Posted by John K on Friday, March 30, 2018 Under: Unaccompanied Refugee Youth
Last month, during my week volunteering with our MUM network partner, The Sanctuary, in Newport, South Wales, I had opportunities to work with a variety of youth – who are in this case all boys. These young guys come to the center after arriving in Wales – many under 18, with no or limited English, and having traveled without family across many miles and sometimes many years. At times helping them is quite serious work, as they try to learn language, access services or prepare for their asylum hearings. This is why The Sanctuary also puts together activities and outings that any teenager would enjoy – allowing them, and Sanctuary staff and volunteers, to experience the value of joy and community in the process of healing and finding hope again.
As a volunteer for the week, I had ample opportunities to work with the youth as my visit coincided with their school break. One of The Sanctuary staff members, Sara, oversees activities and services for those under (or around) 18. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to join the bike riding class Sara put on with a local bicycle shop – but I heard many colorful tales of the event. I was able to chaperone an outing to a climbing wall gym (see photo above). The staff enjoyed that activity almost as much as the youth. Mark, The Sanctuary’s director, said, “It’s good to see joy on their faces with all they’ve been through.” The youth appeared as any high school group would when out having fun. For that hour and a half, looking at this group, no one would guess the amount of trauma any one of them had gone through. Laughter and companionship can go a long way toward healing, which is the hope for these boys.
On that Friday night (as like most Friday nights), the boys turned up at the center and went right upstairs to the game room because they know they are welcome to play ping pong, pool, etc. When Kaylee and I visited over the summer, we found this to be a time for fun, but also for some important conversation; a time when some guys talk about their stories, others ask questions to help them navigate life in Wales and some may bring a new friend they are helping because he has just arrived and does not yet have enough English to communicate well. And as quickly as the conversations start, they end when it is someone’s turn at ping pong or a challenge is issued to play Jenga. This is game night, after all. And another good reminder that these guys are still kids in many ways.
Kaylee and I have three sons who are close in age to the boys I hung out with in Newport. I can’t imagine any one of them having to finish their education and start their careers in a foreign country, with a language and cultural norms they don’t understand. That is the challenge in front of the boys who come from Africa and Asia with a hope to call Newport home. The ones who successfully gain asylum status will still have the challenges of finishing their education, getting a job that sustains them (and likely family back home), and fitting in with their new community.
The Sanctuary is a ministry of Bethel Community Church and relies on staff as well as volunteers to run its programs. During my week as a volunteer, I saw how through this ministry the church plays a pivotal role in this critical time in the lives of these youths. The programs they run help provide material resources, education, guidance and friendship to these boys who are – at least for a season – without family. Small acts of kindness such as these can add up quickly for a person in need of hope and community. And in the process, volunteers, staff and the community also are blessed to be of help, share in the laughter, and make new friends.
Isn’t it interesting that as we obey Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger, we quickly find that that person stops being a stranger and becomes a friend?
Tags: church youth faith community hope friendship