At our large Saturday FAN Group at the Quaker Centre in Charles Street we talked about FAN Groups and how each of us heard about them and what we felt FAN had given us. The group was made up of men and women from Italy, Iraq, Yemen, Argentina, Iran, England, Wales, Germany, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
Many from other countries were keen to practise speaking and understanding English as they were learning the language and, in particular, to meet British people in an informal and friendly environment. Some had heard of FAN Groups through language schools in Cardiff, others through public libraries, the refugee centres and other meeting places for newcomers to Cardiff. Of course, beginning to live in another country, whether as visitor, student, asylum seeker or traveller can be a daunting experience even beyond the language challenges. Meeting friendly people who smile and listen with interest to 'your' story can be very important to newcomers. Over the weeks friendships can develop and bridges of tolerance and understanding built. Recognising similarities and differences between us all is such an important part of the FAN Group experience. It is also a great way to bring together people across all ages (we ranged in age from 20s to 8os - fairly typical of our meetings).
For the British people who go to FAN Group meeting there was a universal feeling that the benefits of attending were 100% mutual - yes, it was nice that we might be helping newcomers to feel welcome in Cardiff, but we also get huge pleasure and fulfilment from meeting people from all across the world and getting to know them as friends and individuals with their own human stories and characters.
In the background, and indeed in the foreground for some, were great world problems and challenges - of divisions between people, religions, cultures, wealth, ideologies etc etc. A FAN Group can offer a way to bridge some of those divides and to encourage us to be tolerant and aware of the value of diversity.
A common thread for many people today was their meeting with Gill Saunders and her dedication to the objectives of the FAN Group, which had encouraged them to attend their first meeting and was a continuing inspiration. Long may FAN last!