Refugees find sanctuary in Malham

This September the small community of Malhamdale in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales opened their homes to a group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children for a weekend of fun and friendship.

The group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children & their Malhamdale hosts.

The group of refugee and asylum seeking women and children & their Malhamdale hosts.

This was our second ‘hosting weekend’ which grew out of previous day visits made by women and children from the City of Sanctuary’s Maternity Stream to the Dale, organised as part of our ‘People and the DALES’ project. Participants enjoyed these visits so much that they often didn’t want to go home and asked if there might be the chance to stay for a weekend.

This year built on the huge success of our first hosting weekend in 2015. Seven families opened their homes to welcome 35 refugee and asylum seeking women and children to experience a weekend of Dales hospitality. Among the group was Olympic athlete Muna, who represented Sudan in Beijing as a long jumper – a lawyer, doctor, midwife and various other amazing women and children from countries including Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Albania, South Africa and Bolivia.

Farms, raft building & bell-ringing!

The weekend began on Friday evening with a delicious meal at Airton Quaker Meeting House. On Saturday morning we visited Dykelands Farm in Airton where farmer Janet Bolland showed the group around her dairy herd. It was then up to Malham Tarn Field Centre for a picnic lunch and a session of raft building whilst our resident artist Katharine Holmes (also a host) made small portraits of people to take home. That evening entertainment included a ceilidh, singing, dancing and an impromptu demonstration of South Asian dancing.

A visit to Dykelands Farm in Airton.

A visit to Dykelands Farm in Airton.

On Sunday morning we were all invited to join the church service at St Michael’s where women talked about their experiences as asylum seekers . Some of the young people were even given the chance to turn their hand at bell ringing.

A weekend filled with hope

Mirander from Albania said of the weekend:

I’m an asylum seeker which makes me feel tired, and divorced from the world, but this weekend has filled me with hope. I am very happy because people I don’t know have opened their home and this makes me feel like I am at home. My host even made breakfast like my mum does.

Diako said:

I feel ecstatic. The weekend made me feel valued and important. We felt like we are back to life instead of just existing. We felt love around us and the important thing is we are one big family.

The hardest part of the weekend was saying goodbye. One host noticed that her young visitor was very upset to be leaving and everyone wanted to return again next year.

 I have been very moved by the way simple hospitality was viewed by the members of the group and the impact it had. We were warned that Tabitha had a bad stammer and that communication might be difficult. Amazingly she felt so comfortable with us she didn’t stammer at all and was really quite a chatterbox! As the weekend progressed she opened up and shared some of her story with us. It felt good to have gained her trust so readily.

The final comment comes from a host, and sums up why the hosting weekend is so important.

If only this project could be replicated in many more places we would live in a society where there is greater tolerance and understanding of asylum seekers and refugees.

Raft building at Malham Tarn.

Raft building at Malham Tarn.

The people involved

Our thanks go to the many people involved in making the weekend possible – in particularly to Rose McCarthy of City of Sanctuary Maternity Stream, Rev Michael Jackson and the congregation of St Michaels in Kirkby Malham for organising accommodation and providing meals, to Floe Shakespeare and Airton Quakers for a quiet space and great food, Jim Wright and Abby Forrest from Malham Tarn Field Centre for providing accommodation and activities, Janet Bolland for showing us around her farm, to all the hosts for taking our visitors into their homes and hearts and Richard Hargreaves for playing at the ceilidh. A big thanks also to the Morrisons Foundation for funding towards this and other similar initiatives.

To find out more about People & the Dales outreach project contact:

Judy Rogers judy.rogers@ydmt.org or Gail Smith gail.smith@ydmt.org on 015242 51002 www.ydmt.org 

City of Sanctuary Maternity Stream www.cityofsanctuary.org