by Sister Alexine Anderson, CSJP
Sister Alexine Anderson volunteers each week at Ashford Place, a community resource centre in London which provides advice and practice support to people experiencing homelessness and unemployment. Sister Alexine, a reflexologist, is able to use her skill to minister with those in need at Ashford Place. In the words of Danny Ahar, Project Manager: "After a hard day, what more do you want than a foot massage by our wonderful volunteer reflexologist Sr. Alexine? Our homeless customers say that one of the worst side effects of pounding the streets every day is that their feet become very sore. Sr. Alexine is on hand here at Ashford Place to help restore hurting feet to full health." Here Sister Alexine reflects on her experience in this ministry of presence and support:
As I watch the TV news and witness the dreadful plight of so many young people, women and children fleeing from the violence of war, danger, and hunger in their own countries, hoping to find a better life and a little hope here in the UK, my heart reaches out to them, but I find myself experiencing my own poverty in not being able to do much to help.
However, early in January 2015, a chance meeting with Lucian, on the street adjacent to Ashford Place, was providential. Ashford Place is a community resource centre providing advice and practical support on a wide range of issues. I had known Lucian a few years earlier when I offered reflexology in the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Drug and Alcoholic Dependents. Lucian wasn't slow to ask me what I was doing now and invited me in to see the Project and meet John, the manager, as there had been many changes since I had been there.
As I listened to the various changes which had taken place, and saw how the building was now buzzing with people desperate for help and support–asylum seekers, refugees, others from different European communities–either because of financial hardship or unemployment, something deep within me was nudged. Whether John was reading my inner response to such a great need, or perhaps a chance opportunity, he invited me back to offer some reflexology sessions to those whom the project now serves. I was delighted to respond positively to his invitation.
Each Tuesday morning I am there in Ashford place. The men and women wait for me, almost vying with each other to have a session. So to be fair, the Reception keeps track of the five available appointments. Every week since the beginning of January, the five spaces are booked.
As well as offering the therapeutic benefits attributed to reflexology, such as relaxation, stress reduction, healing of some forms of pain due to stress and the improvement in blood circulation and digestion, many avail of the one-to-one sessions to "off load". During such times, many issues around personal struggles, frustrations and family concerns are shared, as well as hopes and dreams for a better and brighter future. Gratitude is expressed for the hospitality offered at Ashford Place and for the efforts of the staff team to do all they can in helping clients find suitable accommodation.
Those seeking help and support at Ashford Place come from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds and have different life experiences and education. To hold such a mix together in harmony within a limited space with only the basic amenities is not an easy task. Great credit is due, I feel, to the staff and band of volunteers who help keep the atmosphere harmonious. I feel, too, that reflexology helps to dispel some of the personal tension carried within individuals due to their unfortunate circumstances.
"The important thing is that we remain open to God as he reveals himself to us in the circumstances of life and do everything possible to bring the body of his Son to completion."
Catherine O'Connor, CSJP