I have lived in many places. Togo, France and Indonesia have all been my home and I know that when we move to a new country, a warm welcome makes all the difference.
When I arrived in Togo I could not have felt further from home. I was about to immerse myself in an unfamiliar culture and I felt very alone. However, the unforgettable welcome that I received from the Togolese people quickly made me feel at home. My hosts sent a young boy on foot to the neighbouring village to buy a chicken to share with me. I certainly didn't feel worthy of such an honour but I will never forget the hospitality. Despite the looming outbreak of civil war and desperate poverty, the villagers went out of their way to welcome a complete stranger.
I soon fled to France to escape the war and again I was met with kindness and selflessness. Having spent nearly all my money on a flight to safety, I found myself broke in Paris with nowhere to go. My friend's mother hid us in a dingy spare room in a little hotel where she worked as a chambermaid. She was prepared to risk her job to give us shelter. After that, her friend, a caretaker, on hearing that we had nowhere to stay, slept in his office so that he could offer us his tiny room in the attic of a large Parisian building.
Another time I was moved by such a generous welcome was when I took a coach to Amsterdam to meet my boyfriend's family. His old auntie, with whom I could not communicate a word, held my hand as we walked in the park and she shared the only bed with me whilst his uncle, who had first arrived in Amsterdam as a refugee, slept on the floor and his mother slept on the sofa.
One more memorable occasion was soon after my arrival in Jakarta. I was the only foreigner commuting on a very overcrowded city bus and I was standing close to the driver. When he saw me he gave me a sweet. He noticed that I was struggling to hang on and undo the warm sticky wrapper, so he took the sweet back and unwrapped it for me! Every kind gesture counts and even the smallest of things can help people to feel welcomed.
I have been fortunate enough to be warmly welcomed around the world and now I feel that it is my turn to give something back to our global society by welcoming refugees into my community.
I am helping to organise a Redbridge Refugee Welcome Foster Evening in the hope that we will find homes for some of the most vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees.
My classes and I will start doing some Simple Acts throughout Refugee Week and when the week is over I will not stop....