a year on

this time last year I first saw the photograph of little Alan Kurdi’s body on the beach in Turkey.  Sadly this was not the first such picture I had seen, and it certainly hasn’t been the last.  Children are dying everyday, and it is shocking how many and how much horror has unfolded on my Facebook wall in the year since Alan’s death.

At the time I was pondering the refugee crisis.  I had moved from noticing it was happening to engaging with what was going on through news reports and social media.  I had the urge to help but not a clue how to do so.  I cried a fair bit, I empathised with the mothers, and the fathers, I held my family close and I counted every single one of my blessings daily.

What was different this time was the world’s reaction to it.  Everyone suddenly became aware that refugees are not aliens, they are humans just like us, and sadly too many were dying.  The media storm began to die down, as it always does, and within days I was left thinking it really didn’t matter if I wasn’t sure how to help, I was going to have a good go.

Obviously since then I know a lot more, I know how to work with others to get aid to where it is needed.  I know there are many more people who care than I ever dreamed possible. I have had a whirlwind of a year, during which I have gained so much more than I have given. ,My point is not about all that.  It is about how the death of one boy, in amongst the deaths of thousands, that death, that boy, galvanised a grass roots movement the like of which I have never known.

Almost everyone, in the thousands of people I know supporting the refugees, started a year ago.  The universe aligned with little Alan on the beach and people said enough is enough.  Individually at first,we managed to find each other.  This crazy movement crosses countries and continents.  People who would never have known each other are now firm friends.  The hands that help have stretched from kitchen tables in Europe to the USA, from cafes in Asia to homes in Africa.  All of this has been done by people who previously, like me, knew very little of this world.

There is a lesson here.  As a child of the 1960’s I was well aware of protest movements of alternative ways of doing things, as a rebel in the 1970’s  and 1980’s I cheered the Greenham Common women from my cosy home, I went on marches and I believed I was making a difference.  I wasn’t really.  Social media has changed the world, I believe for the better.  The individuals have become groups and have taken on the task of helping in a way that would have been impossible without the instant communication available on social media.

I am ever more horrified about the lack of action from governments, from the people in power.  The lack of will to stop the bombing, to open the borders, to offer safe passage for all.  Without this we will surely never be able to help these people to safety.  I find myself unable to watch broadcast news any more, I shout at the television far too often.  I can feel powerless and impotent to insist on the changes we all can see are needed.  I could dwell on this, I could become bitter and angry.  I choose not to do so.

Instead I look at all the people who, like me, stopped waiting for the governments to do what is necessary.  To those who I now call friends, who have put their lives on hold to go and help rescue people from the sea, to work in camps and distribution aid where it is needed. To the woman who spends her own money to free girls held as sex slaves, the ninety something great grandma who has knitted so many clothes for babies she will never meet, the woman who ran a sponsored race and gave the money raised to help.  The people who turn up week in week out to sort socks and pack donations. There are so very many examples of this amazing people power.

It is to their shame that history will show that when governments failed to act, when they chose to arm the bombers instead of broker the peace, when they closed borders and put up fences, they never once saw the refugees as individual people.  People like Alan Kurdi’s father, like the mothers of the lost girls, those displaced from a life that before war was not so very different from ours.  The powers that be did nothing.

History will also show that in this time another army was galvanised. From kitchen tables across the world people did what they could to help.  I think that governments would do well to pay attention to this grass roots movement of people who do, the energy, the skills and the tenacity shown in the last year is moving mountains.  Imagine how amazing it could be with any support from those who should and could get involved.

So, Alan Kurdi, the boy who’s name is known, and all the other boys and girls, babies and teenagers, men and women, who didn’t cross safely, who haven’t survived this awful war, we remember you all.  We will not stop trying to help in whatever way we can, and while we are sad today we are also angry, and that anger is a mighty powerful motivator.  May you all Rest in Peace.

on hope in the rain

Last week was a difficult week for me.  There was seven days in which I felt I was on a see-saw of emotion.  There was so much to be glad about, sad about, angry about, to feel hopeless about.

At the beginning of the week I saw pictures of babies I will never be able to unsee, victims of a war not of their making, and for which they are suffering terribly. The next day I celebrated with mixed emotions the twenty seven year triumph over the establishment for the Hillsborough families. Watching the live coverage at the inquest when at last the world was told what many of us always knew to be true. I ended the week in a fruitless and frustrating meeting the outcome of which we are still uncertain, but quietly hopeful.

Yesterday the rain battered down in my home town, people who were soaked to the skin came into the shop smiling, ‘it’s only rain’, they said, these are our volunteers, they had stood in a downpour hoping for the sun to shine, they had rattled a tin and sold everything they could to a damp and lacklustre crowd at the Spring Fair.  I as watched them uncomplaining, sorting dry clothes to get changed into from the donation boxes, ill fitting clothes, this will do clothes, promising to return them washed, there was a weird connection between what we are trying to do and the people out there across Europe also in the rain. I hope those people know how much we care and want to help.

Earlier in the week I watched on television the people of Liverpool standing together to honour the families of those lost forever, the pride in my heart was tinged with sadness at the waste of so many potentially happy days.  I saw brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, each had their own lives changed forever the day their loved one lost their own life. There are parallels to be found.  Each life lessened by the governments of the day, blamed and shamed, as each time those really responsible quietly retired to lives on the golf course.  The media also played it’s part.  In a bad way the agenda set by the tabloids of the day and perpetuated ever more.  In a good way when through drama and through decent journalism the struggle lived on in peoples minds.  Always, right through the constant love for lose lost, shown loud and clear by the family that never gave up

There are lessons in both of the above that will stand me well in my world.  The relativity of suffering, the awareness that one persons tragedy could be another persons prayer. That those living an alien life, perhaps in a tent, in the rain, trying to manage their family to care for the babies, remembering fondly the life that was theirs before war came.  It could be that, these people are not much different to the families in Liverpool, who knew that the very people who should be protecting them were actually guilty all along.

This tells me that the world is seldom as you first see it.  You must look with eyes beyond what is in front of you.  Listen to the narrator, who is telling this story, and why are they telling it to you?  Read between the lines, turn over the page, make sure what you believe to be true is not in fact a pillar of lies built to hide a different truth.

Trust your instincts, reach out to help and above everything do not be afraid.  Say your truth loudly and often.   Sometimes it is the silence of others that belies the battle where you think your words are lost and unheard, that maybe the moment that  changes everything.

All we can do is our best.  All we can try is our hardest.  We have to hope that one day it will have been enough.






on the journey – a mothers tale

We walk to the harbour, I am considering just how dangerous can it be, we will be in the boat for such a short hop and then to safety. The boys are quiet, they appear worried, perhaps they can feel my inner panic, the panic I am ignoring.  I am good at ignoring these feelings, in the last months I have ignored the pain in my legs, the ache in my arms, the fear in my heart, but the children can sense it.  Maybe it is the noise of the water, unfamiliar and black, black as the night sky above that is making them so.

The waves are crashing to shore, suddenly I think that perhaps in another time, another situation this maybe a romantic place,  somewhere to stroll hand in hand, but not now, not tonight for me it is only a place of fear.  The boat seems small, too small for so many, a quick glance around and I see faces I have seen many times on this journey, yet we have no eye contact, no smiles, we are all keeping it together, if only just.  Onto the boat and there is no room for us all to sit together, I gather the littlest one on my lap, the other two sit across and down the bench from me, I don’t like it but take comfort in that they are used to looking out for each other, since we lost their Dad they have been as one.

We move off from the land, I hear voices are shouting, loud in the night, I am glad I could afford the life jackets they will keep us safe

We are out in the sea now, bobbing along the waves, I remember a time when we went as a family to a river, a sunny day when the children paddled and we smiled so much. I often find myself remembering and imagining, putting myself back into the happy times.  It helps a bit.

The darkness of the night seems kinder out here, it envelops our craft and offers an anonymity,  I am sure that all will be well.

I have heard the stories of how kindness will meet us on the beach, how we will be fed and clothed and safe.  Safe is all I need.  The boys are relaxing, this is one more adventure for them, tears have gone, now there are smiles, unless you look into their eyes. As their mother I know how the pain they have seen is reflected in their eyes.  I weep for their lost childhood, for their sorrow and most of all because I couldn’t change anything.

We are nearing the shore now, men are shouting, lights are flashing, it seems we are heading for the wrong beach. I reach to grab the boys trying to pull them closer to me, they are too far away. The boat rocks, the people on the other side are shouting, someone stands up, there is more rocking, the waves are crashing and suddenly we are not safe. Still not safe.

I watch in horror as people start to jump into the water, I sit frozen to my seat, holding the baby and the only bag I have left, I don’t have enough arms for all my children.  I call out, too late they have jumped together, of course they have, they do everything together. I cannot see them in the dark water.

A pain I didn’t know I could feel hits me, I cling to the baby, we have come through so much together, walked so far, and now just minutes from safety I have lost them.  I need to leave the boat, but I have the baby, it is cold, so very cold, but I have to find my boys.  I lower myself into the water, thankfully it is not deep I can stand, just about, I hold the baby high, she won’t survive the cold water. My bag is still on my back and I can hear my boys, they are calling me.  I fall over into the water and suddenly I cannot breathe, everything is wet and cold.  I stand and fall again, then suddenly strong arms are holding me, they reach for the baby I hold on tight.  Together we reach the shore.  We reach safety.

Around me it is chaos, there are screams and tears, but there is hope, we have blankets put around us, the baby cries, she lives, I am thankful.  I still can’t see my boys, but I have faith they are here and safe.

Later, much later, there will be a bus and a camp and I have hope that we will be helped. My boys find me and I hold them so tight I fear I will never let them go.  We are the lucky ones, we have made it through hell and have found freedom.  Nothing can ever be as bad as it has been. My boys will not have to fight in an unwinnable war, my baby girl will not be used and abused.  I have done it.  I am Mother and I have brought my children to safety.

Sometimes I think about our other life, where our home was beautiful, where my babies were born, and they slept in their own beds, with toys around, where they squabbled and played and learned to read, the house where their Daddy and I lived a life so wonderful. We had love and friendship and we didn’t know, we just didn’t know how wonderful it was until everything changed.

I know we will never see their Daddy again, my strong and handsome husband is no more.  He is with me in spirit, in my heart and he is proud of me.  Proud that I have done this, I have brought our babies to safety. Nothing else matters.




on being a Hummingbird

Late this afternoon I walked home from our little shop, where we sort and pack donations from kind people who want to reach out and help the Refugees who are travelling across Europe.

The road I walk along, where I live, is a quiet street with houses along one side and an open space on the other.  Across the trees there is a great view of the hills and the sky.  As I am walking it begins to snow.  The flakes fall softly on my shoulder, the temperature is dropping and the sky is heavy.

I am thinking of other women who used to have homes to go to.  Women who have seen their families parted, sometimes through death and often through the destruction of their cities and towns. Women carrying their babies and walking for miles towards a safer life. I am watching the sky and the snow falling and thinking that they too can see the same sky and perhaps also have snowfall on their shoulders.

I am seeing in my minds eye the pictures of the children without winter shoes, standing on frosty ground in summer sandals.  I am seeing the babies, who are so cold and quietly trying to sleep, I am their Mother.  We are all their Mother or Father.  These children are all our children and the sooner the world accepts this the better it will be for all.

I am fortunate, I have a key to my home, and when I arrive, shaking the snow from my coat I enter into warmth and light.  I have familiar things around me and a family, safe and well. I have a fridge and cupboards full of food and a warm bed to sleep in later.  Yet my thoughts are never far from those other women, my sisters under the skin. They have the same hopes and dreams as I do.  They once had jobs and warm comfortable homes.  Their children used to sleep in bedrooms, under blankets and be safe.  Woman to woman I feel the need to help as best I can.

The shop this afternoon was busy as dozens of people arrived carrying warm clothes, winter shoes and many other wonderful things,  Such things have taken on a whole new importance for me, from seeing the absence of these things and the fear and cold in the eyes of those who are struggling.  I know that within the month all these donations will be distributed to people in need, and for a little while I feel content that we have been able to help.

People keep saying thank you to us, in our little shop, thank you for letting us help, thank you for finding a way to send things, thank you for stepping up, thank you for inspiring us. To all of them I say no, thank you, for restoring my faith in people, for helping and for being a part of the change we want to see in this world.

Hummingbirds every one.


on the year of change

When I look back at the year just ending there will be so many things to reflect on.  Watching my gorgeous Granddaughter change from baby to toddler, taking her first steps and finding her voice.  Delighting in every stage, we simply could not love her more.  Taking equal pride in her Mum and Dad, who have come through tough times, now more positive than ever, they are an amazing team.

A summer spent in a Welsh garden, nestling in the hills, our own little bit of paradise.  We were joined this year by friends and family, creating happy memories of fun in the sunshine.  We built a shed, we planted and watched the flowers bloom.  We laughed here, perhaps more than I ever have before.  Getting to know new friends, joining neighbours for Pimms and beer, swapping stories and finding shared interests.

Waving my daughter off on her adventures, hoping that the world will love her as much as I do was tricky, but then finding to my delight that she makes friends easily and is living in the moment every day.  I couldn’t ask for more for her than what she wishes for herself.  Her spirit, her sense of fun and her friendliness equips her well wherever she chooses to be.

In the middle of family life I was beginning to feel a bit rootless, wondering what I should be doing with myself and how I could find my own place in the world again.  Social media brought new friends, people from across the world and I have loved getting to know these people, talking often, sometimes too often.

Then came the end of the summer and with it news of the refugee’s walking across Europe in search of a new normality,  their homes destroyed and lives threatened they set off to in hope towards a new life. Shocking images leapt into the living room and were not forgotten. They are not forgotten yet.  It took me weeks to work out if there was anything I could do to help them on their journey, but once I worked it out a whole world I had never imagined lay before me.

Once I saw into this world there was no going back.  In the midst of helplessness and despair there was one amazing focus.  There are lots of people, just like me, coming together to help.  All my life I have wanted to change the world, this year was the year I worked out how to do it!  I know whatever I do, here in England may not change very much for very many, but there are hundreds of people just like me, everywhere, and together we are changing things.

I understand that we cannot stop bombing and war, that some people will continue to hate, and there will sadly be many more babies dying in the seas.  But the wonderful network of people across the world and especially within Europe are making a difference every day.  The small acts of kindness together are comforting those on the journey.  A new pair of shoes, a warm coat, a kind word and food in the belly.  All provided with love and care from strangers, some of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. The strong and brave people who put their lives on hold and give time and love to those arriving on the shores of Europe, guiding boats into safe beaches, treating the sick, feeding the crowds.

So in a year when so many governments across the world turned away from those in need, when the mega force of media magnates raged against people who happened to live and love in a place of war, when my country inexplicitly elected politicians that were never going to care about anyone but themselves,  where we could have given up hope, we didn’t.  Instead we got off our sofas and did something, and this alone meant that we were joined with many more people who also did the same.

As we leave this year behind and move into 2016 I cannot help but think that 2015 will be remembered forever as the year the world began to change.  The year that ordinary people worked together in spite of governments, in spite of people telling them it was hopeless.  A wave of hope and friendship was forged, where it no longer was enough to give a bit of cash to an appeal, when people power was harnessed and help was offered.

As I watched my Granddaughter this afternoon, working out her world, laughing and playing, safe, loved, warm and well, a part of my heart was lost to all the other toddlers, the Mums and Dads, the Nana’s and Pop’s who love as passionately as I do, to the people still walking towards safety, those sleeping in tents in the snow and the children playing in the mud in a camp. I hope they know ordinary people are coming to help them, that we care and we will not longer leave it up to someone else.

I start this new year in a positive yet reflective mood.  I have hope that the human race may yet be won with kindness and love, and that we will all choose to offer the hand of friendship to others.  I understand I am the luckiest of people, I have all that I need and most of what I want.  May 2016 be kind to you all.

on refusing to be afraid

I think it is fair to say the this world is having problems just now.  The wars that have raged across the globe are suddenly very close to home.  The hidden threat, the fear of attack, the unknown plots are unsettling and worrying for all. Surely that is the point of terror(ists). They want people to be afraid.  to be afraid of dying whilst eating dinner, of being shot at a stadium or blown up in a bank.  Once again all of the above are tangibly close, it could happen to any of us.  What on earth can we do?

Well I guess we have options.  We can choose to stay home, to minimise our risk of threat, to view strangers as enemies and to watch endless news coverage of the reasons why this maybe happening and what should we do.  Let me say right now, I have no problem with anyone making that choice.  The threats are real, the world is not as safe today as it may once have been, and just now, at this time, perhaps, the sensible option is to stay close to family and friends.

Another option is to just get on with life.  Easier said than done I know, but life is actually for living, and a life well lived is the best answer to all the negativity in the world.  To choose to be, to continue being you, is an option worth taking.  To explain (again) to friends and family that despite the horror around us, it is still ok to try to help each other.  It is still ok to reach across Europe and do what ever you can to make things a little bit better.  Because we can and if we can, maybe we should.

As I write this I have a friend who is today on an island far from home, where she is providing fun and smiles for children whose world fell apart many months ago.  They have lived through things that no one should ever have to experience.  She is blowing bubbles and making shakers, she is creating fun out of very little and she is doing it because she can.

Another couple of friends are also heading off to an island this weekend, where they will unload a container full of wonderful, practical stuff, shoes and boots, socks – lots of socks, nappies and a hundred other things that will make life a little kinder for people who have been displaced, and for whom home is no longer an option.  The magic is that these friends have also been part of the effort to fill the container, to organise ordinary people into doing what is necessary, one bag of jumpers at a time.

Why are all these people doing this? They are doing it because they care, because they good people and most importantly of all because they can.

So, my message to those who would bomb and shoot is to think on, think on and consider what you are doing.  The universal truth is that most people are good people, most want exactly the same out of life.  Be they Christian or Atheist, Muslim or Hindu, they are all, as we are, Humans first.  Think hard about who is being manipulated in all of this?  Consider strongly who is making money and who is driving the hatred?  Always look for the narrator.  Who is telling this story, and what is their agenda?

There is money to be made in war.  There is benefit in divide and rule, there is a place for fear in a world where people need to be controlled in order for the narrator to tell the story.  While we are told to be afraid of each other, what are we missing? What agenda is being served to all of us and why is this happening now?

I am not sure I have any answers, but I am sure of this.  No matter what happens I will go on living my life and doing the things I need to do.  I will not lose sleep worrying about the safety of my loved ones, for worrying never made a difference to anything, any time.

I will continue to make friends across the world, to celebrate our solidarity and to cheer on those making a difference.   I will be collecting and sorting and shipping goods to make life better.  I will be debating and being occaisonally frustrated with negative attitudes. I will continue to persuade and cajole others to come on this journey with me.  I will sort socks into boots and pack bags with love and care.  I will send my own positive love and hope out into the world and wait for it to return.  Why will I do all of this?  I will do it because I can.

I am choosing not to be scared. I am choosing to put hope ahead of fear and I will change the world for someone, one bag of aid at a time.  How wonderful if the result of all the sadness and madness is that we all start working together, that we find our other selves, across the country and across the world.  That we understand a little more of what it is like to be different and how we can help each other.

Together we will do this, because together we can.