Leon's story

Reception Volunteering by Leon

a_a_IMG_059511.jpg I am an asylum seeker myself, whilst I was studying at Coventry City College for a Btec in Construction and Civil Engineering my asylum case came to a point where I was not allowed to study any more. I spent nearly a month at home doing nothing. This was highly unlike me, I was bored and a bit depressed then I remembered a discussion I had with one of my friends telling me that as an asylum seeker I was allowed to do voluntary work. This was a eureka moment! After visiting the Citizens Advice Bureau, my next stop was the Coventry Refugee Centre where I walked away with a volunteering application form. My blues suddenly went away.

On my first day at the Centre I was made very welcome. I had been before as a client and it felt a bit strange in the beginning to be on the other side of the fence. I usually arrive at the CRC just before 9 am. As I walk past the Reception heading towards the fire register I sign in, I always see a queue of our refugees and asylum seeker clients. After signing in, I head to the telephones and computer in the file room of Reception. I turn the computer on and leave the machine to boot up while I hang up my coat. The ‘phones are already ringing and at 9 am we start answering calls, at this time of day it is normally clients wanting an appointment. “Good morning, Coventry Refugee Centre, how can I help?” These are the words that signal the start of my day.

On the front desk Ferik or Marie are also taking appointment bookings from the queue. All too soon the appointments are gone. We then have to be the bearers of bad news to further callers: “I’m sorry sir we are now fully booked.” By mid-morning most calls will be general enquiries or calls that need to be transferred internally to other staff. In reception we will also be finding and retrieving client case files to make sure that caseworkers seeing clients during the day have access to all the paperwork.

It breaks my heart that we occasionally have to turn away clients. Sometimes when all the appointments have been taken and there is still a queue. Sometimes we may have to refer clients to a different organisation and when that client has been sent to us by another organisation they feel like they are going around in circles. However, we always do our very best to help someone who is in need.

When clients have been successful many come back to us with a box of chocolates to share with us, even though they cannot really afford to buy them. We like chocolate and clients are really grateful for all our help. Everyone is happy and we get this many times.

I am glad to volunteer at the Centre. I have learnt a lot in addition to my own experience of being a refugee and an asylum seeker. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction from welcoming and helping clients who need our support at a very troubling and difficult time in their lives.