I’m sitting alone in my house for the first time in 6 weeks. I’m drinking a cup of tea, and I’ve just watched this video which has reduced me to a snivelling wreck.
I’m tired and overwhelmed, which may in part account for the high levels of emotion, but in truth, nothing is normal anymore. 6 weeks ago today, my life was turned upside down by teddy bears.
2nd September was the first day of the new school year. I had dressed my youngest boy, Moses, in his crisp new uniform, marvelled over his big 6 year old body that had grown so much over the summer, packed snacks and book bags, and set off for the new adventure of Y2. He had been asking for a trip to the kids indoor climbing centre all summer (We live in Sheffield, climbing is a whole thing), and so after school as a treat we decided to go there.
As a mum, there is something about your child’s body isn’t there? This human being has grown inside you, somehow emerged intact, and is now a whole person who can do clever things like climb a rock face, jump, play and grow. We had a great time there, came home, had tea and watched the Bake Off (obvs…)
I was getting ready for bed, and catching up on Facebook, when I saw this picture that had been appearing on social media. It looked like a child lying on a beach. I clicked and read the story, and then there were more pictures – horrific pictures of multiple drowned children. It was utterly shocking, and all I could think about was the fact that I’d got my boy dressed and ready for school that morning, and here were children, just like mine, whose mums had dressed them and got them ready too…ready for a dangerous journey that they hoped would end their family’s suffering and open the road to a new and better life, and now they were lying dead on European tourist beaches. Something broke in me – but what can you do to help from a suburban house in the middle of Sheffield, where there is ironing to be done and packed lunches to be made?
I commented on Facebook – but comment can be cheap, and I lay in bed wondering, thinking, dreaming…Surely we could do something?
Moses sleeps with about 20 cuddly toys in his bed. He absolutely refuses to ditch even one of them. Making that bed is the bane of my life and when he was asked on holiday what he was missing most about home, he replied in a heartbeat “My teds”.
This conflict in Syria and Iraq is so complicated. My little brain doesn’t understand the politics, the endless backstories, and I have zero ideas about solutions (except to maybe put the kids in charge?) but I do know this: Children in the midst of these hideous conflicts the world over are just that: Children.
It is not OK or someone else’s problem that my children get to grow up sleeping safe in their beds with great dreams for their future whilst another mother’s child is too afraid to put their head on the pillow because that’s when the bombs start.
Lying in bed that night, I remembered seeing this picture of children being evacuated during WWII, with a quote from Paddington Bear.
I thought about Moses and his teddies, and felt that we had to find a way to hold on to the fact that children who should be lying in bed safe at night cuddling a teddy, are actually facing fear, trauma, immense loss and constant danger.
And that’s how Project Paddington was born – a simple idea to help children in the UK to reach out to children on the other side of the world, by sending one of their own teddy bears with a message of love and hope on a tag around its neck. I decided that this wasn’t a bad idea, that I wouldn’t think about it again, and I would give it a try in the morning.
Since then, my life has literally been turned upside down. I asked Moses’ school if we could give it a go. The headteacher said “Yes” so I went home, wrote a couple of letters outlining the plan, and set up a Facebook group. My phone began to ping…it carried on incessantly, and by the time I went to bed that night my little Facebook group had 500 members.
Over the next few days, the group grew and grew, until over 4300 of you had joined us on this crazy adventure of sending a teddy, some sponsorship money and a message of hope to refugee children around the world.
There are now over 560 UK schools and groups who are taking part in Project Paddington up and down the country, and we in the PP office (AKA my dining table) are overwhelmed by the incredible support our idea has generated. We see the pictures every day of children who have donated their bears and written wonderful messages like this one:
There is so much more that I could say about the Project Paddington journey so far. It is fair to say that our small (but wonderful) team are shocked and overwhelmed by the huge response that we have seen, but this is not the end of the story.
We want you to think about this some more. The families who are fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have witnessed horrific atrocities and loss. These children are traumatised and broken by all they have been witness to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian minister who was executed after plotting to overthrow the Nazi regime said “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Social media means that we can see exactly what is happening to families fleeing conflict. The world is facing this test today. Will we enable our children to grow in kindness and generosity? Will we work to alleviate the suffering of children who have lost everything? In amongst work, school runs, packed lunches and the ironing we CAN make a difference when we work together. Team Project Paddington is delighted to help in a small way by sending children a personal message and something to cuddle, but we don’t want to leave it there. We are listening to those who know more about relief work than us, and we are working on how we can help even more. We’ll keep you posted. The journey is just beginning. Let’s do this!