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Educational Mentoring Volunteer Scheme

As part of GARAS’s commitment to our young people, we have set up a volunteer educational mentoring scheme, which aims to contribute to the support and encouragement of asylum seeking young people in the Gloucester area so that their transition to and progress through the education system is enhanced.

Having a positive experience of education is an important part of a young person’s well-being. Unfortunately in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to place them quickly into appropriate education settings. Sometimes it can take many months, and even then there might be a limit to the amount and type of provision offered. GARAS plays a critical role in supporting them through this time, providing advice and free English classes.

But we want more for these young people. The volunteer educational mentoring scheme is one piece of the jigsaw. Through this scheme we match up an appropriate volunteer with a young person, and they then meet for an hour once a week to talk about their school or college work.

The scheme has now being running for a few months. Here is what one of our volunteers has to say about taking part in the scheme:

I really enjoy being an educational mentor and it is certainly one of the highlights of my week. It’s great to see the young person I work with making progress in his college work and to know that I have played a small part in that. Sometimes we talk about his English and do practice exercises from his college book. Sometimes I have printed off a BBC sport match report for his favourite football team that we read together. At the moment he is preparing for a Maths test so we are working through some practice papers he has been given.”

He has a brilliant attitude to his learning and I’m so impressed with his determination. I think he appreciates the time to talk about his work one-to-one. I guess I act as a sort of practical cheerleader, cheering him on and adding an extra layer of support.”

We are always looking for more volunteers, and we have no shortage of young people who would benefit from this kind of support. Please see the information below for how you can find out more. The scheme has been set up in collaboration with Redcliffe College and with the support of the Diocese of Gloucester LIFE development fund.

Tim Davy

PS If this is of interest to you, or you would like to know more please contact Adele Owen at info . She will be able to provide more information and if you want to explore this further, we can arrange to meet.

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39 Dead

How did you react when you heard the terrible news of those 39 people dying together in the back of a refrigerated lorry?

I can unashamedly admit to bursting into tears, the sheer horror of the situation they had faced, the abuse of human beings, the desperation that leads to such situations all come to mind. This is alongside the memory of stories I have heard from others who have made similar dangerous journeys; others who have felt the panic of the cold in a refrigerated lorry; the scars from being strapped underneath; the dark, the not knowing where you are; the lack of control, to name but a few.

It got me thinking of the misuse of human beings over time, of the slave ships of the 18th Century packing people into cargo holds with no care of deaths along the way. Have we really not moved on from then? Are we still seeing people treated as commodities? The desperate answer is yes.

We have yet to find out why this group were there, whether this was smuggling or trafficking, but whichever it is, no-one had the care to check if they were all right. No-one bothered to treat them properly, what does that say? What can we try to learn? How can we create a world where we all have a sense of responsibility to each other, whoever we are?


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The World on Our Doorstep

At the moment there is an exhibition on at St Mary de Crypt entitled the World on Our Doorstep. You can see displays telling the stories of different groups of refugees arriving in Gloucestershire over the centuries. The most recent bring it up to date and include some sound recordings of stories told by those here today. If you are able to, it is worth trying the sound pens to hear them. There is also a short video of some of the highlights from the event there on the 18th June. If you would like to watch to it all, it is here on this link:

Please also add your world wide links to the map and add comments to the books. Thank you.


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We can all help someone’s mental well being!

For refugee week I was invited to speak at the Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference where the focus was on the mental health of young refugee and asylum seekers.

I chose to speak about safety as when working as a Clinical Psychologist at GARAS with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, it appears that there is no meaningful difference that I can make until the young person can feel a sense of being safe in their body, within our relationship and in their environment. This can be incredibly difficult when a young person may have been in survival mode for so long and the threats to them are still very high. The children that I work with have often been very mistreated, hurt and let down by people, particularly on their journeys.

More and more I am learning to take the stance of collaboration and curiosity. Whilst respecting many of the Western Psychological ways of working that I have been taught, I am learning that this is not enough and indeed is definitely not all. This work is a daily practice of suspending what I know and really seeing, hearing and feeling the person in front of me with their own ways of coping, their strategies for survival, for healing and for resilience. Together, there may be the past to bring awareness to but only if someone is indeed ready. Often this is not the case for some time, if at all and of more urgency can be supporting young people with post migration difficulties. My supervisor alerted me to the fact that living in exile I can be very passive; waiting for asylum, waiting to hear about family, dependent on to local authority. There can be little choice and the young person may be reliant on one voice of an interpreter to be heard.

As a community at GARAS, I often notice how we all weave our work and skills together to support this feeling of safety for the young people who use our services. Young people tell me that a simple act such as a warm smile, a welcoming voice, a invitation to a community event can go a long way to making post migration a less hostile place. I observe that when working together we can additionally support young people in becoming active about their future; giving autonomy, choice and fully welcoming them with whatever they are feeling, however they are being and with whatever they are bringing. We may even enable them to feel a sense of belonging, of accepted and respected just as they are. In this, they can learn to feel safe again.


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This poem was written by a good, old friend. This is his experience.

I saw him yesterday and he he asked that this be his contribution to the week.


I am a refugee

Nobody around me

I am alone

When I leave the house

No destiny

And nobody waiting for me

I walk slowly

Arrive at GARAS

Acquainted eyes and kind smiles

The solitude escapes for a while

I say “thank God.”

Ali Reza Babae

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Action speaks louder than words

What is the hardest decision you’ve made in your life?

In my case, although I have had some tricky decisions to make, I have to confess that, so far, I’ve been very fortunate and I don’t think I’ve ever had to make a really hard decision. Certainly not one that involves issues of life and death.

Asylum seekers and refugees are people who have had to make a really huge decision. A decision that more often than not has involved life and death. It’s an action that speaks louder than words. They’ve fled conflicts, war zones, oppression, and annihilation and have found the strength in their fear to refuse to accept that this is how life should be and have made the huge decision to move for a safer life. They’ve stepped out of their situation into a boat, a lorry, a train or on foot into a chaotic storm of the unknown, risking everything. Then, unlike the endings in fairy tales, when they arrived at their place of safety, they’ve invariably found that life is anything but straightforward and easy.

On arrival they face heartache, hardship and uncertainty as they live with very limited means and in simple conditions as their future is resolved. Looking forward, they are grateful for their safety but often fearful of the future. When they look back they often struggle to cope with the experiences of their journey and can’t help but think of those they have lost or have left, aren’t safe and are now out of reach. That is a big burden to carry.

So it is so important that they have some calm, support and hope in their storm. That’s where, for the last 20 years, GARAS has stepped in.

During this refugee week and at some of the events that have already been held marking GARAS’s 20th anniversary, I’ve heard some amazing stories about individuals. Accounts of the lives of asylum seekers and refugees, from the Kindertransport children in Gloucester to the present day. Stories of how they found peace and their own voice in a new land and then made amazing contributions to society. Inspiring descriptions too of people who helped them, who took sacrificial action and played their part in enabling them to be themselves and to be valued.

GARAS relies, not just on the expertise, experience, empathy and practical advice of its amazing staff, but also on the actions and inspiring commitment of volunteers. These past few days have been a powerful reminder to me that each of us has to find our ‘voice’ on this issue and then discover our way of making a difference.

Action speaks louder than words.


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Reflection from Rita

One of the joys of working together with others supporting refugees and asylum seekers across the county is that we meet lots of wonderful people. One of these is Rita Rimkiene who runs World Cafe. She has written a guest blog.

‘There is nothing celebratory about the International Refugee Day. In fact, it makes me feel sad that such day exists at all in this day and age. How cruel and selfish we have become that another persons sorrow and suffering is perceived as their misfortune instead of a collective problem.

However, I do rejoice over safe arrival of people into our city. And perhaps in a sense this week is about celebrating peace of the new land where people are resettled with an opportunity to start all over. It is always wonderful and heart warming to see families reunited, people receiving their refugee status, children can be children. I am thankful for those who escaped the atrocities of war, but I am also worried that many are stuck in the limbo and there is no clarity of the future.

Today I celebrate peace for all those that in some miraculous way ended up in our city and thinking of how can we in the comfort of this peaceful country challenge our MP’s, the Home Office, politicians and our own communities, neighbourhoods to see the suffering of others as our own and act upon it.’


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