Deborah Frances-White has taken over Stylist magazine to spread a message of love and understanding as part of the International Women’s Day Choose To Challenge campaign. Here she explains why she chose love and wants you to, too.
I’m a feminist but… I’m ever-grateful to Stylist for allowing me to live out my life-long romcom fantasy job of becoming a magazine editor for a week! I am taking over their Instagram account too (some might say greedy!) because I am so driven to tell you about the theme of the issue: Choose Love.
Three and a half years ago Steve Ali, a Syrian refugee came to mind my cats for three weeks. Now he’s as much family to me as anyone in the world. He told me that without Choose Love’s life-saving provisions there are times he might have not made it. I wanted to meet Josie Naughton who runs Choose Love and get involved. I soon found myself volunteering and platforming and, because of The Guilty Feminist, became especially interested in the conditions that women and children found themselves in when they had to flee from their homes at short notice.
During my time volunteering, I met a Kurdish girl called Naza. She was 11 years old camping with her family in Calais, looking for a country who would accept them and give them a chance. Her conversational English was excellent though she’d never lived in an English speaking country – she’d learned it from the volunteers in a camp in Greece. When I met Naza she was queuing up for warm blankets because the French military police slash the refugees tents daily to try to create a hostile environment. All their blankets were wet. She said she needed seven for the family and that her aunt was pregnant.
The volunteer said she could give her four and then more if there were any left over at the end of the day. There was a huge queue. Naza took the blankets she was given and said, “If I can switch this one for that pink one” (she pointed to a soft pink blanket a little girl might like) “I will stay and interpret for all these people”. She had a deal and stood and interpreted like a UN ambassador. She told me the family were probably going to have to go to Germany which made her sad because she didn’t speak German (yet!) and had family in England.
When I visited the Gekko Kids school near the Moria camp in Greece, I was astounded at the focus of the tweenagers and teenagers desperate to learn Greek, English, science, maths and IT. They had the focus of uni students during finals week. It didn’t feel right. Where were the hijinks? They have no time. They don’t know when opportunity might be snatched away. Many of them are unaccompanied minors: education is survival. While I was there some students approached a teacher and said “We want to be put in the higher level English conversation group.” “Okay, but you’ll have to take a test,” she said. “We’ll take it tomorrow. If we fail, we’ll take it again next week” they countered. Soon other children heard and approached her, “We hear there’s an exam to move into the advanced group. We want in.”
Countries should be fighting over who gets these children. They are full of ambition, curiosity and their work ethic is almost concerning. All children deserve a shot. They shouldn’t have to be exceptionally bright and capable, but the refugee experience shapes many of them to be bold innovators thinkers and brave leaders who now how to negotiate, cope and adapt.
Think about how much more adaptable you are this year after you’ve had to do everything differently at short notice. Then rethink who refugees are and what we might learn from them and gain from them instead of seeing them as a drain on resources.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that something big can blindside you and turn your world upside down. Everyone thinks it can’t happen to them until it does. If we became refugees, and we could, we’d certainly hope someone was there to welcome us in and offer us a warm bed and an opportunity to start again. There can be no hope or happiness without resources.
Choose Love fights governments for justice and in the meantime helps us all be the person we’d need if the situation were reversed. Let’s be part of that. Thank you Stylist for choosing love with us.