ASSIST Sheffield

Challenging asylum destitution

Shaa - volunteer interpreter

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 14:41 -- Cath Baldwin

Anyone with experience of public services such as housing, benefits, GPs and the Job Centre knows how challenging the system can be. When you come from a place with few public services, with nobody to help you, and little knowledge of the local language, it’s even harder. Not knowing who to ask or where to go, many asylum seekers feel lost in an unfamiliar system.

Thankfully, there are people like Shaa. Not one to sit at home doing nothing, he decided to help. With his knowledge of English, plus his skills acquired from his job as a petroleum engineer in Sudan, he knew he could do something. As he was getting to know the local Sudanese community, Shaa asked a friend if they knew where to find voluntary work. That was how he heard about ASSIST Sheffield, who were in need of an Arabic interpreter – a need he was able to fill.

Happier because he was helping people, and improving his English along the way, his work with ASSIST Sheffield also meant he could get references for other jobs.
Previously, he had difficulty finding work where he could make use of his degree-level education and skills in engineering and software. But then he heard from another volunteer about a nearby UK Online Centre looking for skilled people to help others with IT issues. Shaa began working for them twice a week. Good enough to teach, his manager suggested he get a Ptlls (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) qualification. Shaa was sent a link and he applied, got accepted, passed the course, and was offered a part-time job as a Digital Champion.

Shaa’s ambition doesn’t end there. Currently studying higher tier level maths at college, he’s now being considered for a Petroleum Geoscience for Reservoir Development and Production MSc at university.

Volunteering for ASSIST Sheffield has helped with Shaa’s progress, and taught him new skills besides English. His confidence has been bolstered, and he’s learned to be more patient. Working with people who are stressed, and who don’t know he’s not paid, means sometimes their attitude can become hostile. It’s a sad fact that ASSIST Sheffield aren’t always able to help. If this happens, they refer their clients to people who can, and accompany them to at very least offer support. But their clients don’t necessarily realise this, and may assume that people like Shaa are part of a system that doesn’t want to help them. In these situations, it takes patience to give them the support they sorely need.

Shaa enjoys his work with ASSIST Sheffield, in spite of these challenges. He describes them as “good people who like to help.” Though it can sometimes be difficult, his experiences show that it can help lead to a better life – both for the asylum seekers, and for the volunteers themselves.