As my youngest child was starting school, one of my aims was to become more involved with local charity, Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity. DRS started off life three years ago as a grass-roots organisation, a meeting of like-minded people who wanted to really do something tangible to help refugees and asylum seekers. Fast forward three years and this amazing group of volunteers is now a registered charity and finally has a home to call their own. It is in this rented church hall that DRS receive and sort through donations given to them by the public.
Just about everything donated has some use. A row of wheelie bins lines up along one wall into which clothes are sorted, their contents heading either in a van to Calais or a container to be shipped to Syria (often as part of a bigger shipment by Muslims in Need). Any unusable clothing is sent to weigh-in to raise funds. Along the same lines, any toys or items that are not required abroad are collected and sold at car boot sales or on e-bay and the money is used to fund fuel for aid runs or to buy food for the Calais kitchens.
As a response to DRS campaigns, in one corner stands a stack of Moses baskets filled with items for new mums and their babies, prepared by members of the public and offered as a complete package. Another campaign asks for simple items like a pair of socks, a packet of dried fruit, a juice carton, packed into small rucksacks, ready to be handed out to those who need them in Calais.
Not only does this group do fantastic good for refugees abroad, it also brings people in the local community together. Some of the volunteers are refugees and asylum seekers themselves, who now give their time to help others. Having recently moved into their new premises, DRS are inviting local residents to join them for a cup of tea and a biscuit (or two!) and to come and meet the volunteers, showcasing the good work being done in their own neighbourhood.
Last Thursday, I decided to take three books with me that I had come across during my September World Kid Lit Challenge: Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan (Lanatan Publishing), The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books) and When I Coloured in the World by Ahmadreza Ahmadi (Tiny Owl Publishing). All three of these beautiful books deal with the themes of war, fleeing and hope. Knowing that some of the other volunteers at DRS have children or grandchildren of their own, I thought it would be interesting to share these stories with them; I had only come across these titles as part of my challenge and I wondered whether others had heard of them or other stories for children. During our 10:30 tea break, I was invited to show the books I had brought along.
In our discussions afterwards, it transpired that several people had come across titles for an adult readership but not really books aimed at children. The books were admired (“beautiful illustrations”) and the general consensus was that these books are a really good idea. Several refugee families have been placed in Derbyshire and one lady, in particular, was keen to write down the titles with a view to sourcing them for her local community, to help British children to understand a little more about their new school mates or as a starting point for discussion.
Trustee and volunteer coordinator Julie James sums it up nicely: “Every volunteer at Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity brings along their own stories. We have volunteers from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Libya and many other countries. Sharing each other’s stories is the way we begin to connect and understand each other better. I would love these fabulous books and others like them to be available in every school library to inspire children and adults alike to share their own stories.” She followed this up with a quote by Neil Gaiman:
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can”.
For more information about how you can help DRS and about their current campaigns, please visit http://www.derbyshirerefugeesolidarity.org/