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Our Woman of the Year 2019 is an outstanding winner. Rossana Leal and her family fled Chile in 1976 when she was nine years old after her father was detained by the Pinochet regime. Having been resettled by UNHCR from Argentina, she always remembers the warm welcome that the family received from the small mining village in Scotland – with a party, bagpipes and toys for the children, and the coal shed that winter remaining stocked by generous villagers. This was her inspiration years later when, moved by the plight of Syrians arriving in Europe, she set up the Buddy Scheme in Hastings. Wanting to recreate the welcoming environment she had experienced, Rossana pairs East Sussex locals with refugees, and together they share meals, visit local sites and festivals, run sewing groups, driving lessons and children’s activities. Rossana’s volunteer work has created a community of more than a hundred people who are forming new friendships and providing hope, as refugees build a new life in the UK.

With the Refugee Buddy Project, Rossana is enacting her vision of pushing back and transforming the hostile environment for migrants and refugees in the UK.  In Rossana's own words, “When future generations see what was happening in the UK at this time, they will ask did you resist or did you collaborate?”

Find out more about the Hastings Buddy Project and how you can get involved.


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