In the latest blog about creating a welcoming environment, Sabine Chalmers of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees writes about the Edinburgh Weekend Club, a regular social integration event for refugees.
It was a horrible morning – cold and pouring with rain – and my mind was spinning. We were supposed to be holding our Weekend Club event that day. I was thinking we surely couldn’t take a group of refugees to a big park for a picnic in this weather. But cancelling would mean letting weeks’ worth of work go down the drain.
I called one of the Syrian participants to see how she felt about attending the event. Ready to hear that no-one would turn up, and no-one would want to spend the day outside in the cold and rain, her response took me by surprise. “Cancel the event?” she exclaimed, “Why? This is Scotland. If we wait for good weather we would never go out!”
We both laughed, and that afternoon a group of Scots and New Scots spent a fabulous time in Dalkeith Country Park, preparing food together, eating Middle Eastern Fatayer and Scottish biscuits, and sharing their lives.
It is encounters like these that, for me, express what positive integration experiences can look like.
The Weekend Club is a local social integration project for refugees and people seeking asylum (known as New Scots). It aims to tackle loneliness and social isolation and develop a space for intercultural encounters. Once a month, New Scots and Scots gather for an event on a Saturday to build friendships, explore their new home, learn more about Scottish customs and culture, and have an informal opportunity to practice their English.
Most Weekend Club events are hosted by a local faith or community group who have greatly enjoyed preparing food for their new neighbours, getting to know them, and walking alongside them.
Zakia, one participant of this Weekend Club event, commented: “I have a severe physical condition and I feel alone. I need someone who stands by me. I can’t cook, go shopping, or travel as I can’t stand for more than 10 minutes. I find it difficult to make friends without leaving the house.”
Zakia has joined us for a number of outings at the Edinburgh Weekend Club. We love having her and she is becoming a true Scot, enjoying the rain and cool weather more than anyone else.
“Through the Weekend Club I can meet friends and go outside. It was a very lovely day. I felt so happy and everything was wonderful, the weather, and you, and food and my friends and the volunteers and all the group. Thank you so so much,” said Zakia afterwards.
If you are part of a faith community in Scotland and would like to learn more about refugee integration or get involved in welcoming refugees in your area, please get in touch with me. We would love to work with you towards a hospitable Scotland that is committed to ending hostility and welcoming the stranger.
This is one of a series of blogs looking at how we can be part of creating a welcoming environment for migrants. Read the others here.