For the refugees you support, volunteering can present an opportunity for them to build new relationships outside of your Community Sponsorship Group. Volunteering can provide invaluable work experience and also enable people to build confidence and improve language skills.
As an expert by experience, Abdullah has also written a message for refugees who might be hesitant to start volunteering. You can download Abdullah's message in English and Arabic from this page and include it in your Welcome Pack or pass it on to the family you support.
Just two months after arriving in Oxford in 2018 through the Community Sponsorship scheme, Abdullah Al Khalaf started volunteering at a local museum. Like many volunteers, he found his position through a local connection; a member of the Community Sponsorship Group heard that the museum was looking for Arabic speaking volunteers to help with identifying artefacts from the Middle East.
Abdullah interviewed for the position and thanks to his educational background, studying Arabic at university in Aleppo before the war, and his Syrian roots, he was hired as a volunteer to help researchers learn more about Levantine and Ottoman antiquities. Through volunteering, he also had the opportunity to train to guide museum tours working alongside people from Zimbabwe, Egypt, Syria and England.
The benefits of volunteering
Abdullah began volunteering at the museum for around four hours per week, which he was able to do alongside his required ESOL classes. Although he started volunteering with the aim to improve his English, he soon found that volunteering also grew his confidence- especially after leading a tour of 30 people that included the mayor! He has developed research skills and even learned more about his own heritage. Before he volunteered, Abdullah’s goal was to find a job, any job, but through this experience he’s realised that he wants to be interested in what he does for a living. This has encouraged him to pursue a higher degree in history. Recently, he’s been accepted to study for a GCSE in history and his dream is to get his BA in history from Oxford Brooks.
Volunteering led Abdullah to securing a job at the museum. After about six months of volunteering, he began applying for jobs at the museum and elsewhere. His Community Sponsorship Group helped him to manage his expectations and practice for the interviews. Knowing that he still needed to improve his English, he approached each interview as a learning opportunity. Even if he couldn’t answer each question in detail, he started to get used to the interview process. Eventually, he was offered a job at the museum as a Visitor Assistant.
Advice for other refugees
Abdullah has observed some significant differences in how employment and hiring is approached in Syria and the UK. In the Middle East, employment is often secured based on qualifications and connections whereas in the UK, experience is also key. In Syria, people only volunteer for charity, not to gain experience like in the UK. Once people understand these differences, he thinks they’ll be more willing to try volunteering.
But Abdullah also recognises that volunteering is not an easy option for everyone. Many refugees who are older, with more children and more difficulties learning the language, are under pressure to provide for their families quickly. He still encourages people in this situation to give volunteering a chance, telling them that it’s a great way to learn English, learn how to speak to people and that he wouldn’t have his job without volunteering first.
Where to volunteer
Like Abdullah's Group, you may be able to find volunteering opportunities through local connections, but there are also larger agencies that help people to find voluntary work. The gov.uk page on volunteering provides guidance, a list of organisations that can provide local volunteering opportunities and a link to do-it.org which is an online database for volunteering in the UK. You can guide the refugees you support to different volunteering opportunities, once you learn more about their career aspirations and interests.
The concept of volunteering may be new to some refugees, and you may have to work with them to help them understand the benefits it can bring such as gaining UK based experience, securing someone to act as a referee, having an opportunity to practice English in a friendly environment, as well as gaining and using skills. Once they understand the UK’s employment system, which relies on reference checks and experience, they may see that volunteering is more than working for free but a way to build valuable connections with the local community.
If you are in contact with other refugees or migrants who have benefited from volunteering, and are willing to share their experience, this may be much more powerful than trying to explain it yourself. And remember, as with other aspects of your support, as a Community Sponsorship Group, you can only suggest and advise but ultimately whether or not they get involved in volunteering is up to the refugees you support.