“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
“God blessed this family,” says Matiss, one of our volunteers, with a smile. Through his connect group, he has joined the DIY team to refurbish a house in East London to welcome a Syrian refugee family. Whilst painting and decorating, the team were mindful that the incoming family will have lived through war and terror and that setting up a new life in the UK won’t be easy. The love and care our church community in East London put into the house is evident in the details: the elegant colour scheme selected by a volunteer interior designer; the plants and outlay of the garden; the small decorative items in the rooms; and the hampers with carefully chosen presents for each family member. Everything done to give them a warm welcome to London and put smiles on their faces.
To get this new home ready by the end of September, an army of approximately 50 volunteers worked all day, every Saturday, in the weeks leading up to the arrival. But this project is a church wide undertaking; it has been made possible by everyone in our church who contributed to our Heart for the House offering.
It all started more than a year ago when the Home Office invited us to take part in the Community Sponsorship Scheme. Launched in July 2016, the programme allows community groups to resettle Syrian families working in partnership with the Home Office and Local Authority. This programme is in addition to the government scheme, operated by Local Authorities, which aims to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.
From there, the journey began. “Someone in church heard about the project and offered the use of their house, so we didn’t even have to look very hard,” says Janet, a volunteer on the Social Justice team. “However, we needed to put a resettlement plan together, comply with all requirements from the Home Office and Local Authority, not to mention the work needed to restore the house to a good condition”, adds Ralph, the head of our Social Justice department, who has been helping personally in the refurbishment works. “But Mandy, another volunteer who will be our caseworker for the family, compiled an awesome list of tasks and everything was done in time,” replies Janet. “We have a database of volunteers ready for every eventuality, like interpreters in case of language barriers and the integration support team to help with orienting in a new environment such as public transport and so on.”
On the 27th September, some of the team welcomed the family at the airport and had a home cooked dinner with them in their new home. Originally from Damascus, the family spent months in a small apartment in Jordan. It turned out the boys speak some English and they exclaimed upon arrival that they are all so happy! “They love their new home,” Mandy says. “When the youngest boy unwrapped his hamper and found a box of Lego, he stayed in his room and built and played with it the entire time we were there!”
After the initial orientation, the children in the family will be enrolled into local schools and will be connected into a range of sports and other activities in the area; we will help the parents to register at the Job Centre and will help them access English as a Second Language classes.
They are very excited to be immersed in the British culture and to get involved in the local community; the eldest sons are keen to pursue their dreams of becoming a computer scientist and a doctor.
As a church, we are committing to supporting the family for the next two years and help them set up their lives in the UK, believing this will be the first of many more families.