Rally for social change in Birmingham

22nd September 2015 - by Gertrudes Samson

Ger at Refugee Rally September 2015
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Last weekend, Gertrudes Samson, a Columban Lay Missionary from The Philippines, walked in solidarity with her ‘asylum seeker’ brothers and sisters at a rally in Birmingham. Here she reports on what she experienced.

On Saturday 19th September, I attended a Rally led by HOPE Projects in Victoria Square at the City Centre of Birmingham. I was supposed to be on a training day, but last week I gave my excuses. Why did I prioritize it? Why did I go to the Rally?

Aside from helping in the preparation of placards and banners, for me being there at the rally itself was my way of giving moral support to my asylum seekers brothers and sisters who are already here in UK and also to show my warm welcome to the many refugees who are about to come.

Columban Missionaries always take sides with the poor and marginalized in the society. Personally I believe that here in the UK the poorest and the most marginalized in society are the asylum seekers.

Being uprooted from everything that is familiar to you, being away from your loved ones plus the trauma that they bear from where they come from due to war, violence, and persecution – already hard enough.  Add to that the challenges of living in a totally new environment in terms of weather, language, and culture, etc., top it up with the feeling of isolation, the feeling of loosing self esteem because they are not allowed to work (though they are always advocating for it so they could support themselves and not be looked at as a burden to society), the depression every time their case is refused, the feeling of uncertainty of what could happen to them any time due to the asylum system here in the UK… detention? deportation? Those are too much to bear! They need our compassion, support, and help the most!

Aside from the asylum seekers themselves, other friends supporting HOPE Projects, representatives of other organizations and charities helping asylum seekers and refugees were also present.  They included RESTORE, CARAG, Amnesty International, etc. We are not so many that day, I must admit…but still. I did not regret my decision in attending it. I am hopeful that in the future more people will join us when others begin to arrive.

ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE OF THE STORY

When we were about to start the Rally and I was distributing the placards among the people there, a young man, probably a teenager, standing there with us, asked me if he can hold one of the placards, so I said “sure, yes you may” and gave him one.

He held the placard there with us under the heat of the sun for a while…until one of his classmates came and told him, “Hey! Why are you there? We have our own activity, give it back to them, we have something else to do”. He was still reluctant to leave and looked at me. It is only then that I realized that he is not a son of one of the asylum seekers as I thought before.

I smiled to him and said, “Yes, you may now go if you have something else to do…thank you for joining us…you are welcome to come back any time later…” I didn’t get his name but that young man gave a smile to my heart that day… Maybe it is a sign that the younger generation still wants to get involved if they would be given the chance and they would feel welcome.

Another tale from the day… towards the last part of the Rally we decided to transfer along the steps of Victoria Square. The group decided to make one more banner on the spot and so we decided to paint a white blanket in front of the Rally itself at the bottom part of the steps, thinking that it could also catch attention like the street artist. And it did! The man singing on the other side and doing his own personal fund raising sang a freedom song for us. He said this freedom song is dedicated to those who are making the banner in front of us.

After his song, he lent his microphone to our group, and so some people were able to speak to the crowd and gave some words of encouragement. Some were able to do some chanting also and some sang songs… After the Rally that man sang again the freedom song, he said that’s the only one he knows. To me that one song he knows is more than enough to show that he empathizes with us.

In the end we said thank you to him and he said we were welcome. I know what he did is not something that all people will do. It made me feel happy that people are still willing to make a contribution even in their own little way.