Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The kindness of strangers: exhibition celebrating solidarity towards refugees

Museum With A Home at the School Life and Education Museum in Athens

I’ve been working with Oxfam on a story celebrating the kindness and solidarity of ordinary people towards the men, women and children who are seeking peace and sanctuary in Europe.

It’s a story of the Museum Without A Home, a touring exhibition showcasing every-day objects that ordinary people have donated to refugees to make them feel more welcome. 

I loved this project: it’s such a creative and beautiful way to remind people that refugees are people like us, to celebrate those who are trying to make them feel a bit more at home in their host countries – and to encourage other people and governments to follow suit and support dignity and safety for all.

After touring in various cities across Europe, including Leicester and Cambridge, the exhibition was supposed to come to London and be displayed at City Hall and Parliament, then move on to Oxford and Cardiff. But because of the sex scandal which engulfed Oxfam, the plans had to be cancelled. Oxfam was hoping for lots of media coverage and support from MPs, NGOs and members of the public. It was not to be. But Positive News still agreed to run a short piece on it and I wanted to tell a bit about the Museum here too:

A cooking pot, a pair of running shoes, coloured crayons, a skipping rope. These are some of the everyday objects that have been ‘exhibited’ in the Museum Without A Home. The touring exhibition, which can be viewed online here, celebrates acts of kindness by ordinary people towards the men, women and children who are seeking peace and sanctuary in Europe. 

The museum was originally created by the Greek section of Amnesty International and Oxfam to acknowledge the solidarity of the Greek people towards refugees. Organisers also hope to call on people – including political leaders – worldwide to support dignity and safety for all.

In autumn of 2016, the entire city of Athens was transformed into a  “museum” showcasing real objects that residents donated to refugees to make them feel welcome. Each object was accompanied by personal testimonies of the people who donated the objects and the people who received them.

Next to the photo of a board game reads the caption: “Stelios lives in Piraeus. When his school teacher proposed to the class to collect toys for the kids in the port of Piraeus, Stelios offered one of his favourite board games. He then found out that the game had reached the hands of Ishmael, a boy his age.”

Accompanying an image of a kettle reads the caption: “Vasso lives and works in Konitsa. Mafida from Syria is being hosted in the same region. When the two women met, Vasso offered a water kettle to Mafida so that she can easily heat water to wash her baby.”

Since 2016, the exhibition has travelled to Belfast, New York, Belgrade and Canada, as well as Leicester and Cambridge. Since it came to the UK, organisers displayed alongside the Greek objects several items that have been donated by the British public. Among them were a cooking pot and a quilt sewn by people from Witney, Oxfordshire, who hope to sponsor a family from Syria.

“This is a celebration of small acts of welcome and generosity, that make all the difference to refugees as they rebuild their lives in the UK,” said Sally Copley, Oxfam’s head of policy, programmes and campaigns. “We are calling on the government to extend its own hand of welcome by allowing refugees to reunite with their families in the UK.”

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