Saturday, 30 June 2018

ups and downs, for this week, forever

Refugee week, a celebration of the positive contributions refugees make to our country, has just drawn to a close.

Part of what I want this blog post to be, then, is a celebration: of this week and the fun we've had, and of the asylum seekers and refugees who I am privileged to call my friends and who have immeasurably enriched my life.

And it was a very good week: there were stories and poetry and song. There were opportunities for engagement and learning. There was space to spend time together in the sunshine. There was food, and friendship and an abundance of laughter. Lives have been shared and it is has been beautiful.

But in the midst of it, I have also encountered the darker side of what it means to seek Sanctuary in a country which sadly prides itself on its "hostile environment". I have met those who have celebrated in spite of the challenges, but also those for whom this week, intended to enrich and empower them, will have completely passed them by as they struggle to deal with interminable bureaucracy and impossible decisions, with homelessness and destitution, with physical and emotional trauma, with all that seeking asylum entails.

Now the refugee week banners are all being packed away, and the twitter handles will soon have disappeared back into the oblivion of cyber space from whence they were summoned. We will have patted ourselves on the back to congratulate ourselves on a beautiful celebration of all that is good in the welcome we strive to offer in the midst of, even in spite of, the systems. And rightly so: for, whatever else is true, there is much to celebrate, and it is right to take the time to do so; there is much to encourage and inspire, and it is right to recognise and be moved by it.

And thus begins another week.

Another week in which there will still be refugees trying to rebuild a new life far from home.

A week in which there will still be laughter and friendship and celebration; in which there will still be those rejoicing in new found freedom and safety, in which there will be those who are empowered to contribute their gifts and skills to a society infinitely richer for their presence; in which there will be resilience and hope.

And a week in which there will still be those trapped in a system riddled with mistakes and delays which force them to put their lives on hold while someone else holds their life in the balance; in which there will still be those struggling to survive in a system which uses destitution as a policy tool; in which there will still be those who are caught between staying in a country that has told them they're not welcome and being sent back to a place where they fear for their lives; in which there will be terror and despair.

If refugee week is a celebration, it is also a reminder: that while there is much to celebrate, there is also still much to be done. I hope many of those who have encountered the spirit and joy of this week will have found in it the inspiration to take the next steps: to find the next moment of friendship, to offer the next gesture of generosity, to take the next campaign action, to speak the next words of hope in a rhetoric too often dictated by fear.

Refugee week is over, but the beauty, and the challenge of engaging with refugee issues are not going away any time soon: and whatever the struggles, I am deeply inspired by being able to have a small share in living alongside those for whom the paradox of hope in the midst of the seemingly hopeless, and joy in the depths of darkness are an ongoing reality.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

St Chad's Sanctuary, a brief introduction

It is no secret that I love the place where I work and the people with whom I get to spend my days. Alongside my main role of helping co-ordinate the English teaching, I am responsible for the social media and sometimes turn my hand to other things too: almost invariably with plenty of enthusiasm, often with varying degrees of talent!

The idea of having a film which shares something of the work of the Sanctuary has been floating around for sometime, but with no definite deadline, it could easily have stayed on the back-burner indefinitely. So a deadline was set, and a project was brought to life. It received its preview showing at the Sanctuary celebration of the year earlier this week.

I am not a film maker, but I have given it my best attempt. There are things that could be vastly improved (by someone with more talent, or more time, or both), but on balance I am pleased with how it turned out and think it illustrates something of this place which is so special to me. Making it, particularly preparing and recording the contributions for the sound track, was an absolute privilege. I hope, and believe, the beauty and depth of the words the students and volunteers share, more than compensate for the shaky camera work and sometimes clunky editing.

I hope you agree it is worth 12 minutes of your time: