It is so hard not to be impressed on a first meeting with Loretta Obour, an MA student in International Relations. She lights up the room with her smile and her love for life and living is self-evident.
Loretta came to study in Coventry after completing a degree in Ghana. She had already heard about Coventry from some of her friends who were looking at coming here to study and she attended a Coventry University open day session to find out more.
“I liked the look of the International Relations MA and I am so glad I chose Coventry because I have really enjoyed the course.”
However, it took Loretta a little while to settle in at first. Leaving your home and family behind when you live in the UK is hard enough, but coming to a brand new country is quite scary:
“Yes, it did take me a while to settle down and I was very lonely for a while but as soon as I started volunteering, I met people from all courses, faculties and countries and I haven’t really looked back.
“You could say that coming to study in Coventry has geared me up for a career in the United Nations as I have met so many people from all over the world as this city is truly a melting pot of cultures and I really like that aspect.”
One of the first volunteering events that Loretta signed up for was one of the Make A Difference Days (MADD)
“I was part of a team of students working at a Tesco food collection event. We worked in shifts and for me, it was a great ice-breaker as I got to work as part of a willing team of volunteers and we had fun, but at the same time I knew that we were doing something worthwhile.
Loretta collecting donations at Tesco
“It is hard to imagine that in a country that has so much, there are families that rely totally on food banks and it’s not just for food, it is also clothes, toiletries and baby items.
“Working for the food bank was such an eye-opener for me but the experience was a good one. I now volunteer at the Trussell Trust warehouse every other week and still find it very rewarding.”
Once Loretta had got the volunteering bug, the next big event she worked on was the Evolve Awards which took place in Square One in the Hub.
“The event was to recognise the amazing work which had been done by our student entrepreneurs. Coventry is a great University to come to if you want to set up in business. Some of the courses are run by people who are also business-owners, so students are learning from people who have first-hand experience of this.
“The event was great to work on, even though it was a ten hour day for me. I was doing things that were new to me, such as event planning, making sure that the event ran smoothly and I was also in charge of the PowerPoint presentation for the evening.
“I had never done event planning before and it was wonderful experience and gave me so much confidence. I was working with a set of new people and in a responsible position of making sure the event went off without a hitch, and I’m glad to say it did!”
Working on different events gave Loretta a lot of interesting experiences and she didn’t want to end there so she started to volunteer at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre (CRMC)
Loretta at her desk at CRMC
The aim of CRMC is to “welcome and empower asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants who are in Coventry and to help them to rebuild their lives and achieve their potential”.
“I really liked what CRMC stood for and it goes back to what I was saying before, Coventry has a unique window on the world because there are so many nationalities and cultures who co-exist in this city” said Loretta.
“To me, CRMC offered a service to people who would find it difficult to get it elsewhere. It offers sanctuary in a safe and supportive manner and the centre would not be able to do all this if it wasn’t for the charity’s volunteers.”
Loretta started her volunteering work with CRMC just before the Easter break.
“Obviously, I wasn’t able to go home and so I needed to throw my energy into something and CRMC seemed a logical choice and I loved it from day one.
“I met people from different countries like Eritrea, Sudan, India, China and Nigeria, to name but a few, and I was helping them with advice on accommodation and other issues. I was also working with clients by helping them to fill in various forms. I had a lot to learn myself because I had to understand the Universal credit system before I could help others to fill in the forms. Form filling is a major pain for those who don’t have English as a first language.
“There is also the added difficulty of access to the internet. A majority of forms are now completed online and if you don’t have access to a computer, then how are people supposed to apply for things? This is why CRMC is good at what they do as they deliver a wide range of front-line services which meet the needs of their clients. These range from employment and immigration advice, to therapy services, English classes, social groups and so much more”.
What Loretta discovered while she was working with the team at CRMC was that “you don’t need status to help refugees”. In other words, “anyone who has some time to spare can help. You just need to be patient, a good listener and assist the centre with their work in helping people to rebuild their lives.
“I know personally how difficult it was for me at first to integrate into my local community when I came to Coventry from Ghana. CRMC enables their clients to do that and also encourages them to fully contribute to the life of the city.
“When you see what CRMC has done in the past year alone, it is so inspiring. According to their website they have:
• Offered 280 hours of English classes.
• Provided 1,700 hours of therapy to 731 people.
• Supported and safeguarded 32 victims of domestic abuse.
• Helped 141 people via our Supported Housing Team.
• Employed 10 cleaners and paid for 5,000 hours of work with Spring Action.
• Delivered 430 people with immigration advice via our free legal drop in service.
• Secured 2,000 attendances at information sessions, social clubs, groups and activities provided by the Integration Project.
• Supported 350 + destitute people via The Coventry Destitution Fund”.
Loretta’s outlook on volunteering is a simple one: to help others.
She has recently joined the ranks of the Student Volunteer Team within the SU which means that she can show other volunteers the ropes and go along to MADD sessions and be a team leader on different events.
“I believe that we all have a social responsibility to help others,” said Loretta.
“Volunteering gives me a sense of fulfilment, even more so since I came to Coventry. I had done some volunteering work at home, but coming here, it has taken it to the next level.
“All of us do things every day for other people. There is a phrase that someone told me, which was ‘someone planted a tree so that you could have shade’ and it is true. Just using whatever skills you have can help others in some way. Every little helps and a little bit of your time can mean a lot to people who are less fortunate.”
Loretta working at a food bank
Doing the volunteering work on University projects and also for CRMC was a big step for Loretta and it is one that has made her even more determined to want to work for the UN one day:
“Working with and helping people from all over the world has taken me a step closer achieving my goal. I want to be in a position to help others from within an organisation that can make a difference and as a United Nations worker, I can do just that. After I have finished my MA, I will be actively seeking employment with them.
“Thank you Coventry for giving me the opportunity to help others and to start believing that anything is possible.
“My volunteering experience will go a long way in helping me to get to where I want to in life and I would certainly urge others to give volunteering a go, you’ll not regret it.”
If you would like to volunteer, then check out the volunteering page on the SU website:
If Loretta’s experience of working as a volunteer at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre is something that you would like to know more about, then visit their website: