Bob and Diana's Story: Fostering Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers
09 September 2023
09 September 2023
They fondly recount their experience of fostering unaccompanied asylum seekers from Afghanistan: two teenage boys. Bob and Diana actively sought this type of placement as they were keen to try and help young people who had fled their country due to war, something they clearly feel a great deal of empathy for.
They're amazing, they've endured so much, and they're so lovely. They are polite, they're well behaved, they want to please; they want to build themselves lives here.
Diana, Foster Carer
From their first preparations of buying a Koran and prayer mat, learning to cook authentic Afghan dishes, to fun and games at the mosque, this interview demonstrates how an open mind and willingness to learn brings its own rewards.
For Bob and Diana, the rewards are sharing their home with two young men who clearly bring them a lot of joy, and which they are immensely proud of.
Now he also cooks food for us in the Afghan tradition, which is lovely.
Diana, Foster Carer
09 September 2023
One of the young men is now playing for Devon, under 18 cricket team. That's only after one season in English cricket, with his ambition to play for England at cricket.
Bob, Foster Carer
Bob: Hi, my name's Robert but I'm usually called Bob. This is my lovely wife, Diana, and we've been fostering with Blue Sky for some time now. In fact, we were the first carers in this Devon area, actually.
Diana: No, we weren't.
Bob: No, we weren't the first. We were the longest surviving ones!
Diana: This could be a long afternoon, couldn't it?
[both laugh heartily]
Bob: When we were considering fostering children from different backgrounds, one of the things that came to my mind was unaccompanied asylum seekers. We had heard lots about these poor unfortunates that were coming to the country. There were none as far as I was aware that were in Blue Sky at that time.
I said I would be interested in that because the challenge of language, knowing their background, etcetera, was important. When it came to that we were offered the opportunity of a young man. We had little knowledge of him. Nobody had much knowledge of him, but we decided we ought to research because he was coming from Afghanistan and we knew the troubles in Afghanistan and we knew the troubles he must have suffered.
We researched a little bit more about Afghanistan and their practices, their religions, of course. We prepared ourselves for a vast change and how to deal with it. The first thing I think that was so important, that we made the right decision to do, we learned a few words of Pashto, so that when this lad arrived on our doorstep, brought by taxi from from Kent, dropped on our doorstep, we were able to speak to him with a greeting in his own language.
Diana: As Salaam Alaikum
Bob: As Salaam Alaikum. Absolutely. He spoke very little or no English at that time. And the joy, if you like, of helping and gradually getting him speaking with a little more and more English each day... We had a few months before he was able to go to school.
A little pointer about how we dealt with him. We felt it was a good thing that he should feel at home. So, we got the first thing we did on his arrival, we had for him a prayer mat and a..
Diana: in Pashtu
Bob: In Pashtu. So that he wasn't lost with his faith - if he had it - we didn't know.
Diana: As it turned out he is very devout. So it was good to think that we had got it ready for him. And I think it did really make a difference to him.
Bob: He took that book and he kissed it, as soon as I gave him it. So we knew it was the right thing to do.
Diana: And obviously we, we'd researched about food and diet…
Bob: You just, you take it off the tip of my tongue! I was just saying…
Diana: He loves his cooking. He loves his food. So he’d actually gone out and researched Afghan, uh, dishes and he was able to cook some authentic meals and that went down very well.
Bob: Yeah. Just for a few days. I still do them occasionally, but they, they're certainly well accustomed to English food and everything.
Diana: But now he also cooks food for us in the Afghan tradition, which is lovely.
Bob: Yes, we use a different style, which is a bit more vegetarian perhaps in some ways. So, it's good. We've enjoyed the experience actually - enjoying, shall we say!
Diana: He's learning a lot of English and we can speak a little bit more Pashto now.
Bob: Yes, yes, we're learning a bit of Pashto. We think that's a good bonding exercise if you like. We're teaching them English, they're starting to teach us a little bit of Pashto.
Diana: Only a few words, but it helps.
Diana: I think there's a huge misconception around unaccompanied asylum seekers. I think mainly people don't appreciate what the young people have gone through. The experiences they've had are horrendous. No, no person should see the things that they've seen. And to see them as just migrant workers that are coming here for a better life when they are so upset about what they've had to leave behind.
They miss their families so much and the ones that we've had contact with, they would desperately, desperately like to be able to go back to their own countries, to the way life was before the bad things happened to them. And I think it's so unfair the way they're being portrayed. It’s really good to be able to see the other side of the story and what they've experienced.
Bob: Most of them are coming and leaving terrible situations and having gone through traumatic experiences. And they don't deserve to be treated badly.
Diana: They deserve all the support they can get.
Diana: Well, fortunately, whenever we go - you were asking about the language barrier - but unfortunately, whenever we go abroad, Bob always manages to communicate with people, whatever language it is, with signs; he just has an ability to do this.
Bob: Pidgin, French, Spanish, a combination of all of them –
Diana: And somehow he gets through it.
Bob: I throw in all sorts of languages to get my point over so it wasn't that difficult to make a start. And once you've made a start, I went to the, I think, almost baby books. A for apple, B for banana, C for cat, you know, and so on. We went through the book time and time again, and then we went through the room. We sat down here and we pointed: picture, you know, sofa, armchair, everything we talked about. And then I said, now you tell me, what's that? And, and they, they, so gradually...
Diana: It's amazing how quickly they learned. It really was.
Bob: And they, but the point is, they were so wanting to be educated. They did so want to learn.
They do so want to learn English. They want to, they want to progress. They just want to learn. And one of the amusing things is that they don't like holidays. Oh no, not another day off.
Diana: The first children I've ever met that objected to having a summer holiday. Why can't we keep going to school?
Bob: Why six weeks? They can't believe it. Six weeks, they can't go to school or college.
Diana: But we kept learning at home.
Bob: We do it at home.
Diana: English and maths.
Bob: English and maths at home, yes. Reading and writing, Yes, that's the regular things that we do.
Bob: One of the things with our two young men was that it was the religion. I thought it was important to establish a connection with the mosque, and the nearest one is in Exeter. So I made contact there and explained that we have this young man from Afghanistan who spoke little or no English, but he was Pashto speaking.
That's quite important because there are different languages in Afghanistan. Pashto is only one of them. And for him to be able to communicate, he needs to speak to someone at the mosque that was Pashto. They spoke Pashto. And they said, ‘Oh, no problem at all. Bring him along.’ So I took - He said, ‘Come along before the service on Friday’, which is their main service.
So I took him, we were made most welcome, and the young man was, was taken off to, to show him around. I was taken off by the director of the mosque to be shown the building and how they did things. And then I said, ‘Could I stay for the service?’ ‘Of course you can,’ and he said ‘In the back.’ He gave me a nice seat in the back of the hall so I could stay through the service with them and obviously take them home afterwards. And then while we were there, he said, ‘If you'd like, we have a class for newly arrived people from overseas, where we try to teach them basic English.’ ‘Great,’ I said. ‘Yes, I'll bring them to that.’ So I took them to the mosque every week. It was very basic English, but we got into all sorts of games.
And all of a sudden, I got caught up with this. And I joined in with them and we played Ring a Ring Around the Roses and all sorts of funny games.
Diana: I heard that you made your own suggestions. Oh yes, I made some, yes. I made some suggestions.
Diana: What was it you had them playing? Head, shoulders, knees and toes?
Bob: Head, shoulders, knees and toes. Because it's language. Head, shoulders, knees and toes. So that was my - but it was amusing! It was great fun to see.
Diana: What was the other one?
Bob: Hokey Cokey: put your right arm in, your right arm out, in, out, in, out. It's all language, which they were repeating, and they were having hysterics with, with fun, with laughing and doing all these silly things.
So, it's quite a successful sort of session.
Diana: More understanding, I think. Oh yes. The more understanding between different religions, the better.
Diana: Because of all these young men. They were all from different countries. They didn't all speak Pashto. The one common thing was their need to learn English. And their religion.
Bob: And their religion. Of course, they were all, obviously, following Islam. But it was a common denominator, learning English. And anything, however silly it might appear at the time, was getting over words.
Diana: But when he came back, he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed himself.
Bob: Oh yes, we had a lot of fun doing that…
Bob: They've also introduced me, or re-introduced me, to cricket. I soon learned that the thing that they both loved most of all from their home country was cricket. And I was able to find them a local good club to play cricket and they were outstanding. I was able to join them and follow my earlier interest in cricket.
So, I spent all last summer at cricket. And one of the young men is now playing for Devon, under 18 cricket team. That's only after one season in English cricket, with his ambition to play for England at cricket. So that has been one of my highlights, I think.
Diana: It has to be more than three words; I could go on for hours about them. They're amazing, they've endured so much, and they're so lovely. They are polite, they're well behaved, they want to please, they want to build themselves lives here. They are still very concerned about their own families and what's happening at home.
They keep up to date with the news and it's upsetting for us sometimes that they are so up to date, and they hear about the terrible things that are happening at home. But they cope with that very well and they managed to go on with their schoolwork here. They're working really hard to learn English, learn the subjects that they can. I think they're incredible.
Bob: And I mentioned the word respect before. They show us respect as we show them respect. And they've become basically a part of the family. You know, they're here for the long stay as far as fostering is concerned. As far as we're concerned anyway.
Diana: Yes, they definitely are part of the family.
Bob: Yeah, yeah.