JRS hosts accompaniment workshops for JRS staff and volunteers every couple of years. It is a chance to come together, explore the mission of accompaniment, and be re-energised for our work.
I joined the JRS team a couple of months ago, and yet it has felt so much longer than that. I asked my colleague Aidan if he thought this was a good or a bad thing. He replied confidently, “It just means that you have fit in quickly with the team”, which is something I am not surprised with at all. Who wouldn’t fit in with such a welcoming and diverse team? Their ability in welcoming refugee friends from all walks of life seems natural.
Last week, alongside JRS UK staff and volunteers, I attended a series of JRS accompaniment workshops, and I am not exaggerating if I say that they were the most enjoyable couple of days since I started in my role. It was the first-time the whole staff team had the opportunity to come together in over two years – I met people I’d only seen as a square on a screen for the first time.
The warmup/icebreaker activities from “Which animal do you resemble”? to “Acting different types of emotions”, were such a joy (a somewhat controversial thing to say, I know). Our colleague, Dallya, shared the warmup activities she uses with (and has been taught by) refugee friends in some of the creative activities she helps to facilitate. She cracked us up with her humour and creativity. What is a better way to begin two days of workshops than with laughter?
We got stuck-in straight away with a historical timeline asylum and immigration changes in the UK, and the work of JRS in response, since 1970. Contrary to the icebreakers, it wasn’t a barrel of laughs, as we looked at the evidence of an ever-increasing hostile environment to refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and all those whom we ‘other’ in one way or another. It was uplifting to see that JRS has always supported refugees, reflecting and responding to the changes that have happened throughout our history in the services we provide. I found it quite extraordinary and am looking forward to learning more!
What stood out most to me is that everyone at JRS is working towards the same purpose and goal, regardless of their own personal faith background; to accompany refugees and walk alongside them in their difficult journey – be it providing legal advice, finding suitable accommodation, amplifying their voices and experiences, or simply sharing a cup of tea and biscuits and asking them how they are.
And of course, as always, JRS never fails with hospitality. Our JRS colleagues baked 5000 cakes. Wait, that is an exaggeration – but they did bake about 10 lots of yummy-ness in 2 days. For lunch, a refugee friend provided us with delicious shawarma and Falafel wraps. After all, I am not surprised: JRS has a clear history of providing hospitality, and food has always had a central place. I learnt about our Community Kitchen, which began in 2019, where refugee friends would come together each Monday and take turns to learn a dish from someone’s home county. I’m looking forward to Community Kitchen re-starting later this year (hopefully!).
The workshops were dynamic – with time in small groups, alongside wider-group listening; at every turn we were encouraged to share our own experiences and backgrounds, and listen attentively to others experiences.
We started by looking at the injustices refugees and asylum seekers in the UK face, that these injustices cause harms, and theses harms lead to needs, and JRS’ ability to respond to those needs contributes to Justice. Everyone in the group shared from their perspective in their role and that added so much knowledge – I learnt so much about JRS, our work, and the dedication of my colleagues.
One of the sessions began with a panel of people with different backgrounds & different roles within JRS sharing what elements of JRS’ service and ministry they felt to be was distinctive, and what makes us unique. I found Liliane’s reflection particularly striking: “when a refugee comes to the UK and they have nothing left, all they needs is to feel WELCOME and safe”.
Before the workshops, we heard some rumours about doing a role-play activity and we thought it was just a joke – I think everyone was trying to run from the thought of it. Surprisingly, at the end of the workshops, we were indeed all asked to do a role play. We were asked to put on short plays about how we work at JRS and the difference we see in the work we do every day. Everyone performed wonderfully and we discovered hidden acting talents in the team!
My favourite role play was the one that showed the transformation that can take-place as a refugee friend comes to know JRS, and we come to know them: gradually we see someone open-up, visibly happier and healthier, because they begin to feel part of a community – they are heard, accompanied, and welcomed. A real relationship of trust is developed.
Another role-play illustrated the difficulties and challenges of accompaniment, it’s not always sunshine and light. So often we can’t ‘fix’ something and refugee friends can feel frustrated and angry (as can the team too!). We can try the best we can, and we try to hold that space, without looking away – walking together, side by side.
The accompaniment workshops were such a great start to the week. It provided me with a boost of energy and inspiration, in addition to learning about JRS work, mission and values in more depth. It’s clear that at JRS everyone is unique, and everyone brings a special set of skills and knowledge, and I’ve learnt that is a vital ingredient of JRS’s work. All I can say is that I have not seen an organisation that prioritises accompaniment in its work with refugees like JRS. Accompaniment is an important asset in working with refugees: it helps them feel human and welcomed, and that is all that matters sometimes – especially during hardship.