Ali came to UK in 2019 from Iran and after spending time in London, Birmingham and Derby, came to live in Stockton. After leaving Iran as it was not safe to remain there, he feels very at home in the UK and is very grateful for the welcome he has been given in Stockton. Ali first contacted Catalyst in October 2020 to offer his services as a volunteer.
I felt that the people of the UK and especially of Stockton-on-Tees helped me a lot and I wanted to give something back to the local community. I had volunteered informally in Kahrizak at both a care home for older people and an Autism rehabilitation centre and really enjoyed this.
When Ali contacted Catalyst he explained that he had experienced some mental health challenges, included PTSD as a result of the experiences which led to him seeking Asylum in the UK. He was referred to Mind’s Community Minded Project and spent some time working with them to prepare for becoming a volunteer and to make sure he felt supported and confident to help others.
The Mind Project was a useful and constructive experience. I was talking about some of the issues that were blocking my way, and someone on the other end of the phone who was volunteering was trying to clarify them. Basically it was sort of problem-solving session.
After a few months, Ali felt ready to volunteer and helped out at the Covid Test Centre set up by Stockton Borough Council at Splash. He worked with David, an existing volunteer to start with, to ensure he felt comfortable and had support there if needed.
Basically the Splash Centre’s brilliant volunteers inspired me immensely. It was a magnificent experience. They say, “We are defined by our actions, not by our words.” During this pandemic when everyone was worried about him/herself, those people in Splash put other people first, without any expectations of help to keep themselves safe. This was true selflessness because I personally believe that they were not just testing people, rather they were offering a great deal of love and hope throughout the community, which is much more contagious than any deadly virus. Heroes don’t speak about the good they are doing. People in the front line, and volunteers and those who support them are the real heroes.
However, it was fun as well because I was doing a survey about people’s experiences of the service and I had to get personal details from individuals. Because of this, I sometimes got funny responses. Once when I asked a young woman about her gender identification, she replied ‘the last time I checked I was female’, and we both laughed.
Ali is now volunteering with Purple Rose Health and Well-being, a local organisation providing COVID test kits to people seeking asylum and refugees at the Newton Community Resource Centre. The Foodbank is run by Susan Mansaray, founder of Purple Rose and members of the North East Migration Project.
This is giving him the chance to continue his volunteering and also meet more new people. The Centre also provides food and other essentials and helping there has helped Ali meet more people and feel he is really helping others.
Overall, volunteering is two-way street. Through volunteering we are able to build our sense of empathy and enhance our resilience.
Being a small cog in the big wheel of the Newtown community, it was a pleasure to be given the opportunity to help the most vulnerable and marginalised people. We have more in common than that which divides us, and volunteering served to remind me of this.
Ali is a poet and writer and would love to attend university here and work towards a career once he is able to work. He is looking forward to an interview at Middlesbrough College to start his UK education.
Ali is looking to do more volunteering and is really keen to continue to help others and contribute to the community. We are grateful for his help and appreciate all of the time he gives to support others in Stockton.