Donate your skills

The photograph of Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, looking as though he was sleeping in the surf, was a tipping point in the public perception of the Syrian refugee crisis. Before the explosion of attention that image precicipated, there had been low level coverage for months, and I had certainly been peripherally aware of the issues. I’d done what many people do, signed a few petitons, donated a little money, and grumbled a little about the news and our selfish Tory government’s inhumane approach to the problem. Seeing Alan made me want to do much, much more.

You don’t need to have children to be deeply affected by an image of a drowned toddler, but I’m certain that three or four years ago, before I was a dad, I wouldn’t have been so deeply upset as I was when I saw that picture. It challenged me to use my privilege, skills, and my lucky birth to help the millions he represents. I’m not alone in feeling that - the messages I saw from family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances were predominantly asking what we can do, how we can help, why Britain isn’t doing more, why we have a PM and Government who seem to see people as insects.

What I particularly noticed was the number of people offering to take someone in to their own home - a fantastically practical, yet very obvious temporary reprieve for the problem. Why have people living in dreadful conditions in refugee camps, when generous, open-hearted people will give them a warm, safe space in their homes? The first hurdle was a big one though: where and how could an individual or family arrange this?

A sign up and a database would be fairly easy to make, and with inspiration from the Refugees Welcome sharing site based in Germany, I decided that I wanted to make this possible for people, and to help capture this generosity in the face of the crisis unfolding on our screens. A web app alone does not solve anything though, and I know nothing about helping refugees integrate with a new society or have a successful stay in someone else’s home. I did some research and found a number of smaller, local charities had been doing this for years, including one in Glasgow. I got in touch with Positive Action in Housing and outlined how I thought I could help and the opportunity presented by the number of people expressing an interest in hosting refugees, and we decided to take it from there.

PAIH have been running a hosting scheme successfully since 2004, but the manual registration which had worked for so long would not cope with the influx of interest brought by the increase of public attention on the crisis. By donating my time, I was able to automate that system and help them build a growing database of over 1800 volunteers across the UK, Europe, and further afield, who want to host a refugee in their home. A number of people have already been given a home to get started, and as more partner charities start to make referrals, more will be. I’ve found it really exciting to see what’s been precipitated by donating my skills, compared to my usual response of donationg some money or signing a petition.

I’ll be writing a few posts about what exactly I’ve done, and continue to do, but I really encourage you to think about what you can use your skills for, and what you can make happen.