I became aware of People not Borders in February 2016, about six months after a few women in my town connected on Facebook to try to help refugees however they could. At that time most of the group’s work involved collecting food, clothes, toiletries and toys to send out to Calais, Greece, Syria or Turkey. I became a committee member and then a Trustee a few months later – one of the best decisions of my life. In recent months, while awaiting charitable status, we’ve been able to furnish and equip a new school built on Lesvos for both refugee and local children by NGO Better Days. We are volunteers of various religious and political persuasions with a shared humanitarian goal, and we have become a family. To find out more about our work, see our website or Facebook Page.
It was probably in April that Lisa, whose supply of ideas is inexhaustible, said at a committee meeting, “We could do a fundraising picture book.” I said I would write it and produced eight rhyming verses later that day. (I’m averse to rhyme but tried to make it sensitive rather than clunky!) Within a couple more days I had found an illustrator in Paula Watkins. Before the week was up I’d also secured an ethical publisher in TSL, who had already published both my short story collections and who embraced the project as a perfect fit with their ethos – of celebrating diversity and supporting minorities. Being a fan of Paula’s gorgeous work with textiles, I knew this book would be special. Since at this point I had not met any refugees settling in Britain, I sent my text to people who had: a whole team responsible for housing vulnerable families, meeting them from the airport and supporting their various needs as they adapt and integrate. To my relief and delight they all loved it, telling me that my attempt to capture the experience of a child arriving and adjusting to a very different kind of life was “beautifully written” and “just right.” Now I’ve met these families and it feels like a privilege.
Soon the book gave rise to an exhibition built around it as a creative, mixed media exploration of what it means to be a refugee. So why not launch a competition for secondary students and adults at the same time? We may be a small group of committed women but we think big. Organising it all has been a huge amount of work, but wonderful things have fallen perfectly into place and we hope that this ambitious three-tier project will provide insights, develop empathy and provide an outlet for creative people around Herts and Bucks.
All the profits from I AM ME will be used to support young refugees in various ways. We hope the book will make a wonderful gift for a child, perhaps for Christmas (and will be taking orders for matching T-shirts at all our exhibition venues). But we know that adults, aware of the dark realities the book spares young readers, will love it too. It’s a gentle book vivid with colour, life and hope.
We hope you and your family enjoy it over and over again.