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By Natasha Freidus
It has been almost three months to the day since a group of us got together for the first time to think about what we could do about the refugee crisis. It’s pretty remarkable to remember sitting around the table with a group of strangers on Jess’s roof terrace— shyly learning one another’s names and brainstorming ways that we could support efforts in Calais and further afield.
At that point we had no idea that there were Syrian families living just 30 kilometers down the A75. We had no idea that we would be meeting on a weekly basis over the next few months, that we’d be spending 15-30 hours a week running around with bags of groceries, sorting through coats and blankets, raffling off craniosacral massages, desperately tracking down Arabic speakers, and communicating with other solidarity efforts all over the world. And that’s just the beginning.
So as we round out this year, we’d like to take a brief pause to stop and look at what we’ve accomplished to date.
- We now have over 350 members on our Facebook group, of whom over 80 are directly active in grassroots efforts.
- We have documented all refugee-related initiatives throughout the Languedoc.
- We have formed a strong collaboration with La Cimade in Beziers. La CIMADE is a national network of associations that work to promote the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.
- We have offered ongoing logistical help to Syrian families in Beziers in their asylum application process, medical care, and other areas.
- We have established a weekly food program providing groceries worth an average of €300 in total each week for the past 14 weeks. In addition, we have provided an average of €200 per week for direct purchase of protein and other fresh products.
- We have developed this website and created weekly updates and email communication.
- We have formed relationships with initiatives throughout France and networked with refugee solidarity networks across Europe.
- We have held several successful fundraising and outreach events to raise awareness throughout the Languedoc.
- We have formed a partnership with Refugíes Montpellier and will be joining with them to coordinate efforts and communicate via the Languedoc Solidarity website.
As we move forward into 2016, we have launched a new “committee” structure to streamline our efforts.
- The family support committee coordinates the distribution of food to refugee families and helps them get access to medical care, transportation, translation and other services they need. French, Arabic and English-speaking volunteers are needed to help with food delivery, transportation, language instruction, translation and other types of support. Please contact Gary Kilmer.
- The fundraising committee organises events and sponsors others with creative fundraising. We are actively looking for volunteers to help us with this effort. Our ideas to date include change collection, quiz nights, national day party (i.e. St. Patrick’s), cocktail evening, craft sales, and face painting for children (we can supply face painters). Please contact Wendy Ogg.
- The food committee is actively looking for volunteers to serve as collection points and food donors throughout the greater Béziers region. In our world, no-one goes hungry! Please contact Naomi Birchall.
- The communications committee includes website maintenance, newsletter, and management of the Facebook group. We are looking for bloggers, designers, writers, and others who wish to assist with ongoing communication efforts. Please contact Natasha Freidus.
- The French administration committee identifies resources on an as needed basis to address questions related to French bureaucracy. This group also assists with French-English translation. Volunteers are needed with legal expertise, knowledge of local resources for low-income and refugee populations, and Arabic and English Speakers. Please contact Pierre Namia.
While we take pride in these accomplishments, we are very aware of what we are up against as the refugee crisis continues to grow. Every day we hear more about deaths at sea, human rights abuses at the camps, and increasing anti-Muslim sentiment across the world. Our commitment to work is only strengthened in light of this news. Thank you for all you have done, and we look forward to working with you in 2016.
Happiest of holidays to you and your families.
The LSR core team