An article by Sister Margaret

Here is a piece written by Sister Margaret, and was recently featured in ‘The Tablet’

Sister Margaret Walsh, of the Infant Jesus Sisters, who runs St Chad’s, in Birmingham, a sanctuary which helps the constant flow of refugees and asylum seekers that arrive every day, gives an insight into their work

Since our records began, more than 57,000 people have signed in. At the moment about 150 come each week for practical items and a further 150 for English language classes. We have provided over 53,000 items of clothing, more than 10,000 bags of food, and around 3,000 hygiene packs.

Many who come are newly arrived and are still wearing what they wore on their long and hazardous journeys from home. We only see most people once or twice because they are frequently moved elsewhere in the country or may face deportation.

Mohammad, from Syria, joined my religious literacy group last week. In 2012, he barely escaped with his life while living in Damascus and has not had a good night’s sleep since he left because he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family.

His journey to Britain took him through several countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France. He survived two journeys in dangerously overcrowded boats, one of which capsized but, thank God, all passengers, including three young children were saved.

That journey cost him US$1,500 (£1,000) and he was forced on to the boat at gunpoint. Mohammad is a devout Muslim whose best friend in Syria was a Christian. He enjoys sharing his faith and he listens to, respects and appreciates the faiths of others. He tells me that I remind him of his grandmother whom he loved and admired!

“Mohammad has not had a good night’s sleep since he left because

he suffers the most awful flashbacks of what happened to him and his family.”

We have over 70 volunteers and a full programme of activities five days a week. Thanks to the generosity of benefactors and volunteers, we are able to give practical help, especially to those who are destitute and can offer immigration and welfare advice to a growing number.

We also teach 10 levels of English language including a religious literacy course.

It is a great privilege to offer a welcome and some sanctuary to these lovely people. Asylum seekers come from many parts of the world; few speak English. Every day we meet the most gracious people; they are full of hope and courage despite appalling stories of persecution and loss.

However, many are too heartbroken and beaten down to be cheerful. It can be very difficult for us too because often we can do little but suffer with them.
The widely publicised pictures of Aylan washed up on a Turkish shore have touched the hearts of many and there is now a much greater outpouring of goodwill in our country towards asylum seekers.
The outpouring of support for refugees since the death of Aylan has been ‘a miracle’Outpouring of support for refugees since death of Aylan is ‘a miracle’ (PA)

I have worked in this area for 16 years and the change in public attitudes for the good really is a miracle. Before these heartbreaking images appeared, we often battled with negativity and with the many myths surrounding those who come here for protection.

Aylan’s father, who also lost his wife and an older son in the same tragedy, prayed that their deaths would do some good. I believe his prayers have been answered. A baby found among the reeds by the river Nile changed the course of our ancestors’ history (Exodus 2:3); we continue to hope and pray that Aylan’s tragic death will be spoken of and remembered by generations yet to come.

As the time goes on, we are welcoming back those we helped in the early days. They come to say thank you and so often they tell us that we are their only family in the UK. Always they want to give a helping hand. They are full of gratitude. It is very humbling to be part of their journey; we have entertained many angels since we decided to welcome people here.

In the words of Pope Francis: “They are men and women like us, our brothers and sisters; hungry, persecuted, injured, exploited, victims of war – seeking a better life, seeking happiness.”

St Chad’s Sanctuary is a charity that relies entirely on donations to continue its work. Visit their website at for more information.



A poem by one of our Asylum Seekers, Agnes.



Agnes is a regular attender at Sr. Margaret’s BSOL (Bible for Speakers of

Other Languages) class. The class have been studying the Lord’s Prayer,

and were asked to write their own versions of it for homework.


A word to my God.


Why can’t I overcome?

These are the questions I ask myself daily.

Even though times are hard,

In this difficult situation,

I have taken the decision to have confidence in You.

You are the same today and tomorrow,

You are faithful for you have never let me fall.

This is why I have never doubted You

You provide for my needs according to Your generosity.

You are my support, my refuge and my stronghold

Apart from You, I have no one else to call on

Even if everything is hard, I have decided to believe in Your word.

YawheJire, you will provide.

Glory to You for all eternity. Amen


by Agnes Tanoh

Summer School 2013

We had another successful Summer school this year.  We had a variety of activities, gardening, Let’s Cannon Hill Park, singing, Fun English, photography, a Garden Party and a trip to the Black Country Museum!  Enjoy the photos…

garden party

Celebrating an ESOL certificate!

lets go

Getting from A to B in the city…let’s go…

bcm (3)

Victorian skipping at the Black Country Museum

bcm (2)

This Victorian ride looked so tame when we got on! Black Country Museum


How does your garden grow?


Conk the Clown


Kum Ba Yah, my Lord. Garden Party singers

photo (2)

Are you ready for your close up? Photography Workshop

photography group

Caught on camera..Photography workshop

recreational english

Fun English


Shove halfpenny. Black Country Museum

garden (4)

Face painting. Garden party

gardening (2)

Gardening Workshop

Martineau Gardens

Martineau Gardens…let’s go

I am…

I am my mother who brought me in the world.

I am my father who was beautiful humanity.

I am Bangladesh where people died for their country.

I am the country where people love each other.

I am my friends who made me happy.

I am beautiful flower’s smell from my country.

I am the moment when I first met my husband.

I am all the places I have been with my husband.

I am the moment when I held my daughter for the first time.

I am the saddest moment when I lost my father.

I am the moment when I lost my friend.

I am all the friends who help me in the UK.

by Fatema Aktar




We will be periodically posting some of the work created by our English PEN students.  Here is our first piece:


Silence – the atmosphere where you can rest,

It is important and the best.

Silence – when you’ve travelled for the holiday

To have a chance to remember a good day.

Silence – you are in good spirits it can be sweet,

If it is a bad day it should be bitter.

The smell of violet on silence is possible,

Of course the smell of crude oil is inescapable

Silence is good when it sounds like summer beetles,

But dead silence is always undesirable

Let’s talk about colour,

What does our silence look like.

The silence of the colours blue and green

Relaxes our eyes, are acceptable,

But the colour black on silence is not enjoyable.


Claire Short’s visit

On Friday we were very happy to welcome Claire Short to St. Chad’s Sanctuary.  She had a the full tour round and met all our students in the English classes.

Claire Short in ESOL class

Claire who is a former Labour MP and Secretary of State has always been very active in her support for asylum seekers and refugees. She was one of the founders of the Hope Projects and is one of their trustees. We really enjoyed meeting her and she seems to have been very impressed at the work the Sanctuary does.




Thank you Waitrose!

A few months ago we were one of Waitrose’s charities of the month.  We received many votes from their customers and today we were awarded a cheque for £1340.  We will be using this money to top up on essential items (eg small sized jeans)  but also we will use some for a bumper summer school this year.

Thank you Waitrose!