By John Carney
WHEN Ali Swidani first arrived in Enniskillen with his family from Syria he knew no one and spoke very little English. Today he plays an important role in helping Syrian refugees integrate into the local community.
Mr Swidani now volunteers as a translator for ERANO, a refugee and newcomers support organisation based in Omagh with outreach clinics in Fermanagh.
“The first six months I lived here, I struggled with the language too and was in the same situation as them. Today I can act as a bridge between them and what they need to know. It can be something as simple as filling in a form. It all helps,” Mr Swidani, 39, explained.
“My family and I have been living in Enniskillen for more than three years. I enjoy doing volunteer work for ERANO to help the Syrian families here who don’t speak any English as I know what they are going through.
“When refugees arrive here they are fearful and worried because everything is so different for them. It’s my job to help break down their fears towards local people, and local people’s fears of those coming from the Middle East. I enjoy what I do as others can benefit from it.”
Now a student at Enniskillen’s South West College where he is studying an advanced English course, Mr Swidani is originally from Damascus and puts his proficiency in English down to a few factors.
“The English courses I did here were a big help and taught me formal English. But I have three daughters who go to school here and they taught me ‘Fermanagh English’ like ‘what’s the craic?’
“When I heard this for the first time, I was confused as it made no sense grammatically, but my daughters were able to explain these phrases to me. It’s what I call ‘daily life English’.”
This week he was involved in the ERANO-organised Men’s Health and Wellness Day at Fermanagh House in Enniskillen, which was supported by the Council Community Wellness Fund.
“In Syria, we had no education about men’s health. We knew nothing about prostate checks, getting your blood pressure checked or healthy eating,” Mr Swidani said. “There is so much [health] information available that can be beneficial to everyone. I am just helping to get this across to Syrian people living here.”
A number of local professionals and organisations were on hand at the drop-in style event with advice and support, covering a wide range of issues such as physical and mental health, anxiety and sleep management, recruitment and training advice, prostate health, healthy eating and personal training, and advice on stopping smoking.
ERANO offers refugees and newcomers a wide range of support services, and helps educate and empower those new to the area.
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