Hay Festival of Literature when our lovely peaceful area becomes a bustling cosmopolitan centre for learning – and generosity. This year is proving no exception. Some wonderful talks and some inspiring people and that’s before visiting a tented venue. Some of us started planning involvement weeks before the festival with meetings to agree charitable bucket collections after events, to confirm with our wonderful supporter Richard that he would loan us his front garden on Brecon Road to be an information stall for Discussing about people seeking refuge over the bank holiday weekend , frequent emails and phone conversations with Jonathan in Swansea to plan involvement of some people seeking sanctuary as volunteer stewards and finally to pass on requests for inclusion complimentary tickets for people seeking sanctuary who want to see an event.
Day One_ Saturday 26th May. So pleased that I dropped off the items for the stall yesterday when faced with traffic jams and heavy mist on the way in at 9 am. Set up stall under cover thanks to our good friends Martha and Dave of Love Zimbabwe, a charity working directly with people in Chinamhora community, near Harare in Zimbabwe helping them through sustainable projects to work their way out of poverty. Fair-Trade is an important aspect of their work – they help locals to start their own businesses, making African arts and crafts, and get a fair price for them. Their colourful goods help attract people to stop when we are also able to share our information about what we do and answer any questions people have about the ‘Refugee Crisis’. Wet weather not withstanding, people did stop and chat and it was good to learn from others about what they are doing in their own areas to help welcome people in need of Sanctuary. Highlights today included seeing Mr Michael Gove who promised to read our leaflet and gave Martha a donation, our own Mp greeting our Chair Margaret with a kiss [ well we have met him quite a few times]Our recent Liberal Democrat candidate for Mp calling by with his wife and son offering even more help with both fundraising and donations than he has already given, [ including a new pushchair for a pregnant lady seeking asylum who is befriended by one of our supporters]. We gave out all the leaflets that I’d thought might last for the three days and ensured that about 40 soft toys found new homes. Our ‘propaganda toys’ bear messages such as ‘I’ve had to leave my home in Iraq and miss my friends. Will you be my friend?’ ‘ Please be my friend. I’m feeling a bit lost as my brothers and I had to leave our home in Iran and seek safety here.’ ‘Please will you help me to find friends in this country. I had to run away with my family from my home in Syria because it was bombed.’ One delightful young girl R kindly agreed to look after a small giraffe and insisted on giving some money from her purse.
Later on I saw her holding the giraffe on a lead and later again she gave me money for a different charity I was collecting for on the festival site. The future of the world is bright if people like R have their way.
Meanwhile at the festival mum A and three children from Swansea came with Kathryn,one of our collaborators from Project Get Together. A was a Midwife in her own Country but had to flee because her Christian faith was unacceptable to the local powers. Sadly she is unable to work here, despite there being a shortage of nurses, as Asylum seekers are not permitted to work. She has had to accept that when and if her claim is accepted she will not be able to return to her profession as her skills will be out dated. She has trained as a Chef whilst still waiting for the Home Office to decide her case. Meanwhile she volunteers with local support groups and I first met her two years ago speaking in Parliament about her experiences. Today she was delighted to have been able to hear David Walliams talking and for her children to be able to participate in several workshops. She said it was like a dream come true to see David live.
Thanks to Janet for all the labelled soft toys and for spending so many hours today at the stall. Also thanks to Barbara, Reg, Steve, Margaret, Pat and Lawrence for time on the stall.And many thanks to Penny in the box office for helping to make a dream come true. Thanks also for generous donations amounting to a few pence away from £120
Day Two 27th May- after thunderstorms all night we weren’t surprised by torrential rain all morning. Despite the weather, Janet, Trevor and I did long stints and were joined by Barbara and Reg, Nena, Steve , Lynne and Phil. It was noted that when Nena arrived the sun came out and all the soft toys vanished ! She’s very good at fundraising. Several hundred leaflets were given out and not all were used to keep off the rain! Many people said they come back as they dashed past in the morning and indeed they did when the sun came out . We met a lady from the Lancaster city of Sanctuary whom we’d met before and swapped notes about charitable status and fundraising. Children from Cambridge, whose Dad works for the Navy in the Mediterranean rescuing people, took teddies and Dad promised to look with them at the countries the toys came from and to talk about the importance of being friendly . Strangely the only person I know in Cambridge City of Sanctuary came out from the venue when we were collecting. Many people who called by told us of their areas and how they ran drop in centres and taught English . We had to explain that we import people for a day out and a party so we can all have a good time and send out the message of welcome and inclusion.
Martha couldn’t be with us as she was singing her new song at the Urdd so we looked at her press cuttings and we’re proud to know one of the 100 most inspiring Welsh women. We helped [ At least Steve did] Dave pack up the Marquee and we’re on our own tomorrow.
A bucket collection rounded off another busy day and overall we’ve raised about £1000! This will help to fund our next few trips.
Day Three 28th May –Woke to cloud but no rain and the consensus that we should have our stall again today. Crawled into Hay behind Janet and a large number of other cars also planning to visit the festival. We set up next to Powys Carers stall with Richard’s help and our old parasol from home provided some shelter over the pasting table and clean table cloth. Janet brought two more bags of soft toys and I had 220 Leaflets.
And so to work, spreading the word that people are much more welcoming than the government thinks and talking to people about what we do. Again we faced no opposition or negativity. Occasional people didn’t want leaflets but many who took them came back to donate and several people returned from previous days to chat or to give us some more cash! Several shook our hands and thanked us for what we are doing. A man stopped to say he’d read our leaflet yesterday and wanted to give us money.Friends from Hereford City of Sanctuary told us we are an inspiration and how much they like what we do. We met several people from Llanidloes Sanctuary group including Jen and Gwen and were able to talk about our mutual experiences with Powys’ resettlement programme and how the Quaker network can help with befriending lonely scared people across Britain. One of Eugene’s friends from Gloucester stopped and we spoke about how we missed him and what a great tribute to him the book is. She loves what we are doing and hopes we can sell loads of books so we can keep on helping people.
The wonderful news about the Malian man rescuing a child from a fourth floor in Paris [ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44275776 ] has been heard by many and the French Citizenship and a job he’s been given already, highlight how slow and unresponsive our system is.
Our chat to parents and children about the propaganda toys/ bears seems to work well with asking parents if we can give the child a toy to look after because it needs a new home. Some feel they already have too many soft toys but most think they can find room to look after a lost toy that needs a friend. [[Children really seem to get the concept that someone fleeing home because of trouble needs help and kindness- If only this was so well understood by the Home Office!] We say the toys are given to us so we are happy to give them away but almost everyone gives a donation. One man gives us money when we collect later at the festival ‘ you gave us the toys earlier now we can give you some money’ .
By 2.30 we have found all the toys new homes and given out all the leaflets. Thanks to Janet, Brenda, Virginia, Nena and Chelsea for their sterling work- We raised another £104 and we hope we have helped to spread information about people seeking refuge.
With a short break we were able to meet up with Lawrence,Sean, Ron, Sally, Melrose, Robert, Judith and Virginia to collect after a talk by Michael Morpurgo. Everyone coming out had enjoyed his talk and gave generously. We miss Thanu and family who are visiting but catch up with Kathryn who gives us some tickets as she’s tired! We thank Sean who had spent the morning in hospital but returned in time to collect.
A quick trip home to count the money and back to see Eric Ngalle Charles’ new play. Its a masterpiece, well acted by him playing all parts with poetic language and a very scary ‘witch doctor ‘ encounter. It’s ‘rumoured’ that he has a book for sale in the festival bookshop. It’s called Hiraeth and Eric described to the audience how he feels ‘homeless’ as when he is in Cardiff he longs to see his mum and where he grew up but when he was able to visit Cameroon last year, he just missed Cardiff. A kind mention about our group by Owen Sheers guaranteed another good collection. It was lovely to have a chance to talk with another writer, George from Newport who is on tomorrow. We talked about how trees can survive even in small pots and a long way from home but really flourish if they are given better soil and environments. He’d be happy to come to talk to our group about seeking refuge- he says he’s possibly now at a stage in the migration journey that he feels able to talk about. George is delighted with Kathryn’s tickets! Its for an African band. We’re too tired.
And so home after another full day to a telephone message that the volunteer stewards may be dropping out…..
Day 4 May 29th woke to another overcast day with the delightful prospect of taking four grandchildren to the festival. A phone call just after 10 from J to say that there would be two Stewards coming after all. Our Sudanese friend from last year, Mahdi has been able to rearrange his work to be able to come [ Since last year he has been granted refugee status ]and is joined by O a recently arrived French speaking African who has already an impressive grasp of English.. Lawrence agreed to meet O from the bus in Brecon with our two grandsons who practiced their few words of French for which they were complimented. Meanwhile, I stayed with Two granddaughters to meet up with Jonathan. We checked out the sales of Eugene’s book and were pleased to see Eeyore guarding them.
Mahdi showed us the drawing of him in Eugene’s book and we complimented him upon his new hair style. After the Stewards induction training session we were able to hear a talk on dialect and a superb talk by Ruby Wax and collaborators about mindfulness and the mind. A quick trip to see Sarah and Chris and drop off bags before returning to hear 3 refugee Writers now living in Wales and 3 Welsh writers talk to Ben Rawlence. The discussion was about the importance of having a voice in one’s own language. A few lovely quotes- ‘Welsh is a language that you learn to be able to speak to less people’ ‘To have a second language is to have a second soul’ ”selling your shadow to support your substance’ A lesson in how to greet people in different parts of Africa and a recommendation to listen to https://www.ted.com/talks/lera_boroditsky_how_language_shapes_the_way_we_think.
And so home and to bed!The stewards start volunteering tomorrow and will stay til Saturday.
Days 5& 6 30/31st May Mahdi says he’s enjoying being back in Hay and is glad he took a day from work to be with us. He was welcomed back by people who remembered him from last year and is managing his fast well. He says it’s easier here as it’s not so hot as in Sudan. We saw a preview of an exciting drama production for Swansea in September called ‘Now the Hero ‘. The weather has warmed up and there are still torrential showers. O was thrilled that Sarah’s friends speak French well and he’s enjoyed chatting to them. They had an evening meal together last night but tonight they are going to see some music on site. A few books have sold and money continues to come in. We are very grateful to the people attending the festival for their generosity.Grand daughter N says can she join us begging outside venues! She enjoys counting the money and bagging it up as well. Only a few more days to go! Tickets arranged for Newport and our friend Sian in Cardiff for Saturday. Another few busy days passing quickly.
Day 7 1st June More money to count and bank. More conversations about seeking refuge and the need for support and welcome. The two volunteer Stewards are doing well and really enjoying the experience. O says he wants to come again next year and spend the whole 10 days here. Mahdi says he’s heard some fascinating talks and they both enjoyed the music last night. Dance tonight from Ethiopia so I hope they enjoy that too. Despite fasting, Mahdi is very cheerful and energetic. Jonathan is enjoying his break and the talks- he hasn’t needed to problem solve for the stewards. All good.
Heard from Mark of Newport Sanctuary that they will be with us tomorrow with 8 people seeking sanctuary for a couple of talks and some food, all kindly provided by the Festival. Went with two Grandsons to a talk about engineering/building a jet propelled vehicle which ended up being more like a philosophy talk. Very inspiring with messages about thinking laterally, not giving up and believing that you can do things. Another busy day draws to an end.
Day 8 2nd June An early[ish] start to pick up O from Chris and Sarah to catch the bus in Brecon. Woken by two young grandsons who stayed over and left around 8.30. Met Chris and Sarah’s French Speaking friends and O described how much he’d enjoyed the experience of coming and that it was ‘merveilleux’. Drove to Brecon via home and had a quick breakfast. Jonathan and Mahdi left a little later and Mahdi arrived back in Swansea in time for his afternoon shift. O says he will use the experience of Hay when he volunteers at Oxfam bookshop.
After several very positive recommendations from David Milliband and James Naughtie our post talk collection for HBTSR was massive and possibly a record amount for a bucket collection in Hay ( over £2000) Thanks to Sean, Brenda, Sue, Gez and Lawrence for helping to collect and to Brenda for counting.
Then Mark, Claire and Party arrived and said they had a great visit to Bronllys castle and to the Castle chip shop in Talgarth. We went to see Dylan Moore [ Ex Newport Drop in Worker now back in School] talking about his new book with Peter Florence. On my way to the talk I’d seen Eric Ngalle who wanted to go but had other plans. He’d said if questions were needed to ask Dylan about his visit to Eric’s village in Cameroon. Dylan almost blushed, He’d started his relationship with his wife there and found religion but to find out anything more one would have to read the book….And with that Mark’s group went on a wander and ate ice-creams and tried Vietnamese Chocolate before going to hear Chelsea Clinton speak. Mark says she was most impressive and he especially liked her ‘optimism is a moral duty’ line. A meal for all in the staff canteen was much appreciated and there was a chance to see both Pete and Penny to thank them for making the trip and attendance possible. The complimentary tickets enabled this group of 10 to attend two fascinating talks and to see some British culture and to eat. They left for home just after 8 with M on count down to break his fast with food kindly plated for him by the canteen.
Our second collection of the day at 6.30 was still over £200 and Sean and Ron were kind enough to come in for this and help Lawrence and me. Late to bed after counting money from other collections that day for other groups.that need to be paid in on Monday. Hay Attendees, volunteers and staff are very generous.
Will call in tomorrow to thank everyone but Blog finishes here for this year!