June 8, 2021 by admin
Volunteers Week 2021 – George
We round up our Volunteer Week celebrations by hearing from George, who has been doing vital work at HMSC as a triage volunteer. Below he explains his motivations for volunteering and the impact of the experience:
Over several years I’ve felt increasing levels of anger, sadness, and despondency when seeing how people who move around the planet, for whatever reason, are treated. I think like many people, the suffering of those trying to cross the Mediterranean and the Windrush scandal were two events that really precipitated my feelings of hopelessness. When I learned about Haringey Migrant Support Centre through a friend, I thought it could be a way to make a tangible difference in the real world rather than just feeling constantly depressed whilst watching the news.
At HMSC, I’m a triage caseworker. A normal day of (remote) volunteering involves calling two or sometimes three visitors a day. I log their personal details on our system, then have a long chat with them to try and get an overview of their situation and understand how we can help them. This often involves hearing really challenging stories and looking out for any warning signs of issues like human trafficking or domestic abuse.
Once I’ve taken notes on the visitor’s case, I’ll have a chat with a member of staff at the centre and do any work that needs to be done – that could be making a referral to one of our partner organisations, making requesting information from the Home Office, or helping the visitor to get their documentation to us. At the end of each day, we have a debrief with all the volunteers. This is really valuable, as we get to share our experiences, learn from each other, and support each other if we’ve been dealing with really difficult cases.
“Sometimes the best moments can be small wins”
The best part of volunteering is genuinely hard to choose. The amount of training and support I got from the outset was incredible – I learnt so much about immigration law, human rights law, and the different ways we can support vulnerable people. So, the initial learning period was great, but by far my favourite thing has been the conversations with the visitors. Listening to their stories is sometimes incredibly challenging, but for many of them, the migrant support centre means that they feel like they’re not alone in their struggles for the first time.
Sometimes the best moments can be small wins – one day, I was helping a visitor who was struggling to work out how to get some forms signed electronically. It wasn’t a big task, but she was getting increasingly upset and had to pick up her child from school at the same time. By the end of the day, after I’d walked through the process with her over the phone, she got the forms sent off, and her child started shouting ‘Thank you Mr George!’ in the background. Doing seemingly basic administrative tasks can be really stressful when you have a difficult life and English isn’t your first language, so it felt great to be able to offer someone some support through that process and get the ball rolling on her case.
If you can volunteer, do it! It’s an eye-opening, character-building experience that genuinely makes a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people living in this country. One thing to consider is whether you can commit to being available one day a week for an extended period of time if you’re employed. I was lucky, as my employer was willing to hire me on a four-day-a-week contract. I think with the pandemic and the increasing conversations about flexible working, it’s worth asking your employer if they’d consider allowing you to work part-time if it’s something you’re passionate about.
If having the availability isn’t a problem for you and you’re considering volunteering, I absolutely think you should get involved. The work Haringey Migrant Support Centre does desperately need to be done.
Whilst it can be emotionally challenging, for me it actually alleviates feelings of depression I get from engaging with the news, because I’m actually doing something tangible instead of just getting angry about how fundamentally cruel the actions of our government are. It’s life-changing work, for our volunteers as well as for our visitors, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Volunteers’ Week (1st – 7th June 2021) is an opportunity to celebrate, recognise and say thank you for the fantastic contribution volunteers make around the UK. Each day this week, we’ll be bringing you stories from HMSC’s incredible volunteers. To find out more about our work, follow us on Twitter.