As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to gather momentum, with increasing numbers of people being diagnosed and fatalities rising, thousands of international students are trapped in the UK, isolated and lonely, cut off from family and friends, and worried about the future.
Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International, a UK based charity supporting international students, said; “Large numbers of international students returned home before travel restrictions were imposed however, we estimate over 100,000 international students remain stranded in the UK with nowhere to go and without the support of their families.” Regional Manager, Pete Edwards, said “significant numbers” of international students were stuck in the UK. He also explained the contrasting ways different nationalities were responding to the crisis. “Some Chinese do not want to go home and be the ones to produce a ‘second wave’ while African students are not wanting to travel to make things worse there.”
Like many similar organisations Friends International’s ongoing programme of events to support international students has been severely curtailed. The organisation has moved swiftly to setup a raft of international student events online, so that they can continue the important work of growing friendship and faith with international students. Through its Mobile App students can gain access to practical help for those self-isolating, Zoom Cafés each run locally in one of Friends International’s 40 local centres, as well as digital links to host families who will be on hand to support international students. Around the country Friends International are stepping up to meet the challenge and using creative ways to support international students including online cooking groups, exercise groups, Bible studies, and film clubs.
Friends International works to grow friendship and faith for international students and one Chinese epitomised the transformation that faith can make. She said: “There was coronavirus in China before I was a Christian and I was very afraid. Now there is coronavirus here in England but I am peaceful - all because I have become a Christian. I never imagined what difference it would make to me! Now I am telling my fearful friends that they need to read the Bible”.
Tower concluded, “International students are now among the most isolated in our communities due to the coronavirus restrictions – struggling to access health services, money for basic living expenses and many having to move on from their campus accommodation. It is now critical that government minsters work closely with the universities, to respond to the plight of international students at this critical time.”
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In these difficult times, our top priority is to ensure the welfare of our staff, trainees, volunteers and of course, the hundreds of international students we meet every week.
Large numbers of international students are returning home before travel restrictions stop them. Yet, many are stuck here and, with the universities closing, have nowhere to go and few people to help them. Therefore, we will continue supporting international students in all the ways we can, while also adhering to government guidelines.
Having assessed the situation it is clear that all our events and activities will be significantly impacted. Therefore, we are now moving our international student events online, so that we can continue the important work of growing friendship and faith with international students.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR INTERNATIONAL CAFES?
Unfortunately, all the cafés run by Friends International will not be able to meet for the foreseeable future.
The good news is that in many of our centres we are starting Zoom Cafés. These will be video calls, using Zoom, for up to 100 people who would normally meet at an international café. Please check your local Friends International Facebook Page or our app in the coming days, to see if there will be Zoom Cafés in your area.
WHAT ABOUT THE FRIENDS INTERNATIONAL HOSTING SCHEMES?
Our Hosting Schemes will have to be put on hold for the time being, but we are using the Friends International App to allow students to reach out to us for digital connection. We hope that this will also include linking hosts with students digitally, for those that want that.
WHAT ABOUT THE FRIENDS INTERNATIONAL OFFICE (SUPPORT CENTRE)?
As you might expect, due to the current circumstances, the Support Centre office is unmanned for the time being. All of us will be working from home and will endeavour to keep everything running as usual. The best way to contact us at this time is by email: email@example.com
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS?
All students should adhere to the current guidelines set out by the government. The best sources of information are the NHS Coronavirus page and the UK government's response page.
Thank you for your continued support of international students, your giving and prayers are needed now more than ever. Please particularly pray these new ways to connect with students digitally would be successful and would allow fellowship and discipleship to continue.
Despite the trials we are all facing, we will continue to serve international students, and pray that God would draw us close to them, even if it is virtually, and ask that He would make Himself known to them.
We must remember, as we face so much turmoil, that we are told: ‘Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).
If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact us.