Photo of Sawsan Zaza

Sawsan Zaza is from Syria and arrived in the UK a few years ago. She is a busy woman, with four children and a job at her local school, but when new Syrian refugees started to arrive in Leeds, she knew she had to support them. The local police helped her with their presence and support.

Other services that she approached were not encouraging or helpful. However, new Syrian refugees found their way to Sawsan themselves and relied on her for language support and for an explanation on how things work in the UK.

This soon became demanding, since people knocked on her door at any time of the day and night for assistance.

Who will the initiative help/who has it helped already?

Sawsan booked her local community centre hall and advertised a three-hour drop-in session each week. From there, she began to run sessions to teach basic English, dealt with enquiries, provided advocacy, brought in services and engaged others to volunteer and support the group. However, the group soon became large and there was a great demand for assistance.

What’s worked? 

Building relationships with new Syrian refugees as well as with many services, local residents and students has worked. People have been supportive in giving donations and supporting the sessions. It’s been positive in terms of encouraging women to express themselves and making them aware of their rights. This has opened up many women to talk and integrate. For the first time, girls have attended a residential and this is a great achievement.

What have you learnt? Any challenges?

Sawsan says “I have learnt that people need support at any time of the day and there just isn’t the support from mainstream services. When someone is seeking support when offices have closed I pick up the pieces. It is not as simple as shutting down until the next day and turning people away. 

It is difficult to signpost people in confidence knowing that their query will be dealt with and they fear going alone. In addition to providing information and support, a big element of it is emotional and this can be draining at times. I struggled to provide a crèche, even though one was available, because I couldn’t access trained crèche workers. 

The community centre will no longer provide me with a free letting and as the people I support don’t yet have an income. I am worried how we will be supported and yet I know I am meeting a big gap in provision.”

What’s next?

The women have asked for space and Sawsan is looking into developing a women’s group.

What advice, contacts or resources would help you?

Understanding how the Council works, where their funding comes from and how this is used would be helpful. I often wonder why support such as my group that provides the same or similar as those paid isn’t recognised or supported.


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An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in our region!

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