Hay festival this year welcomed a broad range of speakers from the worlds of journalism and war reporting, human rights and environmental action, subjects dear to the hearts of those who care about refugees, and HBTS4R embraced the opportunity to inform bank holiday weekend audiences of the work we do and to raise money to help us keep doing it.
A concert of two choirs, the Talgarth Male Voice Choir and the Hay Monday Choir, kicked things off lyrically on opening Friday, delivered magnificent, roof-raising performances to a full house, and helped us to raise much-needed funds for our programme of away days for resettled refugees, and our support for our partner organisations supporting refugees at home and abroad.
“My favourites were Hen Wlad fy Nhadau – the Welsh National Anthem” said Sean O’Donohue, Chair of HBTS4R, “and Joe Green’s (Verdi to most people!) Song of the Hebrew Slaves.”
Thanks are due to many: to Chris at Hay Newsagents for being our box-office in town (and selling out of tickets by Thursday); to the raffle prize donors (Shepherd’s, Golesworthy’s, Gibbons’ Butchers, Kath Kuck, Pugh’s, The Cooperative and Drover’s Cycles); to the church warden Terry and his helpers on the night, for being wonderful hosts; and to the choirs.
Saturday’s Refugee Writers’ Group brought together refugee writers seeking refuge in Wales and local writers who have agreed to work with refugee writers in a collaborative way that enables mutual learning and creativity. The meeting happened in the embrace of Wales PEN Cymru, in Hay this year to announce the nominee for the PEN International New Voices Award 2016. PEN International, the leading voice of writers worldwide who are persecuted for their work, met with Tom Cheesman of Hafan Books, a Welsh advocate and publisher of refugee and Welsh writers’ work, who outlined a project to run over the next year to promote writing by people seeking asylum in Wales. The group met and got to know each other over coffee and spent the day together, exploring Hay with local writer Oliver Balsch or attending events at the Festival, courtesy of the generosity of the Hay Festival committee. Those present were delighted by performances from Eric Charles, a refugee from Cameroon, who read and sang some of his poetry; and Norbert Mbu-Mputu, who used poignant metaphor to express the constraints upon feelings, creativity and the ability of a person to expand and feel whole when only basic needs are met. HBTS4R and its supporters hope to work with Wales PEN Cymru and Hafan Books to promote refugee writers in the coming year.
On Monday, the Welcome Refuge Café welcomed everyone – children, grown-ups, bears – all day. Paddington Bear, our most famous refugee, hosted the day. Coffee and cake kept adults occupied, freeing children up to make beautiful things, namely:
Sudanese Pots – with sculptor, bronze caster and artist Tim Rawlins
Islamic Art – collage, watercolour and calligraphy with artist Kate Thompson
Kites from Kabul – with Kate Thompson and Medic for Timbuktu and local midwife, Rachel Giacionne
Making these beautiful things, the children were paying tribute to the cultures and artistry of three primary refugee-producing nations: Afghanistan’s kite-flying tradition; the making of coil vessels by the women in societies throughout Africa; and the designs, patterns and lettering of Islamic and Arabic art.
Reflecting on the capacity for art to enthral children of every stripe, Tim said: “How creative the children, even the young ones, were. They got lost in the pots. Some children had attention issues but they became totally absorbed; they went from hyperactivity to total, considered absorption. The only problem was getting them to leave the table when their pots were finished.”
Margaret Blake, volunteering on the bric-a-brac stall, met with a gentleman whose parents had been forced to flee their homeland in the 1970s. Having encountered Paddington Bear on walkabout in the town, the gentleman visited the Refuge Café to express his gratitude for our continuing the tradition of welcome that met his parents when they sought refuge here forty years ago. We thank him for sharing with us his parents’ moving story and for his overwhelmingly generous donation of £100.
Paddington didn’t let being our most famous refugee – or the heat – go to his head, shuffling about happily all day, admiring the children’s artwork, helping out in the kitchen, filching jars of marmalade from the Preserves Stall and posing for photos.
Huge thanks are due to:
Rachel Giaconne, whose idea the Welcome Refuge Café was. It happened only because of the energy, effort and time she gave to making it happen.
Kate Thompson and Tim Rawlins for lending their talents and giving their time so generously.
Meriel Green (Otherworld Creatures Props and Costumes) for creating and being (on such a hot day!) our beloved Paddington Bear.
Perhaps the highlight of the Festival for HBTS4R was three of our Refugee Friends Volunteering as Stewards for three days. Amare, Joseph and Teph worked with enthusiasm and were thrilled to meet (and be thanked by) Peter Florence. They told us that the stewarding experience was ‘unforgettable’ and that it had been, to them, ‘like Christmas’. Amare, to his delight, met people who had not only been to his home country, but to the hospital that he worked in before having to flee. They expressed gratitude for being given the opportunity to ‘give something back’ and would happily have worked many days more. Amare, Teph and Joseph have returned to Swansea and our sister organisations there, Unity and Diversity and Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group, but they say they would like to work at the Festival again next year, if they are still in the UK. Our thanks go to Penny Compton and Pete Ward (Hay Festival Box Office Manager and Administrator) for having the idea and helping to plan it and to Peter Florence for endorsing it; and to all for their generous offer of free tickets, accommodation and food to those who volunteered.
Throughout the first weekend, smiling volunteers rattled Bucket Collections at audiences leaving refugee-themes events, and those audiences were fantastically willing and generous, playing a significant part in the welcome and the support that refugees in Wales will receive from Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, and the sister organisations we support, for however long into the future refugees come.
Our sincere thanks go to everyone who contributed in any way – with time, money, ideas, help, encouragement, nods and smiles – and, most particularly, to The Hay Festival itself, for its unwavering support.