In August 2017 my family — mum, dad, boy and Bo the border collie — took a risk that others might call madness. We left the UK, in the midst of the BREXIT chaos, rented out our house and hit the road in our van with an ex-army catering tent repurposed for PEACE called The Welcome Tent.
And yes we had the privilege to make that choice. But once you jump off a cliff, there is always a sense of falling until you find your wings.
Five mind-blowing months and countries later — launched by Robin Hood in the UK, then Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland and France — and we’ve made friends with people, including many displaced by conflict, from 32 countries around the world.
My 6 year-old is shit-hot at shit-head. We are officially Travelling.
You see everything changed when we went to Calais in 2015. Volunteering in the humanitarian relief effort to keep people alive. It was like a window into the future.
War, conflict, economic and environmental turbulence will only lead to the displacement of more human beings. So this journey, amongst other things, is to discover the skills needed for this uncertain future. How are people creating community in chaos?
We have learned how to survive on food no one else wants (a revealing set of vids is in the pipeline). We have been inspired by and in awe of the tenacity, strength of character and commitment to education that every person fleeing conflict always has, with hope for a better future. We have been reminded that no human is illegal by @BlackDawit “the prince born to be a king” and that invisible borders are as restrictive as the walls we can actually see.
First and foremost we must remember to learn from our past. In Eindhoven we met Dick, one of the resident neighbours at De Huiskamer community learning space which “fell from heaven”. Dick’s father was killed in Sobibor, an extermination camp in Poland where 200,000 people were murdered. Dick shared a poem with us in The Welcome Tent in October about Ben Ali Libi — “the magician of Sobibor” — who was killed because the Nazi regime had no use for his magic skills.
Of course, this poem has a very special place in Dick’s heart as it reminded him of his father. It became even more symbolic of our current times when being performed with Dick’s blessing here, in The Welcome Tent Eindhoven by Marcio from Angola in his newly learned language Dutch. Marcio, just one of thousands of displaced people arriving in Europe, whose skills there is (arguably) no use for.
I believe in the state’s responsibility to look after people who need support. Yet this must be delivered in a way that enables the individual to maintain their dignity — continuing to live well and not merely just to die slowly (see my previous work on Dementia here). To encourage ‘Usefulness’ must be a priority, so that people still feel worthy and worth it and can continue to contribute to wider society. This is equally applicable to everyone, whatever their ability or status.
But here lies the main problems that I have experienced through my own personal and professional observations:
- state authorities are funded in silos
- our lives are moving faster than state funded authorities can keep up
- there is evidence that state funded authorities are ignoring human rights
8 Actions for 2018
1. We must acknowledge and continue to find ways to challenge the bad stuff: gather evidence, speak out, support each other. Ultimately we must not feel alone.
2. We must reach beyond our own interests and professions and recognise there are incredible people doing incredible work across the piste. We must connect across these boundaries.
3. We must remember there is no hierarchy in suffering: no one problem is more worthy than another. We must think whole systems.
4. We must recognise that our emotions control our actions. We all need to take responsibility for challenging our own unconscious biases in order to “Move The Elephant” — check out Anthropologist Tinna C Neilson’s work about cultural change.
5. We must continue to find loopholes in oppressive systems — I attended a great workshop a few months ago when The Welcome Tent was one of the partners in Vreemdland at Dutch Design Week alongside Hans Sauer Stiftung and De Voorkamer.
6. We must focus on the good and not get distracted by the bad. This lesson has been taught to us most poignantly by our friends from South Sudan, co-founders of The Welcome Tent and our ‘Happiness All Around’ friendship group.
7. We must not feel guilty about sharing positive news. It is hope that keeps people going. We have to pick ourselves up, dig deeper, continue to be hopeful. We are looking forward to the release of the March of HOPE film by new friends in the virtual IG community.
8. We must build upon and learn from the good projects. We started this with Reframing Migration in 2016 and we continue gathering recipes of HOPE as we travel around Europe from people creatively making the best use of existing resources — both human and material — like Institute for X and RE-USE in Aarhus and PLACE.network and F.D.P. in Paris.
New year’s revolution
The wind whistles around the Mont Blanc Massif outside the window as I sit here listening to Backlash Blues by Langston Hughes and Nina Simone, planning the next leg of our journey around Europe.
In my personal experience, Rescue, Recovery and Repurposing are only possible through human connection. We must not allow our future to be segregated, divided, compartmentalised. Instead we must all play our part in creating the conditions — our communities — which enable cultural and genuine human interaction which in turn enables social change.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community”. It is culture that lets us lift our voices, tell our stories, sing our truth (Musicians without borders).
We need to believe in the possibilities for our future, but we can only discover these if we push ourselves beyond our current realities. It is sometimes difficult. But it will be even more painful to regret.
I am hopeful that my experiences on this journey will lead to the co-creation of a multi-sensory approach where the universal languages of music, food, art, poetry are creative forces for good. Feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting. What can we learn from humanitarian pioneers, from people closest to nature, from nature itself, from the WILD?
So so many people have inspired me this year. You are all incredible, have made me cry, have made me laugh — thankyou. I am honoured to be collecting your #recipesofHOPE.
A special mention must go to Heather & Kelvin for your relentless efforts at Paris Refugee ground Support. Support them here. Your Revolution Coffee is one of our favourite recipes of HOPE.
And Laxmi Hussain, the woman behind our beautiful artwork: “Being you, the real you, is the best you’ll ever be”.
Unprecedented times calls for revolutionary answers. I am willing to step up, push myself harder. 2018 is the year to find my audience. To have the confidence to share stories I know must be told. To connect people who together could change the world. If just by being true to ourselves is an act of revolution, this is a 2018 new year’s resolution that I will do my best to keep.