The Sanctuary will be closed between Monday 22nd August until Friday 2nd September 2016
We are open again Monday 5th September 2016
Here is a piece written by Sister Margaret, and was recently featured in 'The Tablet'
Sister Margaret Walsh, of the Infant Jesus Sisters, who runs St Chad’s, in Birmingham, a sanctuary which helps the constant flow of refugees and asylum seekers that arrive every day, gives thetablet.co.uk an insight into their work
Since our records began, more than 57,000 people have signed in. At the moment about 150 come each week for practical items and a further 150 for English language classes. We have provided over 53,000 items of clothing, more than 10,000 bags of food, and around 3,000 hygiene packs.
Many who come are newly arrived and are still wearing what they wore on their long and hazardous journeys from home. We only see most people once or twice because they are frequently moved elsewhere in the country or may face deportation.
Mohammad, from Syria, joined my religious literacy group last week. In 2012, he barely escaped with his life while living in Damascus and has not had a good night's sleep since he left because he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family.
His journey to Britain took him through several countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. He survived two journeys in dangerously overcrowded boats, one of which capsized but, thank God, all passengers, including three young children were saved.
That journey cost him US$1,500 (£1,000) and he was forced on to the boat at gunpoint. Mohammad is a devout Muslim whose best friend in Syria was a Christian. He enjoys sharing his faith and he listens to, respects and appreciates the faiths of others. He tells me that I remind him of his grandmother whom he loved and admired!
"Mohammad has not had a good night's sleep since he left because
he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family."
We have over 70 volunteers and a full programme of activities five days a week. Thanks to the generosity of benefactors and volunteers, we are able to give practical help, especially to those who are destitute and can offer immigration and welfare advice to a growing number.
We also teach 10 levels of English language including a religious literacy course.
It is a great privilege to offer a welcome and some sanctuary to these lovely people. Asylum seekers come from many parts of the world; few speak English. Every day we meet the most gracious people; they are full of hope and courage despite appalling stories of persecution and loss.
However, many are too heartbroken and beaten down to be cheerful. It can be very difficult for us too because often we can do little but suffer with them.
The widely publicised pictures of Aylan washed up on a Turkish shore have touched the hearts of many and there is now a much greater outpouring of goodwill in our country towards asylum seekers.
The outpouring of support for refugees since the death of Aylan has been 'a miracle'Outpouring of support for refugees since death of Aylan is 'a miracle' (PA)
I have worked in this area for 16 years and the change in public attitudes for the good really is a miracle. Before these heartbreaking images appeared, we often battled with negativity and with the many myths surrounding those who come here for protection.
Aylan’s father, who also lost his wife and an older son in the same tragedy, prayed that their deaths would do some good. I believe his prayers have been answered. A baby found among the reeds by the river Nile changed the course of our ancestors’ history (Exodus 2:3); we continue to hope and pray that Aylan’s tragic death will be spoken of and remembered by generations yet to come.
As the time goes on, we are welcoming back those we helped in the early days. They come to say thank you and so often they tell us that we are their only family in the UK. Always they want to give a helping hand. They are full of gratitude. It is very humbling to be part of their journey; we have entertained many angels since we decided to welcome people here.
In the words of Pope Francis: “They are men and women like us, our brothers and sisters; hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war – seeking a better life, seeking happiness.”
St Chad’s Sanctuary is a charity that relies entirely on donations to continue its work. Visit their website at www.stchadssanctuary.com for more information
Last week, 2 of The Sanctuary team, along with a few of their friends went to visit the camp in Calais: ‘The Jungle’. They took aid and helped out while they were there and this is their story:
While our government was building fences around Calais, we decided to help tackle the real issues. The desperate need of thousands of people, left with almost nothing after fleeing for their lives from their countries, and having already been through so much to reach a place of safety.
We researched the best way to help, and after finding the “Calais - People to People Solidarity-Action from the UK” group on Facebook, we decided it would be possible to drive to Calais and pack our cars as full as possible with things that were needed. We asked around for donations and were overwhelmed with the response. Within 24 hours we had already hit our fundraising target and had so many offers of donations! By the time we had finished collecting and sorting, we had around £500 and a bountiful supply of things to take over.
Once we had arrived with our tightly packed cars, we had arranged to meet Pascal, who ran one of the organisations that focused on practical goods handouts. He quickly made us realise the stark situation: one of the largest organisations helping the camp was run by a man living off his lifesavings, working 7 days a week, much of the time by himself. We dropped the clothing, food and hygiene we had taken and spoke more with Pascal about the situation. He told us of the great need for manpower to help the situation and funding to allow them to buy the items they run short of.
We then met Riaz, volunteering with another organisation in the camp, and he took us to visit the school. A small shack of corrugated metal sheets, with some children playing outside. The timetable was written up with classes throughout the week on a whiteboard, and as we were there many people were arriving, hoping to get a place in a class. We spoke to a few people and, everyone was very happy to see us and welcomed us, but almost all asked the same question. “Why?” Why was our government so against helping refugees? Why were they left like this? Sadly, we had no answer.
From here we went onto one of the camps in the Jungle. Make shift tents, a makeshift tap, piles of rubbish (tided as much as people could) and a dusty, muddy ground greeted us as we entered. More importantly, many people, waving and smiling at us, happy to chat to us and even the offer of a hot drink from a very generous Eritrean man!
While there we helped with an additional food handout after going to buy food with some of our donated money. A bi-weekly drop, done in different parts of the camp each time, so everyone could get something.
On the day, we were lined up next to 3 vans with our cars, faced with a queue as far as the eye could see of people, hoping they would get something to eat. Each was given a small bag with some vegetables, then at each van, they were given a few additional items. Croissants, oil, bread, rice, whatever was available. And then each person moved on for the next in line. After 2 hours in the pouring rain, we were nearing the end of the line which must have been at least 500 people long. Those at the end left with only handfuls of croissants each, but luckily this time, each left with at least something. Many people only had t-shirts and sandals and had waited hours in the rain.
During our time there, it was a real struggle to see how this kind of thing can be happening just 25 miles from our coastline. With fences being put up around, rather than aid being provided. We spoke with many people, just like you or me, who had been through so much already, and simply want somewhere safe to live. It was clear to see that more needed to be done, and we all left quite down. We had gone over to help and it felt as if we had been just a drop in an enormous ocean. However, we all agreed, one drop can lead to a rainstorm. And that each of us would find our way to do more.
The St. Chad's 'Open Evening' will soon be here, so now is the time to put it into your diary.
St. Chad’s Cathedral Peace Vigil
On Wednesday 6th May, we came together to remember, pray and be in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees. This was a very powerful and moving experience. It was also difficult in that we had some very small share in the suffering and anguish which asylum seekers go through in their journey to freedom and in their grief for loved ones, many of whom have been brutally murdered or left behind. People from several countries and of different faiths attended, as well as their many friends and supporters from around the Midlands.
A simple liturgy organised by St. Chad’s Sanctuary, included hymns and readings in many languages including Arabic, Amharic and Tigrinya. We watched some heart-breaking footage showing the horrendous journey many have been through while crossing the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean. During the evening many came forward to light candles for loved ones and write prayers which were hung on a prayer tree. Heart-broken people openly wept as they raised their arms in supplication around the altar. By the end of the vigil the Sanctuary was filled with light and with symbols of hope and trust in a God who walks with us and hears our prayer.
In the tradition of an Irish wake, we were welcomed to the Canon’s Dining Room where we could listen, support and sympathise. Harrowing stories were told, many tears were shed and hopes and dreams shared.
Since the event, there have been many expressions of appreciation and gratitude. People welcomed the opportunity to pray and grieve together. Mohammad summed up the feelings of many: “Last week I had very bad news. All my family and friends from my village are dead. I have been feeling very shocked, sad and alone. The vigil took away my loneliness. St. Chad’s Sanctuary is my new family.”
The evening reminded us of why St. Chad’s Sanctuary and many other voluntary agencies across the UK, must continue to work and support some of the bravest and most vulnerable people in society.
A big thank you to Eric and The Office Furniture Warehouse in Birmingham for their fantastic donation of a metal storage cupboard. It will be used to store our academic textbooks while not in use, keeping them safe and sound!
A huge thank you must be offered to Carol and Everyone at the P.A.A.T. (Professional Association of Alexander Teachers) for their donation of a new Projector.
As the picture below shows, it's already being put to good use in some classes. Sr. Margaret loves it because she can now show some of her favourite films in class...as teaching aids...she says!
It was like a scene from Ballykissangel (for those of you who do not know, this was an Irish comedy set in a small village and particularly in the pub!)
Paul from Erdington Fencing came in saying he had been paid in toys, instead of money by The Belfry / Laurence Llewelyn Bowen's crowd and he had £3000 worth of toys to get rid of two days before Christmas. Well a deal is a deal and I thought ‘Thought Of Others’ could find a nice home for them.
Five van loads were delivered to St. Chad's Sanctuary, which is a first stop charity for refugees and asylum seekers, supported by St. Chad's Cathedral and The Salvation Army. Sister Margaret, who runs the Sanctuary said they were literally scraping the bottom of the barrel for children's toys; fortunately this year, the shepherds and the wise men / women of Erdington arrived in a St. Nick of time!!