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FUTURE FRIENDS

The fantastic team at Spirasi (Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative) have been doing incredible work over the years to help those who have been victims of torture and who have made new homes in Ireland. Their rehabilitative services offered include medical, therapeutic and psychosocial treatments – from ongoing therapeutic interventions, inhouse and outreach supports, English language classes for clients and their families, and befriending services. This last support in particular is where you could come in.

We all know how difficult it was to navigate the LGBTQ+ scene at the beginning. It can seem daunting -where are the places to go and what are the organisations to contact? And, most importantly, how can we meet people just like us who understand some of what we’re feeling or have gone through?

It was tough, right? Now imagine you’ve come from a different country, possibly somewhere your sexuality or gender identity was forbidden, imagine you have been the victim of torture. How alienating or overwhelming would it be to try and make a life for yourself, try and connect to a community?

Approximately 17 – 20 percent of Spirasi’s clients identify within the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to the supports other clients within Spirasi may avail of, Spirasi’s LGBTQ+ clients can attend the LGBTQ+ Peer Support Group, a group who meet weekly. The LGBTQ+ Peer Support Group originated as a passion project of the therapy coordinator in 2018 and has offered that inclusive space to approximately 40 clients since.

Spirasi are now launching an LGBTQ+ Specific Befriending Programme. The purpose of the programme is to offer more inclusivity and integration to LGBTQ+ clients who may be harder to reach, for example, by their geographical location. Its aim is to focus on those who may feel most isolated in order to improve their wellbeing and quality of life. Through the compassionate support of LGBTQ+ volunteer befrienders, these clients can participate fully in Irish society.

So why are Spirasi specifically looking for LGBTQ+ volunteers? People who are recent additions to Irish LGBTQ+ society might not know relevant support groups, meetup groups or places to socialise. Members of the community familiar with these things can offer advice or a way in, without which Spirasi’s clients could struggle to make connections.

The impact of this befriending on the client is immense. Some of those involved in the LGBTQ+ Peer Support Group shared what having a connection to the queer community meant to them, so no doubt the Befriending Programme would have an equal or greater impact. One attendee shared, “I feel safe. At least to me, it feels like my own community sort of, and I know the people in the group understand me better than any other people who are not from the LGBTQ+ family/community.” Others shared that the group had become “home to me”, and “I was affected by the way society looked at me before I got to Spirasi.”

Now you could help a fellow LGBTQ+ person find hope, home, and friendship, and what could be better than that?

So, what would the role of a Volunteer Befriender involve? You would be asked to provide companionship by meeting your befriendee once a week. You would provide support which could range from help with language and literacy, to emotional and practical support, to intercultural exchange.

If you’re not quite sure how to go about befriending or what else it could entail, never fear -all volunteers would be trained, Garda vetted and supported by the Befriending Officer, so you yourself would be given advice and support throughout the programme.

If you aren’t in a position to volunteer at the moment, don’t forget, you can also donate to Spirasi to help them carry out their essential work.

To get involved, or to find out more information on the LGBTQ+ Services Spirasi offers, contact their LGBTQ+ Inclusion Worker, Keith Judge, by email at keith@spirasi.ie or visit their website at www.spirasi.ie

This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN