Phil and Helen
Back in June, we were both living in Hong Kong and working in the financial services sector, jobs that are a million miles away from helping refugees who have fled for their lives and ended up in cold, rainy Manchester.
But we came back to the UK, because of covid, and then decided that we’d have the summer off.
We’re Helen and Phil, and we’ve been life-long volunteers for different organisations, always doing some small project to try to help others. But Care4Calais came out of the blue.
It was our son who got us started. He was following the Care4Calais Facebook page, and saw the post about Afghans arriving in Manchester. He phoned up his mum to ask if she could look through his wardrobe see what she could find to give to the refugees arriving, and take it to a drop-off point.
Drop-off points were opening up all over the city as Manchester led British cities’ response to the needs of Afghans fleeing Kabul. But soon these drop offs began to fill up, and that’s when we saw a post about helping out at a storage unit in Failsworth, a town near Oldham in Greater Manchester.
The unit had been kindly given to Care4Calais for free, but it wasn’t the easiest place to store the donations that were flooding in. Care4Calais was crying out for volunteers to help out here, so we thought why not? We had the time and the will, and we wanted to be of use. The need was desperate, and like so many throughout the UK we just reacted to it.
We emailed Annie and off we went to Failsworth. We were receiving donations, carrying them upstairs and storing them. There were so many!
Some days we just went to make sure someone was there to accept donations, some days we helped move the bags around to make space or to avoid leaks. Honestly, you can’t imagine how much stuff there was in early November – there were so many vans arriving, and we were humbled by the outpouring of help from everyday Mancuanians. We ended up staying because we feel we are helping, and because of the stories of pain and suffering coming out of Afghanistan. Meeting the people during distribution have kept us going.
We’re doing something here that can make a refugee’s day slightly better – we can’t alleviate the horror, but we can give someone a pair of clean jeans so they can go and buy food for their family.
In the other volunteers who came to help we’ve met new friends from all over the world. And we’ve come to realise we’re all just people with a few minor differences here and there, and that we just need to help each other.
It’s all a million miles from the Hong Kong financial sector, but strangely more fulfilling.
There are some wonderful moments. One day, I found five boxes full of brand-new coats, which was like finding gold; at other times I’ve found tucked into the donations the most gorgeous little notes or short letters just welcoming someone to the UK. You realise that most people in this country empathise with the refugees, and want to welcome them here.
Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, the amount of stuff we have to move or sort and you think we will never see the floor as more and more stuff arrives. But then you have to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and just carry on.
We do really, really need more help here though! Seriously, anyone can help out. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, fit or not so fit , have trouble standing or feel out of place or anxious; it doesn’t matter how strong you are or that you’ve never been before.
Just come down, we’ll find you a job and you will make a difference. Believe us, it feels good to go home and say, “today I did something good; I’ve contributed, I’ve done good and I’ve been valued!”
See you down at Failsworth!
Helen and Phil