Q&A: Gillian Taylor-Smyth
Gillian and Anthony Taylor-Smyth took matters into their own hands three weeks ago, and decided that they would begin collecting goods.
“By night a voice was heard in the air: a woman, crying “O, my children, we must go far away” At times she cried: “Oh my children, where can I take you?”
(Aztec 14th century)
This lament was in response to the invasion of Spanish general Cortez, who broke the resistance of the Aztec people. They then became refugees.
Immigrants and refugees have been a feature of humankind’s story since earliest times.
From the late 18th century to the mid-20th century, Europe was a continent of emigration. The story then was predominantly about Europeans leaving, and not about non-Europeans coming in.
The first great wave of Irish emigration to the new world was, of course, as a result of the Famine. Many Scots were forced to migrate due to expulsion of small land holders in the Highlands Clearances.
As desperate as these times undoubtedly were, imagine how much worse it would have been if there had not been the hope and the means to find a better life and a sanctuary where children could be safely raised.
Europe is surely capable of rising humanely and dynamically to the current challenge that has over 8.6 million children whose lives have been torn apart by violence and forced displacement. Children from countries like Syria — one of the most dangerous places to be a child.
Almost half of Syria’s population has been forced to leave their homes, many suffering multiple displacements, living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, where conditions are less than ideal, and where they pay for the flimsy tents they inhabit.
A tent is not a home. And winter is on the way.
Refugees will soon be very cold, as well as hungry.
So it can come as no surprise that those families who can somehow scrape the money together, pay exorbitant amounts to unscrupulous people smugglers.
The Irish people have pledged some 14,000 beds, and Sophie Magennis, head of the Irish office of the UNHCR, says that these voluntary offers could be incorporated into an overall care plan. .
Such generosity of spirit from ordinary people is to be applauded. Some other countries, Hungary in particular, have been less welcoming, building razor-wire fences, and showing disdain for weary and traumatised refugees trying to cross their country — although Hungary too too underwent a mass exodus during their uprising against Soviet repression.
Here in Ireland too, there are those who do not want to take in so many strangers with different ways and religious beliefs, and others who are concerned with the costs involved and feel that we should be concentrating our humanitarian efforts on those in Ireland who are themselves homeless and in desperate need of aid.
But this should not be an “either or” situation. A better co-ordinated European effort must be implemented to ensure that this challenge is fairly managed.
The Red Cross have announced that they will co-ordinate all these individual Irish offers of help, and this will allow participation by those who have been moved by the Syrians’ plight — and who cannot rid their minds of that terrible image of that little body washed up on a Turkish beach like so much unwanted flotsam.
One couple in Co Kerry — Gillian and Anthony Taylor-Smyth — took matters into their own hands three weeks ago, and decided that they would begin collecting goods.
Gillian told me how it came about.
Gillian, yourself and Anthony were living a quiet life, running your smallholding up until a few weeks ago. What happened?
I’m originally from Co Antrim and it was when I moved to Bournemouth in the UK that I met my husband.
We came back to Ireland and brought a small farm in Co Kerry, where we got busy raising our growing family and raising chickens and vegetables and starting a community market.
My husband had a background in haulage, and he was restoring caravans as a sideline. We’ve been married for 15 years now, and we have always been a great team.
Then as this refugee crisis was growing, we both became increasingly concerned with the misery and despair of these people and we would talk about it with our friends.
Then one night, my husband said “I just can’t sit here around the coffee table talking about this anymore. We have to do something”
And that was it. We started to put out the word that we were going to start collecting goods that the refugees urgently need. The response was amazing.
How many collection points have you established?
We have 40 collection points now, and our barn is full to bursting. We have a Facebook page and 20 volunteers, and we have been working with some of the most wonderful people who are all helping us with the mammoth task of collecting, packing and sorting. We’ve been managing on about three hours sleep a night.
Our organisation Help For Humans is very clear that these people are refugees, as opposed to migrants, a word which implies choice.
These days, there is no excuse for ignorance about any world situation, and no excuse for the kind of cruelty inflicted on desperate human beings.
We heard from an aid worker in Hungary who we are in contact with, who told us about a Syrian woman who was pregnant and went into labour.
She tried to get herself admitted into the hospital but they put her out, and she ended up giving birth outside the hospital on the pavement. How can that be right?”
What is your plan now?
Well, once we have sorted out all these fantastic donations and made sure we have enough vehicles to transport them, we’ll be leaving from Cork to Roscoff, then travelling across seven countries.
We have a 40-foot shipping container, and it’s going to cost about €4,500 in diesel. And much in the way of logistics to think of.
Sometimes I wonder if we can really pull this off. But then I’m humbled by the generosity of the Irish people and that keeps me going.
The other night at one of our centres, three little boys came in clutching their teddy bears.They said they wanted to give them to the Syrian children.
That was very moving.
We will be leaving on the 24th of September, and we need more trucks.
If we all come together and help, then we can really make a difference.
I believe in the saying “Be the change that you want to see”, and we plan to document the journey so that everyone can see what a difference their help has made.”
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