Our staff and volunteers share some of their favourite moments of the year.
A very special moment for me was a recent outing to a ladies only swim session. Our group of women and kids spanned three continents, three generations and an array of shapes and sizes! I think we all felt quite shy at first (I know I felt very exposed in my swimwear!) but it didn’t take long for us to take the plunge! It was a day of firsts: most of the women’s first swim in Scotland, one woman’s first ever sauna, a little boy’s first time in the water (he apparently went home saying ‘ma’an’ all evening which means water in Arabic!) It was a beautiful experience and a moment that will stay with me for a long time to come.
Caitlin Rodgers, Befriending Coordinator
One of my favourite memories from 2016 was when I went to Peebles alongside some of our ‘Learn to Sew’ participants to do a mini fashion show at an event called “Go Green on the Green.” I remember it was a cold winter morning yet our participants’ enthusiasm and dedication made the experience a very warm one. We all got on a bus, coffees in hand, and headed off to Peebles. We were excited and nervous, as it was the first time most of us would be walking a catwalk, and weren’t sure what to expect! I was new in post but felt immediately connected to the group -I guess other Welcoming participants experience similar things when coming to our activities for the first time. We’re all new at some point, yet the vibe in our groups is encouraging, creative and inclusive: this helps build a very special atmosphere in which we can connect and share, and be creatively challenged to do new things. We managed to put on an original and buzzing fashion show. The feedback we got was great, and it was a day full of laughter, colour and debuts. That day I felt very grateful for getting to know a bit more some of the people that make The Welcoming as unique as it is, and felt very privileged to be part of the group.
Victoria Lanata Briones, Community Engagement Coordinator
My role at the Welcoming is to help people into jobs and it’s brilliant to know when they’ve been successful. One of my favourite moments happened recently when we got a message out of the blue via the Welcoming website all the way from Mexico City. This was from the mother of a young man I had supported when he approached the Welcoming after two months of unsuccessful job hunting in Edinburgh. I helped him with his CV and gave him lots of practice with job interviews. He then very quickly found a job in hospitality. His mother commented ‘I just want you to know that the emotional state of my son was appalling after all the rejection he felt before The Welcoming assisted him. He is now thriving in Edinburgh.’ It’s a real win-win when our participants get jobs and Edinburgh can benefit from their skills and hard work, and it makes my job even more of a pleasure!
Leon Dalton, Employability and Entrepreneurship Tutor
One of my favourite moments in the last year was at one of our Conversation Cafes in the spring. A special guest for the session that day was Matt Hopwood from A Human Love Story. Matt was on a 500 mile pilgrimage across Scotland and had timed his walk so that he would arrive in Edinburgh and at the Welcoming just in time for the Cafe. He facilitated a fabulous session sharing his own stories of connection and compassion and encouraging participants to reflect on theirs. As a surprise for the end of the class, our colleague David W had arranged for a performance of the Proclaimers ‘500 miles’ to send Matt on the rest of his way up to Callanish in the Outer Hebrides. The Proclaimers weren’t available that day (though their agent had sent an encouraging message with good wishes!) so Marek from Poland led us on his guitar. Matt’s session had created a great sense of togetherness and belonging and it was a wonderful moment to be part of a group of people from all corners of the world joining in to sing ‘And I will walk 500 miles and I will walk 500 more …’ in their very best Scottish accents!
Elaine Mowat, Deputy Director
As the ESOL Co-ordinator for The Welcoming it’s important to me that anyone who decides to live in Edinburgh improves their English enough to improve their job prospects. Thinking of this, I am reminded that in April of this year I received a request from one of our longest term participants for a reference, as he was applying for a new job. This nameless chap (who, when he reads this will know I’m talking about him) once told me: ‘David, when I first came to your class I understood maybe forty percent of what you were saying, if I was lucky! Now, four years later, I understand nearly everything you say – except for all the new words…’ This enthusiasm and determination has improved his prospects here no end and I truly hope he realises his dream of becoming a geography teacher in the future. If not, he has already made a huge impact in our society by becoming a care worker for people with autism.
David Carpenter, ESOL Coordinator
After an interpreting session with one of the Syrian families with a Council support worker, I offered the support worker a lift, saying that I was heading to another interpreting session at a school in the Saughton area. They said, ‘great, please drop me off at the Welcoming Association where I will be attending a course on the Arabic language’. That made me ponder the question ‘what would the new comers to Edinburgh, especially the Syrian refugees, have done without the endeavors and the wonderful work by the Welcoming?’ I interpret across the Lothian region and wherever I happen to be, the name ‘Welcoming’ keeps on popping up – sometimes in areas as far as Perth, Dundee and Arbroath. It makes me feel very proud for being a member of such a wonderful team – doing my wee bit.
Saad Ibrahim, ESOL & IT tutor
After my maternity leave I came back to the Welcoming as part of the Warmer Home Project. It was a big change for me from Re-use and Re-cycle to Home Energy, I didn’t really know what to expect.. Then I went to visit one of our participants. They are a married couple, new ito Edinburgh, who moved into their flat less then a month ago. They didn’t know how to use the heating programmer, they where not sure who their energy supplier was and they didn’t know how to use the smart meter. They only knew that they didn’t want to spend a fortune on bills. The visit went really well, we covered a lot of practical aspects but we also had a nice chat about their experience in Edinburgh. They were really grateful for our help and support, and they even made a referral for one of their friends. For me it was a special moment because it made me realise that what I do can positively contribute in shaping the experience of newcomers to Edinburgh.
Chiara Puppi, Welcoming a Warmer Home Project Coordinator
One activity which stands out for me over the past year is our Cycling for Newcomers trips. Over the summer we arranged 3 led bike rides, through funding from The Big Bike Revival. Edinburgh is full of beautiful, hidden bike paths and it was wonderful to be able to share these routes and paths with newcomers who had never discovered them before. It was great to see participants (and staff!) who hadn’t been on bikes for many years, rediscover the joy of cycling, or in the case of Zak, a participant from Syria, discover cycling for the very first time. Cycling gives people such a sense of freedom and independence, which was reflected in the feedback we got from the activity and I hope we are able to provide more cycling opportunities in the Spring!
Lucy Theaker, Welcoming Administrator and Cycle Leader
I have the privilege of co-ordinating the weekly Syrian women’s group. A stand out moment for me was on a warm day this summer. I put up a large tent up in the garden of our regular meeting hall as a venue for a music activity. Halfway through the activity one of the older ladies started singing a song in Arabic from Syria. Spontaneously all the other women gradually joined in and were familiar with the words. It was a beautiful moment of togetherness, it felt very warm and supportive, whilst tinged with the sadness that all these women carry for their country and family who still remain there or are displaced in other countries.
Rachel Alvarado, Syrian Programme Facilitator