Words by Peter Mcnamee
Part of Barnardo’s Befriending service is to help Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers Children (UASC) feel welcomed and safe in a new city. We befriend the young person, show them around the city, the places of worship, leisure centres and shopping areas.
About 18 months ago, I started to befriend a young man from Afghanistan who had travelled from his homeland via Europe over a period of 6 months. He arrived in the UK alone and isolated. Barnardo’s was just starting the Befriending project; as a volunteer, I was introduced to this young person. He spoke very little English and I didn’t speak Pashto so it was difficult to communicate at times, often resorting to a translator. During that period I took him to a doctor’s surgery to be registered and receive medication. We went shopping to buy new trainers and clothes. We made several visits to the Malcolm X centre in St Pauls, where he found a solicitor to take on his case and support him in his asylum appeal. He got a free gym pass at a leisure centre through the Red Cross. We visited Bristol Bike Project where he signed up to build a bike for himself, which helped him a lot in getting around Bristol.
Now, 18 months on, his English is very good and there’s no need for a translator. He is in college and has received leave to remain from the Home Office. He has new friends, plays cricket and is doing very well. We don’t meet as much now but we still keep in touch and it’s been great to see him grow in confidence.
Befriending is a rewarding role and can be so valuable to young people who have grown up in the care system or who have fled war and persecution. If you are interested in becoming a befriender, or know someone who would benefit from this scheme, visit the website.