On the 28th April, nearly 250 people gathered at the Gryphon School Conference Centre in Sherborne for an event aiming to raise awareness of refugee issues and harness support for local refugee resettlement.
"From Syria to Sherborne" was organised by SHARES (Sherborne Area Refugee Support), a local refugee support group who work with the local authority to help aid the resettlement of Syrian refugees under the UK government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme.
The evening began with Syrian human rights journalist Ghias Al Jundi, who explained in brief the complex political history of Syria and why people are fleeing in such numbers. Ghias himself fled to the UK 20 years ago, but after watching terrible images of fellow Syrians fleeing the war on the television, decided to go out to volunteer in Greece on rescue missions and also works with Amnesty International in the UK on refugee awareness.
“I could not sit here in the UK in my comfortable life and do nothing" .
Following Ghias, we then heard from Nada Menzalji, an acclaimed Syrian poet, whose poetry focuses on the pain of exile and the difficulty of forming a new life in a foreign culture. For many of our Syrian friends who attended, it was particularly nice to hear poetry in Arabic as well as English! Many members of the audience were profoundly moved by Nada's words, who due to the political climate in Syria, had been accused by local authorities of either being a communist or a religious extremist on separate occasions when she performed her poetry.
"I once believed
I was a citizen of the world
My sense of belonging has been constrained".
Stephanie Farr, who is in charge of the refugee resettlement programme at Dorset County Council, then spoke about the generous response of the Sherborne community, and the aim of the council to continue to welcome more Syrian families under the vulnerable person's resettlement scheme. In particular, she highlighted the need for private landlords to rent out their properties as part of the scheme as well as local volunteers to provide befriending and ESOL support.
One of the Syrians resettled in the area spoke alongside Stephanie and thanked the local community and the council for the warm welcome and support her family had received.
"I am safe. My family finally feels safe".
In the interval, there was the opportunity to try Syrian-inspired food such as baba ganoush, hummus and tabbouleh as well as delicious baklava prepared by our Syrian friends along with members of SHARES.
In the second half of the event, we watched the thought-provoking short film Aamir, highlighting the plight of unaccompanied child refugees in Calais and throughout Europe. We then heard from Frankie Dickens, an old friend of SHARES and advocate for refugees, who spoke passionately about her personal experiences and thoughts on Calais and the so called refugee ‘crisis’.
“No one wants to be a refugee. No one wants to be forced to flee and to talk about their home in the past tense”.
Finally, there was the opportunity to hear about the work and aims of SHARES and a call for volunteers locally to help in various ways such as the running of SHARES, clothes collections, befriending and ESOL support.
We were delighted to see so many people from the local community come along, including the Sherborne Town Mayor, as well as refugee welcome groups from around the South West. Many thanks to all who signed up to volunteer and be part of SHARES and to all those who made generous donations on the night.
Many thanks also to all those who helped on the night and to all those who supported or sponsored the evening including; Sherborne Town Council, Dorset County Council, the Gryphon School and South West Foundation and to Joss Barratt for the wonderful photos!