British Red Cross a few months ago simply because I love helping others. Also I wanted to show how grateful and thankful I am for everything that this country has done and continues to do for me, and other people like me. 

I want to give back and help other people who are in a similar situation as I was once in.  Since I started volunteering, I have learned a lot from different people who come to the British Red Cross.  Most of them do have sad stories, different life experiences, mixed feelings (good and bad); some are very stressed and depressed without knowing where to go to or who to talk to. 

Most women I spoke to do want help but can’t seem to get it due to language barriers.  Some have passed through bad experiences (sexual assaults from men) and now they don’t feel very confident talking to male figures explaining in detail what has happened to them with interpreters present -  for example during hospital appointments, at the Home Office or with solicitors.  Still, they feel if they make any requests it may affect the help they receive. 

Adjusting to cultural differences

How would you feel if you desperately wanted help about a sexual health problem you’re having, but you had to reveal everything to the opposite sex in order to get help?   Also remember some cultures do not allow women to look into adult males eyes because it indicates lack of respect - unlike here it indicates dishonesty.  Many women I talked to explained that they never used to talk face-to-face to men wherever they came from.   As a woman if you need assistance from a man, your mum would deliver the message on your behalf.  

Here, there is a cultural difference.   You present yourself each time you need help to the authorities or organisations.  These women wish for their background to be taken into account when dealing with them and many prefer to deal with someone of the same sex when talking about personal issues because it’s easier to open up to them.

Making a difference

I love the volunteering that I do.  When I see a smile on people’s faces, I realise I have made a difference in their life.  I wish more people could spare time and join to try and make this world a better place.

Find out more about volunteering with the British Red Cross on their website

Add a comment

  • Your email address will not appear on the site
  • (Tick to hide your name when this comment appears on the site)
Please wait...