My passion is to advocate for equality amongst the turmoil of displacement and trauma

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Beth Richardson talks about how being a Mother Companion has supported her degree to become a Midwife

I volunteered to be alongside pregnant women from different backgrounds with challenging situations, to bring skills from midwifery training to the support role but also to learn from their experience and what is needed to be able to provide culturally safe and appropriate perinatal care.

I take the role of a Mother Companion which provides dedicated support and nurturing of a woman or birthing person from any stage in pregnancy, throughout labour and childbirth and for the first 8 weeks of parenthood to help them adapt to their new role.

How I support the charity

The women and families we support are of migrant, refugee or asylum seeker status who do not have birth support or community around them. As a mother companion I provide:

Emotional Support: Space to un-pack ideas, concerns and wishes. Listening, giving encouragement, reassurance, and being a consistent physical & nurturing presence.

Physical Support: Helping with comfort measures, breath work, massage, relaxation, and guidance with infant feeding & settling.

Information Support: Sharing information, explanations and non-medical advice, guidance on NHS care, and signposting to partner agencies.

Advocacy: Facilitating communication between the people we support and care providers so that they can make informed choices. Discussing rights & entitlements in pregnancy.

Where relevant, support for a Mother’s Partner: Offering encouragement, reassurance & guidance on how to support the mother, their infant and themselves.

How volunteering has helped my career

I have been working with small teams of doullas and midwives in a capacity that holds space as a professional friend which, being different from the more clinical and investigatory role of a midwife, provides greater insights into making connections with women and families from all different cultures and backgrounds. It is incredibly inspiring.

I am building knowledge of different cultural practices and ways of being, as well as this I am building different communication skills. There is often a language barrier so learning to trust in facial expressions and body movements and showing care and compassion in this way has been great and I feel I make a deep connection with those I work with.

I am continuing to volunteer with Project Mama ongoing, taking part in training days and will do my specialist placement with them too. I plan to take my midwifery work into a global setting in the future and hope to transfer my skills to working with pregnant women in crisis situations.

How my degree will take me from volunteer to qualified medic on refugee border crossings

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Lily Stephenson. Paramedic Science student, tells her volunteering journey

I became a student paramedic after working with volunteer medics on the shores of Greece at emergency boat landings. I spent five years volunteering with refugees and asylum seekers trapped at the borders in Greece, Lebanon, Serbia, Italy and France before returning to Bristol to study. I decided to help out with a local project which supported refugees; I felt that I would have a good understanding of the dangerous journeys they may have experienced to get here and wanted to help with integration.

I started volunteering at ‘Welcome Wednesdays Extra’ once a week in the middle of the lockdown. It is a well established project, run by Creative Youth Network, that supports newly arrived young asylum seekers and refugees. Most of the participants are between 15-19 and live in emergency homeless shelters or foster care.

The sessions offer a chance to meet other young people, practice English, play games, do art and crafts, cook and eat nutritious food and access a lawyer. I learnt Arabic in Lebanon so I help with translation which enables the young people to access the service and feel welcome. Generally I support the participants emotionally, encourage them to make use of the space and make friends, organise activities and games and help with special events such as the Eid feast and the Christmas party.

Many young people arrive traumatized and unable to trust people, but gradually we build relationships and I help them feel safe and connected in the UK.
Sharing with staff my experience and understanding of refugee issues enabled staff to treat the young people in a trauma-informed way to understand their behaviour. I brought culturally appropriate ideas to the group with an understanding of their needs and the importance of keeping a connection with their home. Many arrived during lockdown so we tried to reduce social isolation and help them stay positive. The young people grew in confidence and this impacted their ability to become independent and manage their lives.

I have learnt many things from the amazing young people who attend the session. They inspire me everyday with their resilience and strength. Many of them are unaccompanied, living in terrible accommodation, homesick and traumatized, yet manage to stay positive. They are so dedicated to education that it reminds me how lucky I am to be at university in a safe country.

The young people have also taught me how to play pool and table tennis (although they still win every time!). I have learnt traditional Afghan dancing (although I am very bad at it!). I have learnt about the rich culture and diversity of Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and other countries, and also the terrible atrocities people have lived through.

I learnt about the challenges and opportunities for newly arrived refugees in Bristol. I felt proud to be part of a community that supports refugees and advocates for vulnerable young people. I have learnt about referral routes and helped to signpost onward to other services.

I built my confidence in speaking Arabic and now see how useful it can be in Bristol. I helped send texts in Arabic to new participants and ensured documents were accessible in numerous languages. I even learnt some Pashtu from playing board games!

I organised new activities such as card making, herbal medicine making and badge making. This improved my group work and leadership skills. I discussed with my manager the need for staff training surrounding asylum law and services for refugees in Bristol, which was then organised. I hope this improved the service for young people.

I am hoping to start doing 1-1 work with one of the most vulnerable participants who I built rapport with. He speaks Arabic and needs extra help with his mental health and well being. I hope to carry on volunteering there for the duration of my course, and return to Lebanon when I qualify to work on the Syrian border as a medic supporting the refugee community.

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