Erin Pizzey, the founder of the domestic violence charity Refuge, spoke next. Erin told us of how, forty years ago, she had in the space of one night filled an abandoned hotel with refugees - and of how Richmond’s residents rallied round to help their new neighbours. Erin also emphasized the importance of peer support and co-habitation for survivors of trauma.
Next was Sulaiman Osman from Hikayetna (www.hikayetna.com) who spoke about his charity’s work bringing people from Syria together in London to tell their stories and share their culture. Sulaiman introduced one such storyteller, Amir Darwish, who read three pieces of work. One poem, ‘Where are you from?’, dissected the notion of origin and showed how asking that question can promote feelings of not belonging and ‘otherness’.
Our final speakers were Narin and Nesrin, two teenagers from Syria. They described their horrendous journey which included seeing their father captured (to be imprisoned and tortured), fleeing their home, being imprisoned alongside their mother and three younger siblings, and massive fear and uncertainty as to what their futures would bring. The family are now reunited and settled in London, and the audience was captivated as they described their lives before they arrived in England, and their ambitions now that they are here.
Above all, our speakers reminded us of the reality of the war in Syria and its effects, and that we are working together simply to help people who are just unlucky enough to have found themselves in a war-torn place and needing to find safety.
After the performances and speakers we met some other groups of volunteers with similar aims - including Three Peas in a Pot, who travel to the camps in Greece when they can, bringing food, (https://www.youcaring.com/hot-food-idomeni-558079), and Raidestos Library, who provide schoolbooks to refugees so that when they finally arrive in a safe place, they are not behind in their education (www.facebook.com/raidestoslibrary) – as well as many individual local Richmond residents who offered their help and support in providing a safe place for Syrian people fleeing war.
The event was a complete success, and the inspirational stories that we heard made us even more determined to carry on with what we are doing. Thank you to everyone that came and supported – let’s keep pressing forward.