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SOAS Faces – ‘Vernon Tea Party’

  • Features

By Darian De La Cruz, Ba Japanese

It is the people that make SOAS the unique place it is. People we might interact with daily without really knowing their stories. In this issue we talk to some members of the “Vernon Tea Party” who are part of an interesting and well-liked project.

As most SOASians attending lectures at Vernon Square may attest to, Thursday and Friday mornings just would not be the same without the generous offering of hot drinks and biscuits by a group of volunteers stationed outside the campus. But who are the faces behind the much needed caffeine boost given to us, poor students?

The tea and coffee giveaway, which has been running for about five years now, is a project started by a SOAS alumnus, Peter James, who is also the main coordinator of the group. His humanitarian calling and a “desire to engage positively with the injustices and broken situations that we observe, both here in the UK and beyond”, he says, were the main impetus behind his decision to study at SOAS. Having graduated in 2006 with a BA in Development, Peter decided to remain in London and help those in need of different help and support rather than pursue a career abroad. Now, he is employed by the King’s Cross Baptist Church (KCBC), working with a community which strives to “serve students and show God’s love not just in words but in practical action”, too. Together with other volunteers from the church, he does just that by bringing a little happiness into each student’s life by offering “a cup of coffee, a smiling face and maybe a listening ear after a long lecture or a difficult exam.”

Via Peter, the KCBC established a working partnership with a charitable organisation called Student Life whose members also play a key role in what has come to be known as the “Vernon Tea Party” among its student friends. On top of that, Student Life members help to organise regular social events of which, as Peter explains, the “primary purpose is to create a space for students to meet new people, build a sense of community and discover new friendships.”

Indeed, when I attended one such event, the unmistakable feeling of closeness among friends was easily perceivable. During a break from delicious food and a loud game of trivia, I had an opportunity to talk to some volunteers from Student Life in a corner of the bustling room. Eea, the SOAS team leader for the charity, explained to me that Student Life is an international organisation working among university students which gave them the chance to intern in one of a number of countries. That was the case for Hannah, one of the interns from America, who decided to come to London and spend the year getting involved in charitable tasks and events, after being involved in the organisation for all four years of her student life. Interestingly, considering that Student Life is a Christian charity, there was surprisingly little discussion of religion during the social – much like at the table of the “Vernon Tea Party”. When I asked about this, Eea explained: “As Christians, we want to serve people and if there is anybody who’d like to know about the Christian faith and what we believe in, we are happy to explain or offer information. But we don’t offer it at the table.” The sense of belonging is emphasised by the fact that all the socials are open to people of all faiths and Eea’s amused remark of “I think most people here today are not Christians” stands as a tribute to that fact.

The Christian values behind the generous actions of both the KCBC and Student Life are clear and, as Peter emphasises, both organisations “want to share some of [God’s] selfless love with students at SOAS”. However, it must be stressed that their generosity should not be seen as an exercise in ‘recruiting’ new Christians and so all students, no matter what their religious tendency, are invited to simply get to know this bunch of lovely people and make what could be lasting friendships.

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