An idea from Linsey Wynton to help refugees – and avoid mountains of presents
I remember the first birthday party my son Raphy was invited to. He was one year old and he loved the disco music, but his miserable mummy was shocked by the two trestle tables piled high with presents.
How could a child need all this stuff and where would you put it all anyway?
Warning: I am about to sound like my gran ranting ‘in my day’. Rewind to the 1970s when if we ever got to have a birthday party, the gifts were things like a packet of felt pens or a box of Matchmakers! There were no party bags stuffed with toys and sweets, just take-home cake in kitchen roll.
When I was pregnant with Raphy, my midwife talked about the commercialisation of children and advised: “All he needs is love.”
This philosophy has stayed with me. I was also inspired by Mila Kunis’s character says in the film Bad Moms who ranted about not wanting her kids growing up feeling “entitled”.
Two more boys and 14 birthdays between them later and over the years ‘measly mummy’ has made them collect for charities including Save the Children and Wateraid at their parties. They still get presents – and if they get too many we keep them until Christmas.
Raphy has just turned six. Instead of getting inundated with what another mean mummy calls “a pile of plastic crap” we asked his mates to donate to refugee children living in horrific conditions in Calais. We were inundated with bedding, non-perishable food and colouring books and pencils. We also received six footballs, some beautiful drawings and an adorable note saying: “Dear Raffy, thank you for helping other people.”
We piled the donations into the car and dropped them off to local campaigner and documentary maker Natalie Sloan. Natalie was about to travel to Calais with knitwear designer Debbie Bliss, who has been creating blankets for these children with labels; “every stitch knitted with love for you”.
At the last count this summer there were 865 children in the jungle refugee camp in Calais who have lost their parents. They have fled conflict and persecution in countries including Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Some are as young as eight.
Two days later we learned that the footballs had been distributed to a group of unaccompanied boys. Natalie said: “It was quite a sight as we were leaving several hours later, they were still playing football.”
Natalie and Debbie work alongside Side by Side with Refugees (SBS) and Jungle Canopy to provide caravans to unaccompanied children and the most vulnerable families. Others such as mum-of-five Ali Dembourgo fundraised for a caravan for her birthday and asked friends not to buy her gifts but to fill it with useful donations.
SBS are also collecting recycled mobile phones to help these children get away from a situation where they run the risk of sexual abuse, disease and losing the will to live. SBS co-founder Katrina Keiffer-Wells has a four-year-old son, Felix. For his birthday she asked his friends for packets of football cards and mobile top-up vouchers for refugee children so they can try to contact any remaining family they have. “He was chuffed to bits,” she says, “and we got £150 worth of Lyca mobile credit.”
Katrina added: “We felt we needed to encourage children about giving something to people less fortunate than them and to demonstrate to parents that you can do your bit no matter how small you are and how little you feel it is.”
As the ‘jungle’ refugee camp at Calais is now being dismantled and its residents moved to different centres around France, Linsey says donations of mobile phones and top-up vouchers are needed the most. SBS is currently collecting disused mobiles phones and chargers. These can be handed to Debbie Bliss at 36 Orford Road, Walthamstow. Phone credit can be donated through the Facebook group Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced People.