Today’s world is filled with stories of conflict and displacement, however, the story of Omar, Sandra and their family is a shining example of the transformative power of compassion, resilience, and the profound impact a single act of kindness can unleash. Their extraordinary journey started on what seemed like an ordinary holiday, a trip that would ultimately alter the course of their lives.

Omar and Sandra were on vacation when they received the gut-wrenching news of the war that had erupted in Ukraine. Images of families torn apart and people forced to abandon their homes sent shockwaves of compassion through their hearts. Together they made a decision to open their home to a Ukrainian refugee. Sandra states, “We knew we had room in our home and so it was an easy initial decision for us to open up our home.” Following this they registered to be hosts as soon as they could and then found out that they could be matched with someone through church.

Upon returning, their son Kyle demonstrated immense selflessness by offering to give up his en-suite bedroom for their incoming guest. In an effort to make this room a warm and welcoming sanctuary, they gave it a fresh coat of paint and stocked it with toiletries and essential provisions, not knowing what their guest might have or need.

To bridge the language gap and ensure a smooth transition, they learned basic Ukrainian phrases and labelled their kitchen cupboards with both Ukrainian and English. Omar and Sandra also connected with other host families to gather invaluable advice and insights into the experience they were about to embark on. The anticipation built as they connected with Ira, their soon-to-arrive guest, through FaceTime. It was an intriguing journey as Ira spoke no English, but her first language was Russian, which has similarities to Ukrainian.

The day Ira arrived at Edinburgh airport was a poignant moment. With just one small suitcase, she symbolized the resilience and hope of a refugee who had left behind everything in search of safety. Sandra recalls, “That moment broke my heart. We hugged and both cried even though we did not know anything about one another. At that moment we created a bond that we will ALWAYS share.” Their embrace, although unfamiliar, was filled with the warmth of newfound friendship. Their first walks together in the neighbourhood, as Sandra puts were “magical, it was like showing a best friend all my favorite places.”

While Ira found peace and a sense of safety in her new home, her heart remained connected to the family she had left behind in Ukraine, including her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in Dnipro. Though she has maintained regular contact with them, she hopes to visit them in the near future. However, the journey back home is not simple, given the complexities of passports and the lingering caution from her experiences.

Ira’s journey over the past year has been nothing short of remarkable. Omar and Sandra helped Ira enroll in college to learn English last September, and her recent graduation in July marked a significant milestone in her journey. As the six-month hosting period came to an end, the family and Ira discussed her transition to independence. With the help of their local authority, Ira moved into her own apartment in November 2022. This transition was not without its challenges, but the bonds of friendship and support remained strong. Despite the language barrier, Ira managed to secure a job at a local care home, where she found fulfilment and stability. Her earnings contributed to her apartment and living costs, easing her path to independence.

The willingness of Omar, Sandra and their family to open their hearts and home to Ira, a stranger in need, has not only changed Ira’s life but has also enriched their own lives. While reflecting on her journey with Ira, Sandra says, “Having never been in such a terrifying situation it is impossible to imagine how refugees feel having to leave their whole lives behind. What we can do is offer shelter, love, an ear to hear and a voice to pray.” When asked about what compassion looks like for her, Sandra beautifully puts it this way, “Compassion for me was allowing Ira to take over my kitchen because it made her feel needed and at home.  It was knowing that they do things differently in Ukraine, then acknowledging and accepting those ways in my home. Compassion was allowing Ira to be who she is, being respectful of her ways and not trying to make her someone different just because she is living in a different country. God gave me a home and it was a privilege to be allowed to share this with Ira. If you get the opportunity to host then grab it with both hands.  We learned so much from hosting Ira, not only about Ukraine but also about ourselves. It has helped us really appreciate one another and everything that God has blessed us with.”

The hospitality and compassion shown by Omar, Sandra, and their family is extraordinary. They opened their home, hearts, and kitchen to Ira, understanding that embracing her differences and respecting her ways were essential. This act of kindness was their way of giving back to a world in turmoil and finding shared humanity in a time of crisis.

-article by Sharon Tigga