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Maria, Host

What’s been your experience of hosting so far?

We were incredibly blessed to end up sponsoring an incredibly worldly, sophisticated, and smart lady who brought such warmth to our home. Me and my partner Miles joke that we had a lot more intelligent conversation with her in the house! We realise how extremely lucky we were to have such an incredible and interesting person living with us. From a cultural point of view, because Oksana speaks such good English it meant that we avoided some of the cultural challenges of having someone else living in your home. My husband works for Brooke House, and we know from hosting students before that there can be a lot of things that get lost in translation.

Why did you decide to sponsor?

I have done various bits of refugee work in the past, be it collecting donations, washing sleeping bags, working with women from Women’s International. My mum’s family were also a refugee family, my mum’s older brothers and sisters all fled Finland for Sweden during the Winter War with Russia. My mum is one of nine kids, and she was the youngest, so a lot of her siblings moved to Sweden during the war and that’s how my mum ended up in Sweden. So, I’ve always been very aware of that in my family, and I guess there’s an emotional link there. My husband, Miles, he had worked in lots of different countries and we both felt strongly that we would like to do something like this, so when Russia started the war with Ukraine, we didn’t even really have to have a discussion, we just thought of course, come and stay here. We have a safe home, you don’t, come and stay with us, and it was simple as that really.

How did you find Oksana?

Her daughter had gone to Brooke House for three years of summer school and Miles had looked after her when she was here as part of his job role. When the war broke out, we signed up for the sponsorship immediately. We signed up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme but wondered if any of the Ukrainian kids that had been to Brooke House (or their families) might be looking for somewhere. So, we reached out to those that had been there and Oksana had replied very quickly saying that she wanted to get her and her daughter out. In the end she enrolled her daughter in a college course in Switzerland and she then came here. She was one of the first Ukrainian people to arrive in Market Harborough because she was so quick off the mark, despite her very long and convoluted journey here.

What did Oksana bring with her?

I think if she was able to, she would have brought her cat but because of the rules she couldn’t. But she did bring the biggest thermos that I’ve ever seen and that travelled with her everywhere she went, and she used it every morning, she took that back with her too. It was very important to her.

Would you have any advice for future sponsors?

Be very realistic about what you can offer, what kind of time you have. Are you able to drive people to appointments et cetera? Does your location mean that they will be more reliant on your help? If so, be honest to yourself and your guest about what that might entail. Finding the right fit is very important.

The other thing is having clarity about the financial side of things, it sounds harsh, but I think it’s important to set clear rules and boundaries about what things your guest needs to pay for and what you will pay for. The British are terrible at being upfront about money, but it’s not the Ukrainian way, they are more direct, so just be really clear and honest.

Did you have any challenges due to language or cultural differences?

There is a challenge with having a grown, very independent woman who knows what she wants and is very capable, to find themselves in your spare bedroom. It’s difficult for them and it’s difficult for you because you don’t want to step on any toes, but you need to communicate and do things in a way that works for everyone. We realised very quickly with Oksana that we had to take a step back and let her do her own thing and have her independence. I think it was hard for Oksana sometimes too as every time we were having family time with the kids, I think that was a reminder of what she was missing with her family, and I understand that. Sponsoring is not without its challenges, but we were all aware of that and tried to give each other the space we needed, and we worked through any issues together.

How long have you lived in Harborough area?

I’ve lived here six and half years, but my husband is from this area and grew up here.

Favourite place in Harborough area?

I love the library and I love the waterways, canals, and nature in Harborough.

If you could share one memory about Harborough, what would it be?

My favourite thing that happens every year is the Harborough Carnival, I’m part of the drumming group and I love the community feel on that day, going with the floats through the town and seeing all the people just enjoying themselves.

If you could give one message to the people of Harborough, what would it be?

Do not take for granted how lucky we are to live in a thriving community. A lot of people see things like the amount of houses being built as a negative thing, but I think that shows how great our town is that so many people want to come and live here and we should embrace that. Appreciate that we should be proud of the fact that our town is so desirable.

Do you think that would sponsor again?

 Absolutely, and we will, as long as it’s realistic for us and we can give within our means then absolutely, I encourage more people to step up and do it because it is a wonderful enriching experience. We are so grateful we had the chance to do this, and it took a minimal effort on our side compared to what someone from a war zone has to go through. It’s definitely worth doing.