After two very successful public meetings where people throughout Leeds came together to discuss how they could be welcoming and inclusive to asylum seekers and refugees, a welcoming party was held to celebrate the riches and talents that sanctuary seekers bring to our community. We had singing, dancing and poems from places far and near such as Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbawee, Bolivia, Albania and Newcastle!
The West Yorkshire Playhouse were perfect hosts. They not only provided a great venue for free but arranged the music and led Asmarina Voices, the choir they run for asylum seeking and refugee women in rousing songs as the event came to close.
Special thanks should go to the Real Junk Food Project who provided fantastic food for free, Emily Wood who compared the event and the City of Sanctuary Welcome volunteers who promoted the event to sanctuary seekers at drops in held by PAFRAS and Meeting Point. It was the promise of some fun and a chance to escape their worries which brought real smiles to their faces.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Horsforth and St Mary’s Secondary school in Menston, have been having learning about what it might mean to seek asylum. They don’t have many children seeking asylum within their schools community but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. The children made Welcoming Cards which Barbara Pounder, from St Mary’s presented at the party. Those left over were distributed to sanctuary seekers who couldn’t attend and one card made a mum who had just arrived, who was lonely and isolated, cry.
St Mary’s Primary School wanted children to learn that Christmas is about giving as well as receiving presents and so the children were asked to donate one of their toys to a child seeking sanctuary. They donated so many toys that they filled three car loads! The presents were given out to children at the party and to children at Choto Moni Children’s Centre, PAFRAS and Urban House. Some were also donated to the collection point at Richmond Hill so they could be sent to children seeking sanctuary in Leeds, France and Greece.
Yorkshire folk have a reputation for being warm and welcoming and this was obvious to see at the Welcome Party. By opening our hearts and welcoming the stranger ALL our lives are enriched and changed forever.