Today the Refugee Council is celebrating International Volunteer Day. We have 300 incredible volunteers who dedicate time to helping refugees and asylum seekers in a variety of ways, including through befriending, running specialist groups and teaching English.
Carl Lowery volunteers at our Hull office, helping refugees who have come to the UK through the Gateway project. He helps people settle into their new lives. This is his story.
I used to have very strong views about refugees and asylum seekers, or anybody who was different to me. My narrow mindedness bordered on racist views. I presumed everything negative I read and saw on TV regarding refugees and asylum seekers was true. This, coupled with a bad attitude, led me in completely the wrong direction.
Since becoming a Refugee Council volunteer and being out in the community with clients I have discovered the truth for myself.
My role involves a variety of different tasks, like helping people get to and from doctors’ appointments or showing them where they can access support from. Sometimes I’m just a friendly face they can share a joke with.
I couldn’t even try to pick out the best bits about the different things I do because I enjoy so much about it. I’ve met some brilliant and inspiring people from all over the world and made some very close bonds with some people from Congo.
I suppose if I had to pick one thing that I enjoyed the most about volunteering with the Refugee Council it’s seeing people come in on day one looking tired, disheveled and scared and seeing the change that takes place over the year we support them.
By the end of the year, with lots of help, gentle persuasion and love they have learned some English, found out about different cultures and some people have found full time work. After 12 months they don’t need our full time support anymore, and they start their new life knowing they are safe and knowing that their children are going to grow up with the prospects of a long, happy life in the UK.
My perspective has completely changed now. I try not to judge people: everybody’s different and everybody’s story is different. I’m just an ordinary man from Hull, but now I can use my knowledge and experience to help others overcome any prejudices they may have regarding refugees and asylum seekers. It’s been wonderful being able to offer support and advice and make people aware of the facts.
I would recommend volunteering to anyone; even volunteering just a few hours a week can be very rewarding.
I’m currently studying to become a youth worker. It’ll take four years, but I’m committed to learning and achieving my goals in life. Eventually I’ll have to leave the Refugee Council to pursue my career, but there will always be a little part of me that stays behind with the people whom we help through the Gateway project.