World Refugee Day

Today, 20th June, is World Refugee Day, with the theme being “Imagine” this year.

We wanted to imagine a better world for everyone, a kinder, more supportive, fairer world.

These four wonderful accounts from Zak, Zac, Rahaf and Dayani are demonstrative of different the ways that supporting their own community can enrich and better people’s lives.

Rahaf

My name is Rahaf, I am a Syrian refugee living in the UK since 2015. I am a final year law student at Essex University. I have a great passion for helping Syrian refugee families; thus, I have volunteered with Refugee Action – Colchester for three years now, mainly as an interpreter and as a chef sometimes. Refugee Action – Colchester run an educational workshop in primary schools which allows the pupils to interact with a real refugee and have the opportunities to learn more about the refugee’s life and challenges they face through quizzes and games.

I have been asked to attend some workshop and give a speech and also to do some interpretation for Zak. However, he doesn’t need my help any more as his Engish is greatly improved. The pupils adored 17-year-old Zak – they asked him many questions; he sang rap for them (his favourite music) and chats with them about his hopes and wishes.  Zak also was very brave to tell the students his own tragic story. 

He said imagine you had a happy life, and then suddenly you woke up to the sounds of war, imagine leaving your room, the toys you love, your bed – everything because you have to run as fast as you can. Imagine fleeing your home, your school, your friends and your neighbourhood to a different country that you know nothing about, carrying only your passport, and your memory which is worth nothing for people but means a lot for you. Can you imagine how hard it is to lose your best friend, your brother, during your search for safety at age 11. Imagine burying your dear brother and travelling to the country we both dreamed of, how I wished to carry him in my bag. Imagine being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you have no friends, starting a new school and everyone in my family has a different challenge.  Imagine being bullied at your new school, not understanding the lessons because you don’t speak the language, not able to communicate or have a friendship.

It’s for this reason that Zak wants to educate younger children.

I always imagine what if there were no wars, what if we had the option to leave and what if we are all equal. Of course, if it had been so, I would now be in my homeland in my house playing with my brother, sleeping in my bed that since I left it, I have not dreamed Zak said.

Zak’s story influenced the kids, and I believe that some of them could not comprehend that this was a real story that happened and still happens with every refugee in the world because of their little imagination. And I think Zak is fortunate despite what had happened with him, as he had the opportunity to come to the UK while others still suffer like him or more in the displacement camps.

This sort of life education is so important and inspiring, and small rural schools benefit from this innovative approach. The children even learn a little Arabic, and they have a go at writing their names in Arabic script – which reads the other way around! It’s an impactful session, and the kids are always incredibly engaged. We’re all grateful for Refugee Action – Colchester because it gives us the opportunity to share our stories and challenges and our difficulties to raise awareness in the community about the refugees, and to create that awareness in young puplis is a great idea to help build a conscious generation that accepts and understands the others.

Zac

My family and I were resettled in Brightlingsea in 2016. We were helped by Brightlingsea Refugee Suport Network to settle into our home and feel part of the beautiful town. We are very grateful for the welcome we received.

Not long after we moved here we began sharing our food with our friends who really appreciated our food.  I founded and run White Gardenia Foods and cook a range of Syrian food for local people which I deliver to their homes or sell at local venues.  Recently I was pleased to be able to supply, free of charge, staff meals at two local care homes.

I am also a practical man. I have completed some short courses as an introduction to the construction industry and I am considering studying carpentry at Colchester Institute. This may help me find employment which will offer good prospects for my family.

Dayani

As a child I always enjoyed helping others. My parents always taught me to give, to share and taught me the art of giving – they planted a seed  of “good deeds” in me. The joy of giving is truly beautiful!

Since moving to the UK 16 years ago I learnt a lot more about charities and their work and then stumbled upon volunteering. I came accross volunteers of all kinds, they amazed me with their stories which would capture my heart.  
I am a giver, I enjoy giving, it brings me immense joy while I continued my small scale charitable work. The urge to do more, much bigger things to help out has always been there but it just didn’t happen!

When I moved to Colchester in 2019 I didn’t know anyone in this town except my brother, sister in law and their two wonderful children who introduced us to our new town.  Whilst starting to sort out my new life and trying to get to know people I was put in touch with Refugee Action – Colchester. I was told “give them a call they’re the BEST! “
Since getting in touch with them last year it’s been an amazing journey. I got to know their wonderful volunteers, the wonderful work they do, welcoming every newbie in town with open arms. You truly feel you belong!  I made lots of new friends. I attend many community events and was amazed to see so many people, a diverse community demonstrating the best community spirit I’ve ever seen! One of the best things I love about this town! It’s just so wonderful!

I learnt more about local volunteering since meeting the group at RAC. They helped me with various things, advice and even take me places which was just wonderful.  Nothing was too small or too big they’re always there. Soon they became my friends, they became my family! I felt like a whole new person. They inspired me, I felt I belonged and I felt it was the right time to start to give back to this wonderful community. I wanted to give back,  more than ever.  
“There’s no better time than the present”

I started my chapter in volunteering with Essex Welfare Services COVID19 team which was set up at the beginning of this pandemic. I have done a couple of tasks for them which has given me immense joy, I also used this time to help many others in the community, be it do their weekly shop or pick up medications, doorstep check-in, welfare checks, offering a listing ear and in some cases offering cooked meals. It brought me immense joy to be able to give back, it’s such a wonderful feeling.  Especially during this very difficult time.

One of the best things about RAC and its community is that they never fail to check up on each other.  My family had to isolate as one of us fell ill during the early days of the pandemic and the support I received was just amazing, it shows what an amazing army of volunteers we have here in Essex to help each other out.

“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you”

I would like to be more involved in volunteering and do more as I know there’s a lot that each and every one of us can do to make things better for the other person.

I have two very young children. My older being 6yrs old. He has taken part in a lot of very personal small scale charitable work I have done over the years here in the U.K. and overseas. He has enjoyed taking part in these events and enjoyed the process and he understands the importance of sharing and giving. I always share with him stories or show him examples and try to plant the seed of good deeds in him.

I would like my children to learn about giving, be charitable, kind, loving and compassionate. So they know that as they grow older there are things they can do and there are many ways to help and give back to the society.

At the moment my volunteering is limited to certain areas due to having two very young children but as they grow older I would like to use my time to be involved more and I hope I will get an opportunity to use my knowledge and skills to give back.

“Life is really nothing without Love and Care. Give it to everyone but don’t expect it back because it’s a FEEL not a DEAL“

Zak

Together We Grow: A Project of Fulfillment

Nothing has come handier for me in the lockdown than the Refugee Action – Colchester’s Together We Grow initiative. I heard about the project from a friend and I expressed my interest just to explore what was on offer. I first thought that the initiative was a virtual consultation group, tempted to think this way by the whole virtual world surrounding me, but it turned out to be a fully-fledged supportive project breaking some of the boredom and solitude the lockdown has brought and refreshing some of my old growing skills.

My first delivery from Together We Grow was a large green bag of compost for growing potatoes and a number of sweetcorn and runner bean seeds, in addition to a few squash and courgette seedlings. I planted these straightaway and the whole thing inspired me to buy more seeds and more compost. I planted plenty of squash, marrow and tomato plants and started with my friend Abdussalam to prepare our allotment in New Fairfield. We kept social distancing there but it was a great outlet for us both to catch up while working— we spoke about everything except the virus and its consequences. We now feel we have planted too many seeds— literally more than what the allotment can accommodate and perhaps enough to make us worry about where to put the seedlings! One option was to put every two seedlings together in the soil, pretending these two seedlings were one! We also discussed some plans about what to do if we produce more than we could cope with: one idea was to distribute everything extra to the participants in the Together We Grow project, and another was to transform the extra tomatoes into tomato purée!

Together We Grow recently provided us with some advisory and educational videos about planting and we have had two online meetings so far to share our achievements and ask questions about growing— most importantly, the meetings were a chance for us to meet other growers and see what they are doing. The related WhatsApp group has also become a platform to ask questions, share photos of our plants and to welcome new joiners.

My understanding is that the Together We Grow team is planning to hold a “Together We Eat” party at the end to celebrate our achievements and parade samples of our crops! Prior to this, with the gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions, we will hopefully be able to pay some visits to one another’s allotments and share growing experiences. I am personally not sure how long the project has been running for, but as this is my first year to join, I am confident that such a project has the potential of turning many in the area into growers with green fingers.

What a wonderful hobby Together We Grow is to cherish! I have always felt that with the seeds hope is grown, with the seedlings happiness is planted, and with harvesting dreams come true.

Ahmad al-Rashid

Ahmad shares his thoughts and feelings on World Refugee Day. Ahmad was featured in the BBC documentary Exodus – the documentary series which charts the biggest movement of refugees since World War 2.

We would like to express our thanks to Ahmad for making this recording for us so we are able to share with all of you.