World Refugee Day Special: Dumfries

To mark World Refugee Day we are posting a bumper blog of audio and photos from our visit to Dumfries on 25th-26th May.

We hope that by sharing the stories of the folk we met others will be inspired to emulate their examples of courage, pragmatism and generosity.  If you would like to support or contact any of them just click on the links.  Read to the end to learn about an opportunity to take part in a fantastic community engagement project that involves cycling and soup!

Travelling South-West to Dumfries meant diverting from the straight route to Iona, but we had a friend who would accomodate us and thought we could see an interesting path up to Glasgow from there. As it turned out Dumfries gave us some of our most inspiring meetings: for a small town it boasts powerful communal, artistic and charitable impulses.

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Morning yoga

We were welcomed by a woman called Jill who had heard about our walk and offered to put us up at her house. Her kindness to strangers is inspired by her Buddhism, and she gave us a comfortable room, a delicious dinner and a free Yoga lesson to ease our aching joints. Jill has been trekking in Nepal and knew how much walkers cherish the opportunity to rest, eat and wash clothes. She and I had both visited the Langtang valley in the Himalayas, which was devastated by an earthquake two years ago. Jill has worked hard to assist the people who had been affected, undertaking a sponsored series of sun-salutations to raise money for a shelter for the elderly.

Jill took us to meet another inspiring local woman called Moxie. In 2015 she set up a charity called MOOL, which stands for ‘Massive Outpouring of Love’. Like many others Moxie had been appalled by the media coverage of the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers. She was moved to ‘put her head above the parapet’ and set up an online forum requesting donations which she intended to drive to Calais in a small van. It seemed that people had been waiting for somebody to take the initiative and the response she got was overwhelming. A local church offered her space to store the thousands of donations that came flooding in but even this proved too small. Two years later MOOL is still collecting and redistributing donations from a warehouse donated by the local council. They now send trucks direct to camps in Lebanon and have also helped with disaster relief closer to home, supplying donated blankets to the victims of flooding in Carlisle.

You can hear the remarkable story of MOOL in Moxie’s own words here.

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With Moxie, third from right, and MOOL volunteers
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Hand-knitted hats, jumpers and baby blankets donated by a local knitting group and destined for children in refugee camps

In the afternoon we visited the Allanton World Peace Sanctuary by the River Nith. Set up in the wake of the Atomic Bomb attacks on Japan there are many of these centres spread around the world, with the aim of spreading peace. Their motto ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ is inscribed in different languages on pillars in the grounds, one for each nation. You can hear the story of the European Peace Centre in the words of its founder Caroline hereIMG_0688

On the day we visited the centre was hosting a group of refugee families who had been given the opportunity of a weekend break from Glasgow by the Red Cross. Women from a dozen countries were staying alongside each other, sharing meals and participating in craft-based activities while their children played together under the supervision of volunteers. We joined a group of them for a walk by the river. While Christy skimmed stones with the children Isabel interviewed Gesya, a former refugee now working for the Red Cross. You can listen to what Gesya had to say here.

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The group enjoying the sun at Friar’s Carse on the River Nith
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Gesya

IMG_0681Later we were able to repay Jill for her kindness with a private tour of some remarkable gardens thanks to a connection we have we the owners. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is occasionally open to the public to raise money for Maggie’s cancer centre. On this brilliantly sunny day we had the place to ourselves. The garden was conceived by Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick, it has evolved with the help of Alastair, the head gardener, ever since.  It is inspired by the worlds of cosmology, physics and nature, and has to be seen to be believed. Alastair carefully explained the narrative of the garden to us: the water cascade of steps recounting the story of the universe; a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole; a “Quark Walk” takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.

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To round of a busy day we visited The Stove, a community hub in the centre of Dumfries set up and run by Matt to create a safe place for local residents to explore art and exchange ideas. In an interview with us Matt explained how Dumfries town centre had been gutted by out of town supermarkets and international chains, and how he hoped to bring life and creativity back to the heart of the community. Matt also kindly invited us to speak about our pilgrimage at the spoken word event ‘Brave New Words’ that evening, our first attempt to speak about our journey on stage. You can hear what Matt has to say here.

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Dumfries bathed in May sunshine

That evening we stayed with family friend Alice. She had lots of experience volunteering in ‘the Jungle’ in Calais and spoke about the value of simple grass-roots action. She herself has designed and built a mobile soup-kitchen which she hopes to deliver to Glasgow, London or Calais. A bike with a trailer that folds out to become a covered table and benches with stove and cooking pot, the contraption is known as ‘Stone-Soup’. The aim is to provide free meals to those who are destitute, be they asylum-seekers without recourse to state provisions or others who have fallen through the net of social care. The name comes from a parable that has variants in many different cultures:  some travellers arrive in a village and by persuading each villager to add to the ‘soup’ they are making (initially just a stone is some boiling water) they create a nutritious meal to feed everyone.

The parable teaches us that if many people make a small and practical contribution, something wonderful can be achieved. A valuable lesson in the context of a crisis that can seem overwhelming.

If you would like to cycle the Stone-Soup kitchen on a leg of its journey from Dumfries to London and on to Calais, please get in touch with us on info@listeningpilgrimage.org and we will connect you with Alice.

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The ingenious mobile soup-kitchen designed by Alice

 

 

 

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