When The Well first opened in 1994, the service users of The Well came from mostly a South Asian background. (They still make up the majority) In 2001 when the government changed its dispersal policy we began to see people coming to The Well who were from Iran, Iraq, Turkey and other Middle Eastern Countries. A couple of years later Glasgow became home to many Somalians – many of whom also found their way to The Well.
In 2004 many people from the former Eastern European Countries used their right to travel anywhere in Europe for work. We had no idea of the impact this was going to have on us in The Well. We never imagined for one second that hundreds would come from Slovakia and settle in Govanhill!
Since about 2011/12 we have seen an increase in the number of ethnic Pakistani European passport holders coming to The Well. (Pakistani German, Pakistani Portugese, Pakistani Italian – the list goes one.) Again I never imagined that the banking crisis that gripped Europe and the Western World, would bring so many diverse people to The Well!
As The Well has opened its doors to our new neighbours (indeed, we changed our name to The Well, Multi-Cultural Advice Centre to reflect the diverse peoples that now use The Well), it has not always been easy! Language difficulties; cultural misunderstandings; unrealistic expectations; demanding and sometimes angry people; resentment and racism (from other service users) – have been just some of the issues we’ve had to deal with.
God has had to work in our hearts too to accept and embrace the new people groups that have come to The Well – but He has worked, let me share with you some of this journey.
In February of this year (10 years after the first Slovakians started coming to The Well!) A young well educated Slovakian man helped out in The Well for 2 weeks as an interpreter. He told me that the Slovakians who used The Well all thought we were a government agency, he was able to educate them that we are not a government agency, we are a charity – staffed mostly by volunteers. We began to see a change in the way our Slovakian service users interacted with us – much less demanding, and much more grateful, also making sure they thanked us, and they began bringing us chocolate and gifts as a thank you for helping them.
We then arranged a meeting with them with an interpreter and we asked if they would help us by not coming in big groups of 5/6 people for 1 person, and to make sure they brought an interpreter with them, if they couldn’t speak English. We explained that it was overwhelming for us to see the reception area permanently full and overcrowded, and that some of our other service users were feeling intimidated by the big groups. They accepted what we said and agreed to change that.
By changing the misconceptions they had about us, and by asking them to work with us, we were able to start to get to know them, and do what The Well does best – building relationships with them.
Once we started building relationships with them we discovered that our own attitudes had changed, perhaps best summed up by David, who covered in the reception area one day: “They can be quite demanding people, can’t they?”
“Yes” “They have many difficulties?” “Yes”
“I thought by the end of the morning ‘If Jesus were here, these are the very people He would be sitting with.'”
So now that the new legislation has come and EEA migrants can only apply for JSA for 6 months, and then have no further entitlement to it, or any other benefit – we are struggling! As Jaan said this morning, “but it’s our *Stefan, it’s our friend and it’s hard”
Yes it’s very hard, Stefan is one that we have seen such a massive change in over recent months, the love and respect he has received from The Well has been instrumental in helping him to love and accept himself – he’s working so hard to learn English and improve his skills – he just needs more time – I have no doubt that a year from now, if Stefan can continue his progress he could be a real asset to our society, he has such a kind heart.
It’s very hard that decisions are made by people who will never have to explain to Stefan that he although he has been here for eight years, and has worked good proportion of that time, and that the country which has been his home for most of his adult life is now telling him to “go home”. Indeed even the decision maker who interviewed him in the Job Centre didn’t have to tell him, she could just send him a letter – and we are the ones who have to explain the decision to him. We are the ones who have to look our friend in the eye and say “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do.”
Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that Stefan is the one who last week was offered a job in a car wash . . . . . providing he was prepared to work illegally for £2.50 per hour 8 hours a day.
I was considering this morning how different our country would be if only we took seriously the Biblical teaching:
“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself . . . ” Lev 19:34
* name changed.