How Yorkshire’s response to Ukraine crisis humbles me as WI groups shame Ministers over refugees response – Jayne Dowle
PACKING boxes for Ukrainian refugees certainly gives you time to think. I spent last weekend with my husband and four friends sorting, labelling, checking and taping up almost 40 packages of essential items.
All had been either donated or paid for by our circle of family and friends to be sent in a Support Ukraine Rotherham despatch to a Peterborough warehouse, from where it will be shipped by UK-based Ukrainian volunteers to Warsaw.
Our little band is just one of hundreds, if not thousands, doing the same in homes and offices and church halls and schools across the UK.
Our efforts, in the scheme of things, were miniscule. One Barnsley man, a former firefighter of Polish descent, has set up an entire aid organisation by himself, garnering, in days, enough donations to fill an articulated truck.
The local shopping centre gave him an empty unit and volunteers worked tirelessly as shoppers queued to give cash donations and an array of things, from pushchairs to multi-packs of shampoo. And this in a town where incomes are low and many families struggle to look after their own.
Why are we bothering? The closest thing I can compare the groundswell to is Live Aid, helmed by Bob Geldof to support Ethiopian famine victims in 1985. However, there has been no celebrity endorsement, or public broadcast campaign like the BBC Children in Need. This truly has been by the people for the people – collective action from the bottom up, the much-maligned ‘Big Society’ in action.
This tells us some very interesting things about the UK post-pandemic. Although we’ve come across a few people whose Brexit-related scruples mean they want nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of Europe – except to holiday in its sunnier spots – the word ‘compassion’ comes to mind,
Whilst the pandemic made us consider our neighbours, it also saw us reconsider our homes as places of safety and sanctuary. When we see others lose theirs in a hail of Russian shells, we ask “What would we do?”
But the pandemic continues to highlight the stark differences between the haves and the have-nots, reminding those of us with a conscience that we are fortunate indeed if our homes and incomes are secure.
And as the investigations into ‘partygate’ and other scandals rumble on, not least the enormous profits made by private companies supplying PPE gear and coronavirus tests, we’re actually losing faith in self-serving politicians.
We have no choice but to rely on the Prime Minister and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, to lead our response to the Ukraine crisis. However, the clear frustrations felt by some Ministers, like Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, reflect our own lack of patience with official channels.
In the House of Commons this week, Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke labelled the Home Office a “disgrace” over the processing of refugees. Meanwhile York Outer’s Julian Sturdy was similarly frustrated, telling Ministers that “the only barrier ... seems to be Home Office bureaucracy”.
I’ve seen this at first-hand. We had put out a message on Facebook and suggested a donation to the value of £20, almost immediately raising more than £700 in cash, plus a dozen packages of medicines, toiletries, warm weather gear and other essential items. There’s a handwritten card with each package, reaching out across barriers of miles and language to remind us all that wherever we live and whatever our politics, we are all human.
Amongst other things, my mother picked out a toy monkey and unicorn earmuffs, because when she sees the fleeing and traumatised children escaping from Russian mortars, she sees her own grandchildren.
In the supermarket, my husband was stopped by an elderly man out to buy his newspaper. The chap pressed a fiver into my husband’s hand. “It’s all I can afford,” he said. “But I trust you to get summat reyt with it.”
We chose a camouflage groundsheet. If he’s reading this, he will know he has done his bit.
And then an old friend active in the WI (Women’s Institute) turned up two days after we had shared our post – with bags and bags of toiletries, women’s items and baby supplies. I was speechless at the speed of mobilisation.
The WI could show the Home Office a thing or two about getting the job done. And so could so many other people in Great Britain, who have given what they’ve got, putting themselves last and others first.
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