On May 23rd, we had our screening for Humanity Rising in the Refugee Crisis. We began with a minute’s silence to commemorate all those who lost their lives in the attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester as well as heartfelt prayers to all those suffering from terror in the world today.
We opened the evening with an invitation to the heart on “how we hold our fears and still choose to turn up for humanity and help each other?” remembering that today there are still over 22m refugees and 65m displaced individuals world wide.
I then briefly outlined the curiosities, which led to the journey of filming Humanity Rising in the Refugee Crisis, particularly on what “humanity” means to each of us.
Our panel on interfaith spiritual activism kicked off with Mahmoud Mostafa, (who follows the Mevlevi tradition of Rumi under the guidance of Shaikh Kabir Helminski, leading the Threshold Sufi Society here in the U.K.). Mahmoud shared on his own volunteer experience and the importance of serving as guided in the Quran.
Jo Winsloe Slater from St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace who had volunteered herself with St Ethelburga’s staff in Lesvos brought to us, the creation of the “People of the Earth program” Jo shared, “We were inspired by the saying ‘To see the world in a grain of sand’ [the small everyday details that can provide tangible change]. We asked ourselves, how do we serve this humanitarian crisis? We didn't want to compete with refugee charities so we focused on how do we can create more empathetic communities, and how do we create communities of all Londoners together? To answer this we regularly invite refugees and local Londoners together for our events.”
We were also blessed to have Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg from the New North London Synagogue with us. He stirred each heart with his reflection. “It's been a day of cruelty and by being here this day has made me think about children. Being in Lesvos, in the camps, I’d heard of a Muslim man who had created a cemetery for the dead who had been washed up. The cemetery had countless graves which read 'Baby. No name'. Both my parents were refugees, they fled their homes and had to begin completely again. We are taught in Jewish wisdom to care for the stranger because who will protect the stranger? I agree we must do what we can to help with this refugee crisis. Children especially deserve hope. We do have it in our power to enable people to feel at home and it's just not an option for us not to do it.”
Through this heart to heart exploration from each speaker the words of Enrico Tormen, a volunteer for Lighthouse Relief, featured in “Humanity Rising in the Refugee Crisis” rang true.
After watching the 60 minute documentary film we were all moved and deeply touched to hear from Dr. Karim, Rahaf Al Ghalyoun and Dina Ariss, 3 Syrians all affected through this crisis.
Dr AbdulKarim Hussein (Syrian Neurosurgeon now living in the UK) shared how he “…crossed the border from Syria into Turkey illegally. I couldn’t imagine I would do this, as I’m educated, I’m a neurosurgeon. “I travelled to Europe via boat, a dinghy with a capacity of 25, which was overflowing with 109 people. The engine stopped and for 4 hours in the darkness we drifted with people crying, the women and children especially traumatised, fearing they would die”
Dina Ariss was studying here in the U.K when the war in Syria broke out told us, “I live in Manchester, and after hearing the helicopters and sirens attending to last night’s terror attack it took me back to Aleppo where I fled from.” She brought home one of the key messages that we gleaned when filming this work, “Refugees don’t just want your help, want to get their dignity back”
Rahaf Al Ghalyoun, a mother fleeing from Syria to a Jordanian refugee camp before eventually coming here to the UK with her husband and children spoke of the the generosity and kindness she has been met with, particularly from kind hearts such as Maria Wilby and Iman Mortagy from Refugee Action Colchester .
Many who had never come into contact directly with those afflicted in this crisis, were touched upon hearing their stories.
In the evening what continued to inspire many hearts, was hearing from the volunteers themselves who demonstrate selfless service for a greater good.
Maria Wilby who recently won the Individual Adult Volunteer Award for outstanding commitment within her community through her charity work, touched upon the importance of filling the gaps in the administrative and legal infrastructures by local groups such as Refugee Action Colchester.
Josie Norton from Help Refugees shared about the goodwill that met their intention in supporting refugees and the responsibility that she carries to ensure that each £1 donated is correctly accounted for.
Anna Jones and Tamsyn Brewster from RefuAid who helped Dr. Karim and his family settle in Surrey, shared about RefuAid’s current work and their commitment to work alongside host communities to support integration.
One of the highlights of the evening was to be joined by Lisa Campbell from Do-Your-Part. An extraordinary woman who has given of herself selflessly to serve and restore the dignity of refugees, by giving them agency over their lives and empowering them when they need it most. Her ability to engage the local community in Greece to support her in getting the best for the refugee camp she runs in Oinofyta Greece is a testimony of her skills in being able to engage others in delivering a greater good.
Lisa brought some of the amazing handbags that the residents of Oinofyta refugee camp make from the old tents they used to live in. www.oinofytawares.com
Many who attended the screening, have since ordered the bags touched by the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by those who have suffered such intense trauma.
Those who attended the evening, have shared what awakened for them in witnessing the relational space where those fleeing wars (refugees) are met with those volunteering (choosing to help them).
After watching the documentary, many attendees have fed back how they were inspired and have since decided to either volunteer, donate or just rethink the way they perceive refugees.
We ended the evening, launching Humanity’s Heart crowdfunding campaign.
The campaign aims to raise £23,500, 72% going to 9 charitable organizations I met and filmed with during this work. They are initiatives bringing shelter, sanitation, food, education women and children’s services, psychotherapy and much more to those fleeing wars across Greece, Lebanon and also those making it here to the UK. The remaining 28% will support post production and promotion of Humanity’s Heart 3 other films educating us further on the refugee crisis and to Julia Katarina’s Music with Refugees. Julia has provided some of the music for the film.
The words of Sara Conway and Zareen Aslam from Unity(a Jewish and Muslims women’s group in North London who last year raised £60,000 in one night at a charity Iftar for a Syrian refugee charity) penetrated each heart.
“We worked from the shared statement both from the Talmud & Quran that 'whoever saves a life saves the whole of humanity”. “As one person, I cannot change the world but I can change the world for one person. At Unity we believe we can collectively change lives for the better.”
For those wishing to view “Humanity Rising in the Refugee Crisis”, we will keep you posted on the distribution of the film.
Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad