Originally from the Dominican Republic, Ironelis Calderon came to London via Spain and has called Lewisham home for the last three years. For her a life-changing event inspired her to help others and volunteer. She now works with LMLAS or Lewisham Multilingual Advice Service as a Spanish speaker.
I was a client here and I saw how difficult it was for people who speak another language to access basic things. One day the lady asked me if I could do it and told me it could improve my English and I could help people. He could see that I had that wish.
People know there is someone here who speaks Spanish and can help them. I help translate things so they can understand what they need to do or what they need to say to get help. Normally most people come here to access housing benefit, child tax credit and maybe have problems with their landlord and don’t know the rights they have here.
I have this thing inside to help people. Its hard to hear people not being able to do something and I feel like I have to do something otherwise what can I do in this world if I can’t help people. I have the feeling that someone needs me and I feel important and it makes me feel complete.
I can’t work at the moment because I am ill. Last year I had breast cancer. When I went to the charity for cancer, I wanted to ask for support but I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know what to say so that they could help me. She did help me and at this moment. I said ‘I have cancer and I only have one opportunity in life so I must help others’. It’s one opportunity that I have in life that I have to help others.
I remember a homeless lady. She was from the Dominican Republic. I was here when she arrived. When I saw her she had all of her things and two children, seven years old and eight years old. When I saw her I nearly cried, she was dirty, she was crying, the children were upset. It was a long day with this lady and she eventually found a place. At this moment I saw that people need help and I can help because when she went to organisations to ask, she didn’t know how to speak and how to ask. It was too hard.
Volunteering helped me to wake up and do something good. You wake up and say I have to do something for others because I am here, so many are not here and I am here.
Words and photo by Helen Clegg