In August 2021, Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital fell to the Taliban. The speed at which it fell caused the largest non-combative air evacuation that the US has ever conducted, with 79,000 civilians evacuated over 18 days. The UK, as part of the NATO Alliance that was withdrawing, evacuated 8,000 Afghans from former UK staff and families who were at risk from the Taliban. Kensington and Chelsea council took in 800 Afghan refugees. Community unity and teamwork were the only way to help all these people.
There were multiple challenges that needed to be overcome – Afghan refugees, children and families needed housing, clothes, and transport.
Westway CT volunteer John Walker told us:
“They came standing up in what they had been wearing for some of them, two or three or four weeks, and that’s all they had. They got to the hotel and there was nothing.”
To find a huge amount of essential goods, transport them and the refugees in a short time period at the last minute is logistically difficult but not impossible.
Besides the problem of sourcing essentials, there was also a language barrier to overcome. Refugees were dealing with the trauma of leaving their homes and cut off from their loved ones, and their way of life. Having strangers trying to talk to you in a language you don’t know in a place alien to you only increased the stress and trauma many were dealing with.
The Power Of Community
The response to the call for donations was immensely positive. At the start of the operation, the council launched a donations page with an Amazon Wishlist. Every item on the wishlist was bought and donated. In addition, places like the Al Manar Centre received huge amounts of donations. The generosity ensured that there were enough items for the refugees.
Multi Ethnic Community Unity
To help overcome the language barrier, many Farsi speaking volunteers showed up. Ali described how he saw around 20-25 Iranians volunteering as translators on the day. John Walker added that;
“Without those Farsi speakers we would find it very difficult.” John Walker, Westway CT Volunteer
He explained how the Farsi speakers were vital. The translators went with each refugee group and translated for them the whole day.
Overall, the community unity and effort were immense. The cooperation between organisations and individuals meant the refugees got the goods they needed.
John and Ali told us of one local individual who, having seen the gathering of others, parked his van to find out what was happening. Once he knew he volunteered right away. He used his hired van to help move goods back and forth. He even paid extra to hire the van for longer so he could help. This spontaneity shows how RBKC has a strong sense of community unity.
There was a huge volunteer turnout to help refugees. We also want to praise our own volunteers, John Walker, for taking initiative to ask to use our goods van to help move items. We are also proud of Ali, our transport coordinator, who volunteered on his day off to transport refugees to and from hotels using one of Westway CT’s minibuses. Without volunteers, like Ali and John, the operation to help the refugees would have failed.
THE REWARDS OF VOLUNTEERING
The community came together help Afghan refugees get the essential goods and the support they needed.
Both John and Ali shared their feelings about how the volunteering went and what it meant to them.
John shared how “The more you put into it, the more you get out [of it].”
And Ali said “I have never done it before, but I would do it.”
Both Ali and John show how volunteering is really rewarding. At Westway CT, our volunteers are vital in helping fighting loneliness and isolation. And we always need more.
Can you spare a few hours a week and help us tackle loneliness and isolation?
Apply to volunteer today and get that feel-good factor from volunteering.