Exeter Lockdown Doorstep Photography #20: Khaled, Dalal, Lemar and Mila Prudence

“After lockdown we must keep checking on our neighbours, even if they are going out again. We must be helpful without asking. Be peaceful, give peace and respect to other people.”

Khaled and his wife Dalal fell in love in war torn Syria. In fleeing the civil war in their country they spent five years in Lebanon where they experienced beatings, homelessness, malnutrition and persecution. They arrived in Exeter in 2017.

Khaled waxes lyrical about Exeter, he tells me how warmly he has been received and how much support he and his family have had since being here: “We have been made to very feel welcome in our community, we are very happy to be here. We were very lucky to travel from bad life to good life.”

Because of the malnutrition they suffered on their journey, their immune systems have been compromised, so during lockdown they had to all stay home to stay safe: “We were at home all the time. We had complete self-isolation, we didn’t leave the flat until lockdown was lifted.”

During the lockdown, Khaled and his family spent a lot of time studying English online. They also took great joy in speaking to their adopted English Grandmother, Prudence who lives in Bath: “Every day she calls us between 7 and 8pm for half an hour Skype. we met Prudence in a refugee camp in Lebanon, she was a volunteer who was there helping refugees. When we arrived in the UK we made contact with her again and we became a family. Before Coronavirus, Prudence would come to see us regularly from Bath. When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter we asked Prudence to come to Exeter and support us which she did. We gave our baby her name, Mila Prudence – this made her very happy because she has no children of her own. I told her; “you are now really grandma”.

The family also found that they became more organised and had a routine, including activities for the children. “We found more things to do indoors because we were going out.”

Sadly, it hasn’t all been a positive experience, Khaled shared with me a situation that occurred early in lockdown: “We have a very small balcony and one day early in lockdown when the sun was shining, Dalal and I sat and had coffee. A middle-aged man stopped below the balcony and asked me what my name was, I told him and he started to swear at us, saying that he doesn’t like Muslims. Passersby stopped to ask us if we were OK and the man moved on but we didn’t use our balcony for the rest of lockdown”

Appalling – What a shame that one person’s ignorance meant that the family felt like they couldn’t enjoy the outside as much as they might have done.

Khaled is very active in our local community, he volunteers for several groups and charities and is a key figure locally. I asked him if he was still helping people in lockdown, he says; “I have still been helping people online, by connecting people in the local community with people that can help, I’ve also been talking to people who are isolated on zoom.”

That’s not all though! Khalad and Dalal are part of St Thomas Food Fight, a team of local volunteers who cook and hand out food to vulnerable people locally. “During lockdown we worked with FREEWHEELIN (part of local fitness group FREEMOOVEMENT) to deliver the food by bicycles, between us we cook every Sunday on a rota to feed 53 people every week.”

I asked the family what habits they will continue after lockdown:

“My wife has a degree in Arabic language and has been teaching my daughter Arabic as well as students online. We will continue helping people – cooking more than before and continue studying”

Khaled works for a charity called Hikmat helping people from minority groups. He uses social media to connect people and has been working there since his arrival in the UK. I asked him for some examples of human kindness he has witnessed:

“There has been a lot of peace and love in our community, Everyone has been working together to help other people – no matter what religion or race. Ive seen lots of people helping other people without asking. Exeter Mosque, Exeter City Council and other charities gave me a phone number to pass on to anyone who needs help. The Methodist church we’re also providing food locally through freewheelin .”

Finally I asked Khaled what positive change/s he thinks we can make as a city to make the future brighter? His message is one that doesn’t tire over time:

“Peace & Love”, he said simply

“We must carry on what we’ve been doing in the lockdown, forget politics, race and religion. We must after each other, be kind and help where we can.

He went on to say: “People should spend more time volunteering to help within our community.” – can’t argue with that.

If you would like to learn more about Khaled Wakkaa, he has penned his story in a book called Human Crossings – 9 stories about refugees (50% of proceeds from sales to charities working for refugees).

B&W: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1699974128/

Colour: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1699031118/

#Exeter #LockdownPhotography #ExploringExeter

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