The community of Clifden has come together this Autumn to gather winter clothing for the Syrian refugees who are struggling to survive in the Middle East, writes Deborah Watkins.
The spur to action came from Rosemary and Canon Stan Evans who felt helpless at the sight of news bulletins showing so many young children being killed and maimed in the war zone that is Aleppo. They asked themselves: ‘What can we do to help?’ Rosemary researched the issue and came across the story of Samara Levy, a young stay at home mother who has single handedly organised the delivery of aid from her home in the UK into Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Canon Stan made contact with Bishop Patrick Rooke and then Samara herself and shortly afterwards, the Clifden appeal was born.
In fact the appeal stretches all the way along the west coast of Ireland and encompasses nine Church of Ireland groups who will come together at the end of October to fill a container of aid for Syria.
Once the idea began to form into a reality, Canon Stan reached out to the wider community and a public meeting was held with Canon James Ronayne. Social media played its part and everyone helped to spread the word in a community effort that reflects the close bond that both churches share in Clifden.
Michelle Hehir has come at the forefront of the organising group and she has rallied the community together in her own inimitable style. A sorting date was set for September 28 and 29, and people were asked to collect.
The response was overwhelming. People came with gifts of clothing and volunteers stepped forward to help sort and pack. So far, nearly five hundred boxes have been packed in Clifden alone. Banana boxes are being used because they are sturdy and they have a deep lid which makes them suitable for packing, and also for customs. Perhaps the most important message has been to communicate the fact that we want to send only the best of clothing and footwear, giving our best not our cast offs.
This humanitarian aid is a message of hope and encouragement to families and children who continue to endure terrible hardship.
Writing on her website samarasaidappeal.org, Samara says: ‘These people have no choice about what they are given but we have a choice about what we send. The quality of our donations shows them how much we care and that they haven’t been forgotten.’
Samara’s story began around Christmas 2013 when she saw reports of Syrian refugee children in snow covered camps wearing flip flops and light summer clothing. She was moved to tears by the thought of managing a young family in such a perilous situation.
She struggled to see how she could help but could not reconcile the relative luxury of her own existence in Britain with people who have seen so much suffering and who are faced with enormous distress and hardship on a daily basis.
A committed Christian, Samara asked God for help and she started to research how she could get winter clothing into Syria. She began collecting and she kept going with the faith that God would ‘open the right doors at all the right times to get the clothes there for winter.’
Since October 2014, she has sent 46 articulated lorries and containers of aid to Iraq, Syria and Jordan. She has clothed more than 100,000 people, sent seven ambulances and a range of specialist medical equipment. Her team has also opened a hospital in Syria and they are in the process of setting up a mobile operating room and two more emergency hospitals.
The Clifden appeal has been extended into the month of October and people may still bring good quality winter clothing, footwear and blankets to the town hall every Wednesday and Thursday during October between 9am and 5pm. People can volunteer to help sort and pack during these times and may contact Michelle (who is setting up a rota) at 087 2322451.
Other items needed are crutches, walking frames, towels, duvets and wellington boots. Banana boxes are urgently needed – please contact Canon Stan and Rosemary if you know of a source or if you can gather a few together.
For more information on Samara’s story, you can visit her website at samarasaidappeal.org and you can find out more about the Clifden appeal on the ‘Refugee Clothing Appeal for Iraq and Syria’ Facebook page.