The story so far
The summer of 2015 brought into sharp focus the politics and consequences of war and global inequalities as more than a million men, women and children fleeing their homelands in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, risked their lives to seek refuge and a better life in Europe. In response to the images that daily filled our screens, that same winter staff from St Ethelburga’s Centre volunteered on the island of Lesbos, a hot-spot amid the unfolding humanitarian crisis. From this life and view-changing experience, The Refugee Allies project emerged. How could others share in this experience of human connection and interconnectedness? How would the experience change us and contribute to building more empathic, resilient communities?
The aims of Refugee Allies are twofold:
- To co-create meaningful spaces of encounter between all Londoners – those who are settled here and those who are seeking refuge and building a new life in the city.
- To provide a volunteering experience for Londoners to contribute humanitarian support in a camp in Europe (next programme Autumn 2019).
In November 2016, we took our first team of ten London participants of Refugee Allies to volunteer for a week in Ointofyta Camp just north of Athens. Their invitation from Camp manager, Lisa Campbell of American NGO, Do Your Part, was unexpectedly, to ‘beautify’ the living spaces. Their task was not to ‘do’ for the camp residents; but to collaborate with them, be led by them in design and to facilitate residents’ own ideas. No-one imagined what would emerge from our encounter; an explosion of creativity that travelled along every corridor and drew in child and elder alike, transforming the walls and changing minds; some residents who had never spoken were discussing paint and sharing ideas, others who had avoided one another were crossing the corridors and painting together.
Images of the paintings and posts from participants can be found on our Refugee Allies Facebook page with a special album of images here.
Participants returned from the volunteering deeply inspired and motivated to highlight the plight of refugees in Greece, and to create a place of meeting and welcome in London. Our first gathering of refugees and asylum seekers, of Londoners and relevant organisations, was held in February 2017 and we have hosted social gatherings regularly since. If you would like to join the ‘Refugee Allies’ community, see how you can get involved in ‘Events’ above.
For news and updates, follow us on Facebook