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Considering Empowerment, Boundaries and Power Imbalance when Hosting

The people you support have been displaced from their homes. They’ll be adjusting to a new culture, way of working, and new customs. They may be navigating this alone, with no connection with people other than you and those living in your household at first. Sponsors can provide the support and local expertise to navigate this adjustment but remember to always utilise an empowerment approach to your support.

Empowerment and Power Imbalance

You are likely to know more about the local area, UK customs and norms than the people you sponsor. With this knowledge comes a potential power imbalance of which you should always be mindful. Guests will rely on what you share with them about life in your neighbourhood.

Never doing something for someone without them.

Successful sponsorship is all about helping those you welcome feel confident and able to navigate life in a new country. This can be achieved through adopting an empowerment approach ;

How to offset power imbalances while hosting

In practice, using an empowerment approach to help someone navigate a transport system might include;

  • Accompanying your guest on the bus the first time they go into town for an appointment
  • Pointing out landmarks so they remember the route
  • How to pay for the bus
  • Where to wait for the bus and any specific customs (do you queue at the bus in your area or does everyone try to board at once?

Helping someone to feel comfortable doing everyday things on their own will help them to feel more integrated. Being integrated is a difficult concept, we will all feel it to different degrees at times and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Integration is firmly based in our own feelings, experience, and ambitions

Some people find it easier to think about how you can help to build someone’s confidence to do something on their own. For example, if you make phone calls on someone’s behalf to book a GP appointment because it’s quicker and you know what you are doing, how would they do this if you weren’t available? What will they do next time they need to book in to see the GP? Working with someone to make the call themselves, with you in the background supporting them doing this for the first time will help them do this without help the second time.

Empowerment and Decision Making

In the time that you host your guest, they’ll be faced with different important decisions, from where to send their children to school to eventually where to live once you can no longer provide them with accommodation.

How to empower decision making while hosting

When asked for advice, always remember the empowerment approach so that your guest is making their own decisions without you doing this for them. This might feel difficult to get to grips with – you might feel that you can do something quicker or have clear ideas about what you would do in a particular situation, but your role here is to listen, inform and empower.

You can avoid influencing someone’s decisions and choices by:

  • Presenting all facts as you know them to be, recognising where these facts are from
  • Asking open questions as to the action someone wishes to take, once all options are considered
  • Running through the consequences of a decision while remaining impartial
  • Be a sounding board for someone as they make a decision – if they would like this
  • Once a decision has been made, do not question or suggest this might be the wrong decision
  • Reflect together on how the process worked

Setting Boundaries with your Guest

Healthy boundaries are important for our general wellbeing, and when hosting someone in your home or separate property they are more important than ever. However, your motivation to sponsor is likely to have been that you would like to help someone. Many people feel guilty about setting boundaries and find it difficult to say no, but being clear about your boundaries lets other people know what they can expect from you and helps them feel safe and secure.

Boundaries also help to empower people to do things for themselves.  Not having strong enough boundaries can result in being taken advantage of, becoming burned out, and making other people dependent on you.

When Setting your Boundaries Remember:

  • Being open about your boundaries is crucial. You might not want to provide lifts in your car or share mealtimes together – this is ok.
  • Those you sponsor may not want to talk about what happened in their home country leading to their displacement. Respect this and do not push people to have conversations that they are not comfortable with.
  • Communication is key; be steered by what people say and respect these boundaries, try to be consistent as a household in keeping boundaries.  If you cross a boundary; apologise and move forward – we all make mistakes at times. 
A spectrum of boundaries

Boundaries are an art not a science. Some boundaries are non-negotiable, for example “do not physically assault me”. Other boundaries require much more nuance and judgement about the context. There are also different types of boundaries:

  • Role boundaries. When your guest first arrives, they are likely to need some help getting set up in the UK. It could be very easy to try to do everything for your guest, which could leave you exhausted and leave them disempowered. You may end up trying to play social worker, therapist, doctor and a variety of other roles. In addition to the practical support you may provide, your guest will be living in your home and may end up feeling like part of the family. It would be easy to fall into a familial role which is not yours e.g. parent, child, sibling or romantic partner.
  • Emotional boundaries. When someone is in your home and you are spending a lot of time with them, holding emotional boundaries may become very difficult. To look after your own wellbeing and to be able to support them effectively, it is crucial to try to keep a clear sense of their life and their difficulties as separate from your own.
  • Practical boundaries. Practical boundaries need to be thought about and then communicated clearly. These could come up in many ways, for example your guest may: wish to help around the house with chores; contribute financially to living costs; buy you gifts to show their gratitude; expect to be included in family meals or events. All these situations require communication and negotiation. And remember that as a guest in your home, they may feel pressured to say “yes” to things they’d rather not do, to be polite. 
  • Physical boundaries. Do you shake hands? Do you offer a hug if your guest is upset? Does your guest have different cultural norms around personal space? Again, communication and negotiation are key here. It can be a good rule of thumb to not initiate physical contact unless you are completely sure the other person will welcome it. This is particularly important if the individual has experienced trauma.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Everyone has a right to live their lives with dignity and privacy. If you’re sharing your home with someone, you’re likely to encounter personal information. Make sure you check with the people you sponsor how they would like to be introduced, or how they would like to be referred to. Referring to someone as ‘my refugee’ shows a disrespect for their individuality and dignity. They may not want to be referred to as refugees at all. Also, ensure you ask permission before taking photos or sharing photos of your guests. Respect what they decide.

You have a right to privacy too, of course. If your guest asks questions that you do not wish to answer, explain this is the case and move the conversation along.