This wonderful newsletter post was written by Wendy Shaw, ECO Project Manager from SSE after she and her colleague, Nicola Gribben volunteered at Refuweegee using their SSE charity days.
I find it overwhelming – the refugee crisis which is playing out in front of my eyes on all available media day in day out. At times I need to cut it all out of my mind as I’ll admit that I can’t handle it. How do you arrive at a point where you feel you have no choice but to put your children’s and your own life in the hands of criminals who don’t care if you live or die in a bid to escape your county, leaving everything behind. As for the way the “problem” is debated at a European and political party level – it is dehumanising and fills me with anger and resentment. To try and channel that energy and turn it into something positive Nicola and I decided to do something practical and volunteer with Refuweegee for a day. We chose to Be the Difference! Yes, it may only make a small difference to a tiny group of people but it will make a difference. It is the small acts of personal kindness that can help people to start to feel human again.
The name for the community group is a Hollywood power couple combination of the words ‘weegie’-local slang for someone from Glasgow – and ‘refugee’. Refuweegee aims to provide every Refuweegee who arrives in Glasgow with a community built welcome pack. Each pack contains three categories of items; basic essentials, Glasgow welcome information and ‘letters from the locals’ and as a result of the final category, each pack will be completely individual.
So our task for the day was to sort donations and put together the welcome packs. Putting the first pack together from all that had been donated was equally overwhelming. Whilst the packs for adults were relatively easy, the children’s packs carried the weight of the world. Nicola and I got caught up in making outfits for children of different ages. Worrying at what age do you start to include deodorant or sanitary products, everyone is so different. It felt a huge responsibility and you really wanted the child who opened the pack to be thrilled with the contents. Then the crushing thought that the child could be entirely on their own, with no parent or relative.
What did the day teach us?
Whilst wanting to donate is fantastic, taking the time to think about how best to help should be step one. Specific charity collections, such as refuweegee’s, shouldn’t be an opportunity to clear out all that old stuff you never got round to sorting. Listen to what is requested (call the charity and ask what they are running short of if necessary) and fulfil that request if you can. Even better take the time to sort and label everything clearly. Otherwise you are just dumping your stuff, and the problem of clearing it, to someone else.
Clothing: Refugees may already feel out of place and be potential targets for local idiots. Whilst at times the most open minded and welcoming, children can also be the cruellest. Therefore don’t donate awful clothes that will make a child stand out even more. Also clothes that are totally worn out should never end up with charities they should be recycled or binned.
Socks: identifying the size of children’s socks should be a specialist subject on mastermind. It’s practically impossible. If you know the age range of the socks that you are donating, then put them in a bag or tie them together and label them to give volunteers a fighting chance.
Toiletries: practical and basic is best. It is not an opportunity to give away all the guff presents that you have at the back of your drawers. If you can afford to donate £5 with a bit of canny shopping you could get 13 tubes of toothpaste or 18 bars of soap. Multi packs are good as long as they can be hygienically split. One of the quality offerings we saw was a multi vitamin jar with 2 vitamins left in it. The thought was there, but…
Freebies: There was a donation of tiny free sewing kits from airlines and hotels all over the world and they were really useful, safely packaged and easy to fit in the welcome packs. The same goes for the small packs you get on the sleeper train or airlines with toothbrush, toothpaste, face cloth etc.
Books: Think about who is going to receive the book you donate. Some of the titles that we were sorting through yesterday were so inappropriate it was like a comic sketch of books not to give folk fleeing war…..
Letters: the best bit of the pack is the welcome letter. Not long winded, but heart felt, the letters are a small but important touch to help those arriving realise that they are welcome. Some are from school children and are as random as you would expect from little people, but just what is needed from one child to another. Even just a crayon drawing on a card, the fact that it is personal to you and from someone who cares is worth a lot.
If you can’t afford to donate items or even physical time – writing a really short postcard to welcome someone can make such a big difference. Writing (with a pen) is a dying art and having a personal welcome message from someone is very special when you have been seen as a political problem, a space in a boat or a number in a queue for what feels like forever.