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Annette Healy , a Befriender with Spirasi gives an insight into her relationship with a remarkable lady Evelyn, via the Spirasi Befriending Programme

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A window into the life journey of one remarkable lady Evelyn (Not real name to protect identity) gradually opened as she and I became connected just over a year ago through the Spirasi befriending programme. The Befriending programme offers support and encouragement to a befriendee, an asylum seeker or refugee as s/he negotiates the task of rebuilding their life in Ireland. Usually, friends meet but because our friendship began last May, during covid ‘season’, so far, we have connected through phone conversation only. We chat, we listen, we laugh. We are slowly getting to know each other through the delicate dance of friendship.

Evelyn’s journey towards Ireland began quite a while ago. She fled her homeland, heartbreakingly leaving behind her family. With crucial support along the way she found her way to Ireland. Here she has received vital help, achieved refugee status and with the help of Spirasi and other organizations, slowly but surely started to find her feet. To brave individuals like her and others, who have often suffered unimaginably, in accordance with the UN Convention and Protocol, we owe shelter, protection, kindness and understanding along with respect.

There can be no doubt that this multifaceted healing takes time along with genuine support. The task of making a life when one is so vulnerable and so far away from home in an unfamiliar culture, without loved ones, family, language, place, or friendship is immensely daunting. Undoubtedly it would challenge any human being to their core and call on the deepest sources of their inner strength. Time and time again Evelyn’s persistence and courage have been called on and I have witnessed her determination to find a way to slowly make this new life. I salute her courage and stand in solidarity with her on her journey. And I especially hope that she is fully supported at every turn. My wish is that Evelyn feels welcome and safe here in Ireland, and that she experiences inclusion and genuine kindness as she painstakingly weaves together the fabric of her new life. As our own history teaches us, the importance of a supportive network upon first arrival in an unfamiliar land is inestimable.

Getting to know Evelyn has been humbling and inspiring in equal measure. Her courage and resilience are striking, and yet she wears them lightly. So musical, my heart jumps for joy when she sings. In the time we have known each other, her determination to improve her English has been tireless as well as her delightful wish to learn the Irish way of saying things! Her focus on learning new skills and gaining qualification which have enabled her to find work are hugely impressive. Witnessing her determined steps towards building a life which will include being reunited with her family inspires awe and a deep compassion. It is not an easy road and there have been and will be for her, and no doubt many others like her, obstacles and challenges along the way. Perhaps as befriender and befriendee, our shared humanity can leave aside these obstacles and frontiers.

Our paths have crossed, and while I cannot walk in her shoes, hopefully we can continue to travel long side each other. Without a doubt, this sheltering tree of friendship is enriching for me and hopefully supportive for Evelyn. And maybe it can help weave a restorative cloak of protection as she takes all the necessary steps needed to build her life.

Let’s hope that Ireland can continue to offer her a safe harbour where she may flourish.