NOBODY said it would be easy. But although Portia Antwi’s work placement at the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre was tough, it was also life-changing.

Portia, who is studying for a masters degree in social work at Coventry University, was given a 70-day placement at the Centre as part of her course.

And as she was coming to the end of her stint at the Centre in Bishop Street, her verdict on the experience was: “Amazing”.

“I never thought there were places like this, where people can just come in and get help. It doesn’t cost anything, you can come in and discuss your problems, get help, even have a meal.

“When you hear people talk about asylum seekers and refugees, the image is not good. But when you work with them you realise the struggle they have to go through just to get here. Then comes the shock of the new system, the new way of life, the language. You realise how difficult it is for them.”

Portia’s 70-day stint covered the whole range of work done at the Centre, from being part of the front-line advice team ready to listen to and help people walking in off the street, to dealing with vulnerable people, people struggling to find work and housing, and others finding hard to understand utility bills.

Her smile falters when she talks of one client caught up in a particularly difficult set of circumstances. Elderly and not in the best of health, the man had escaped the civil war in Sri Lanka but his plea for asylum was rejected. He was convinced he would be at risk of mistreatment or worse if he returned to his country, but didn’t have the evidence to support his claim – in common with many refugees who have to flee oppression.

“He has no recourse to public funds and he’s not entitled to work, so this man is now living in a night shelter and during the day he is on the street with all his belongings.

“He has health issues, he’s vulnerable, at the mercy of the weather. This is the reality for him.”

Trying to get help for someone in such extreme need is challenge and Portia says: “You need a lot of emotional resilience to do this job. It takes a lot out of you. It’s really hard.”

But the experience has helped her decide what to aim for when she finishes her course.

“I am thinking of working for an NGO. I would like to work on an outreach programme, to try to help people with real issues to deal with, people who have real needs.”

And would she recommend volunteering at the CRMC to others?

“Absolutely! This centre is what it is because of volunteers. I had no idea how important the volunteers were until I got here – how people devote their time and energy for no money. It can be hard to make ends meet, so for people to volunteer, it’s amazing.”