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A  Volunteers experience of joining the Befriending Programme in Spirasi

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When I was first approached by Spirasi to become a befriender to a victim of torture, I was at first apprehensive – not about the person I was to meet, but about my own capabilities of being able to bring some goodness and joy into that person’s life.   I felt they had gone through so much, my fear was that I might only add to their confusion.


“What are they looking for”? I asked Deirdre, the very wise and helpful befriending officer at Spirasi.   “A friend, pure and simple”, she said.  Someone with whom it is possible to enjoy the simple things in life: a cup of coffee, a chat, a lovely walk in the park.  All in the safety of understanding this befriender is there for them and wants to give them 100% support and affection in their new host country.


That was in 2018.  My fears were so unfounded and since then I have met some extraordinary people who have brought a richness to my life that I truly enjoy.  What all befriendees share is determination, courage and an ambition, not daunted by the many knocks they receive along the way.  They are also such lovely people, I just cannot help but admire those I have met.


Just to mention one befriendee I have the pleasure to meet and how we interact.  Marie and I usually meet for a coffee once a week.  We laugh a lot and I get to taste the delicious cakes that she makes especially for our chats.  Marie is also an avid gardener with her own allotment full of delicious lettuces, beetroots, strawberries and raspberries.  And yes, we get to share these too.   Though since the covid restrictions our meetings are all virtual and I do miss the cakes…


I do my best to help Marie with paperwork, looking for a place to stay and helping her with finding work.  All practicalities, but also with the support of a true relationship that has now grown between us.  Marie and I have the same interests.  We love to read and I have had great enjoyment participating in an English project with her at her College.  Like a proud parent I was so thrilled to see Marie receive ‘excellence’ in those project results.


Sometimes befriending can make me feel sad as I see my wonderful new friend continually plodding forward, sometimes against great odds, and having to continue to do so because they have no choice, they cannot go back.  I try to give them as much support and kindness as I can in their host country, with the full knowledge that they cannot return to their much loved family in their own homeland.  My wish is always that they will be able to one day, but until then, I hope I can be the friend they need, here and now.


Befriending has been such a worthwhile experience for me.  Originally I was happy to help a person who I felt must need support in every way, especially by showing simple kindness from the people in her host country.  But it is I who have gained so much through the experience of working with my befriendee.  They are a joy to meet and we have fun speaking English together, enjoying the many chats we have on lots of topics of interest to us both.


Spirasi have given me great direction also.  They give all befrienders a serious induction programme and are always with us if we need their support.