By Rachael Kirkup
Pro Bono Coordinator (North)
Crispian Cuss, writing for Al Jazeera, said of the distressing photograph of Alan Kurdi (the three year old Syrian refugee found drowned whilst trying to flee from Syria) that “occasionally an image encapsulates an entire tragedy”. That stark image, and the news reports I’ve read daily since, have prompted me, amongst thousands of other people in the UK to ask themselves: “what can I do to help?”
It is difficult not to feel impotent at times, in the face of the scale and complexity of the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has encountered since the end of the Second World War. But as the American poet and author Gil Schott Heron astutely observed, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something”. And there are ways in which each of us can help: we can volunteer; donate; protest.
I have kick-started my own personal campaign to do more to help, by hosting a Refugee Action Big Night In with friends, in order to raise vital funds to support refugees.
Refugee Action is an independent charity helping refugees who have survived some of the world’s worst regimes to build safe, happy and productive lives in the UK. As their website states, refugees face many challenges when they arrive in the unfamiliar surroundings of the UK – from adapting to the inclement weather; learning English; settling their children into school; to securing work. The asylum process in the UK can be isolating, confusing and extremely lengthy, and many people seeking asylum do not understand their rights and responsibilities or know where to ask for help. This multitude of factors can increase the risk of homelessness and mental health problems for refugees, with an estimated 40% of rough sleepers in London being from outside Europe. A number of Refugee Actions’ worthy projects aim to tackle these issues, by giving legal advice and one-to-one support to people seeking asylum, and signposting the most vulnerable people to further specialist help, such as trauma counselling.
So what does a Refugee Action Big Night In involve?
Refugee Action have collaborated with online subscription service The Spicery, to create a box of spices and corresponding recipe cards to help you cook a delicious three course meal for up to 8 people.
The spice box comes winging its way to you in the post for the bargain price of a tenner (which is donated directly to the charity). A quick poke around the store cupboard for a neglected can of coconut milk or two, and a trip to the local supermarket (opt for delivery unless you have bulging biceps!), and you’re all set to host your charity evening.
The recipes are reeeally easy to follow (although the 2.5 hour estimated cooking time was slightly optimistic for someone who chops onions slower than a sloth shuffling through treacle…) and there are even matched drinks suggestions and a Spotify playlist to add authenticity to your evening.
The menu has been developed by a talented bunch of refugees and includes a vibrant Syrian fattoush (mixed salad) to start, followed by a spicy Iranian lamb and split pea stew (you can substitute aubergine for the veggies) served with a nutty spinach side dish from Cameroon and a fragrant pumpkin curry from Sri Lanka. For the bravest amongst you, there is also a hot, smoky chilli sauce from The Gambia for extra kick! Pleasantly stuffed at this point, we managed to locate our second stomachs in order to polish off a sticky, sweet walnut and date baklava dusted with dried rose petals. The food (even though I do say so myself!) was delicious, and the more dubious chefs amongst you will be pleased to note that one of the dishes actually aims by design, rather than accident, to have a slightly burnt, crunchy texture. Result!
With all guests forgoing a night on the tiles to catch up with friends over dinner, everyone was happy to donate the £10 they would have chucked at one-too-many a cocktail, to the charity. It was reassuring to read in Refugee Action’s literature that £10 will buy food for a day for a refugee who has become homeless, whilst £50 will train five new refugee employment mentors to help refugees build new careers in the UK.
I would encourage you all to consider hosting a dinner party with friends, in aid of a charity of your choice. Whilst you may be on a tight student budget, and a quick glance in your refrigerator will reveal a lonesome looking, wilted spring onion and a joyless, half-moldy lump of cheese (frittata time again?!), remember that if you have any food in your fridge, some clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world’s population.
Share food, stories and an evening with close friends – or with new ones! It will make you feel grateful for what you have, and the money you raise will go directly to helping other refugees and survivors of human rights abuses to make a new start in the UK.
Happy dining and donating!
For more information about Refuguee Action’s Big Night In please follow this link: http://www.refugee-action.org.uk/support_us/fundraise/join_an_event/events/1465_refugee_actions_big_night_in