New charity plans warm welcome for Forth Valley’s Afghan families fleeing Taliban

As Falkirk prepares to take in two families fleeing the conflict in Afghanistan, a new charity is aiming to ensure there is a welcome for anyone who comes to the area looking for a safe home.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Monday, 30th August 2021, 2:02 pm

Friends of Scottish Settlers (FOSS) is a group who came together in 2016, when the area became home to several Syrian families escaping the devastating civil war.

The aim was to help those whose lives had been shattered by the conflict to integrate into their new communities.

Now, as the are prepares to welcome two families looking to escape the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, they are encouraging new volunteers to help.

Refugees board buses that will take them to a processing center after they arrive at Dulles International Airport after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

And they said one of the most positive steps was simply by having a chat – and in particular help people get used to Scottish accents.

The group’s chair, Jessica Paterson, said: “We find that the children who have been here for four years now all use English perfectly and even have Falkirk accents – but it’s very different for their parents.”

Falkirk-based volunteer Kate Luke, says she has enjoyed chatting to the lady she visits in her home.

Despite the difficulties of lockdown, they have been keeping in touch online as well as with phone calls and messages and Kate is delighted they can now meet properly for chats.

Afghan refugees, fleeing the Afghan capital Kabul (Photo by ARMEND NIMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

Kate, a former teacher, said: “She doesn’t have anyone to practice English with so she gets a bit anxious – it’s all about building her confidence.”

Many of those the group helps will have experienced terrible trauma – but volunteers are not expected to ask any questions about their former lives.

Jessica confesses that when she first volunteered she was worried that it might be difficult – but she soon found that wasn’t the case.

“Actually, we have actually had a lot of good laughs together!” she said.

“We find that they are here to look forward – not back.”

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Volunteer befrienders can also help parents understand letters sent home from school or other official correspondence, take families food shopping for the first few times or help them get used to public transport.

All volunteers are given training by the Scottish Refugee Council and a recent grant of £1500 from Falkirk Council’s Community Choices will pay for training costs.

At first, Friends of Scottish Settlers were simply a group “of people who wanted to help” – but in 2020 they decided to become a registered charity.

They were inspired by the work of Stirling’s Forth Valley Welcome, but decided to have a slightly different emphasis, working with all newcomers, not just refugees.

A big launch was planned for the new charity, but unfortunately it was to be held on March 23, 2020 – the first day of the national lockdown.

Fast forward a year, however, and things are back on track.

Last week, a group of volunteers met for the first time since lockdown to enjoy a catch-up in McCoo’s ice-cream parlour, Bo’ness, before heading over to the Hippodrome cinema, to see the acclaimed film, Limbo, about four Syrian refugees.

Next month, they are having their first AGM on September 30 at 7pm at Christchurch Episcopal Church, Falkirk.

They would like to hear from anyone who would be willing to help, particularly by visiting people in their homes and having a chat.

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