What does it take to make someone welcome, especially if that person is a refugee arriving in or living in a new country? After a short talk last term with schoolboys at St John Beaumont, I was struck at how simple it could be. The pupils were full of practical and caring suggestions: give them a rest if they are tired, see if they speak English, ask them about their day, provide toys for children to play with, offer somewhere to wash clothes, hold a special celebration with nice food…
I really enjoyed being with St John Beaumont this year as part of their ethos day. The day is designed to help pupils live into the foundational values of their school and see the wider world around them. Boys had brought into school contributions of food and toys to sort, wrap and deliver to us at JRS to distribute to some of the refugee families that we accompany here. It was quite moving to see them getting into groups to organise items into boxes and to help wrap books with dolls or cars into packages for children.
After that, there was time in two year groups to explore a little the experience of refugee families. We watched an internet interview with Mariam, a young girl from Syria who shared her experience and perspectives into her family’s circumstances and how she had learned to forgive those who had driven them from her home. She told about how she missed her friend whose whereabouts was unknown and how her faith in God had been a comfort during difficult days.
Together with pupils, we considered what refugees coming to the UK might need in terms of a welcome. I was touched by the insight and compassion shown by the boys, as well as their wisdom to what makes for a good welcome. We finished with drawing some welcome messages for JRS to use and share with the people we accompany. All the boxes arrived the following week and I watched with joy as one girl at our Day Centre opened up her present with books and new crayons.
One group of boys wrote: “Welcome. It is a privilege to have you here. May you have plenty of rest, time to gather your thoughts, all the food you need and anything else you need. I hope that you have a lovely time here.” My hope this Christmas is that spirit is one that our society as a whole feels able to adopt in 2016. If you are interested in being part of that, get in touch with us at JRS UK and we will keep you updated with our developing communities of hospitality programme.
Thank you again to teachers, staff and pupils at St John Beaumont.
Kate is on the staff team at JRS UK.