The Kindness of Strangers

In 1990 I was visiting Karachi, Pakistan. I was in a rickshaw with two other female friends and we were heading into town to meet up with some male friends who had gone off in a separate rickshaw. We had seen the other rickshaw go off in a different direction but assumed that we would still meet at the rendezvous point.

It was with some trepidation that we realised that our friends were nowhere to be seen! This was in the era before mobile phones – even brick phones! – so we just set off walking, hoping that we would find our friends. Of course, we ended up completely lost. At this point, a Pakistani lady came up to us and asked if she could help! Fortunately for us, she knew the place where we had been supposed to meet our friends, so she took us on the bus, paid for our tickets (we had no money!) and made sure that we met our friends, before just slipping away. We were so grateful for her kindness to us.

Many of us may have got lost on our holidays, or felt alone, but what if we had to move to a new country, maybe on our own or with our children, where we knew no-one, and did not feel able to communicate with those around us?

This is one of the reasons that I’m convinced that Creative English is such an important project, and why I am so pleased to be part of it.

Creative English helps empower learners to be able to communicate in everyday situations but achieves so much more. Our learners find friends, grow in confidence and have a chance to be part of a community. This is achieved through using drama, puppets and games, and lots of laughter! The sessions allow the learners to practice English in different scenarios including going to the doctors, dealing with landlords and talking with teachers.

Despite having studied English and even passed English exams back home, many of our learners shared that when they first arrived in the UK, the amount of accents and slang they encountered and the sheer speed that we talk at made it very difficult to find the confidence to try and speak English. Another factor is they feel that everyone is very busy in the UK, especially in London, rushing around, making it difficult to get to speak to, or get to know someone.

Thankfully, our learners usually meet someone who shows them kindness. One learner, who had previously experienced racism, told me about her experience when she first arrived in the UK. She said that,

In the summer, my English neighbour gave me some vegetables over the garden fence, but I didn’t have the confidence to talk with her. Another time she came to my front door and spoke to me, I couldn’t say much to her, but I invited her in to have tea. We are now good friends!

She went on to say,

Apart from my neighbour, the first people that I spoke to were two mums at school. I met one British Muslim woman. She was friendly and gave me her phone number. I couldn’t really understand her London accent so she would text me rather than talk on the phone! I also met a Pakistani lady at the school who I would speak English with. She had been going to Creative English and she told me about it, so I started coming along.

When I first came to Creative English, I had no confidence and didn’t really say anything. But I had so much encouragement from my teacher and the sessions gave me the opportunity to use English and I was able to start doing homework with my son. Everyone here is so friendly and my Pakistani friend is still here.

Creative English has made such a difference to me. I can now go to the doctor, I can apply online, I can travel on the bus, I can speak with people. I have also grown in confidence, and now I am training to facilitate Creative English!

All this simply as a result of someone being kind and taking the time to talk with her.

The lady who helped me in Pakistan will never know the impact that her kindness had on me nearly 30 years ago, but I am still grateful.  We do live busy lives with many demands on our time, but hopefully we will always be willing to take the time to show kindness, not just to those we know, but also with those who are currently strangers. Who knows where that kindness might lead?

About Catriona Martin

Creative English Trainer

Catriona is one of FaithAction’s Creative English Trainers. She delivers sessions locally in the London Borough of Redbridge, but also trains volunteer facilitators to deliver Creative English in hubs across the country. Catriona is excited to train volunteers to deliver Creative English in their local communities and enjoys hearing lots of laughter from learners!