by Mary Coffey AMMM Ireland 26.07.2022
Below is the text of an email that I sent to Colette Morris, head of Migration in the Irish Red Cross, in 2019, less than a month after our Community Sponsorship Group, called ‘New Beginnings Kells’ welcomed a Syrian family who had been living as refugees in Lebanon. Colette has been my mentor and my friend on this journey.
Colette, as we move out of the pilot phase of Community Sponsorship I just want to share with you a story about stones. A few weeks before the family arrived a woman stopped me on the street and asked me for the individual names of the family. She wanted to go to Bettystown beach with her nephew Michael to collect nice roundy stones on which to paint their names, and to place them in the garden.
The stones were handed over to me in a box about a week after the family arrived. They were craggy, and I doubt if they had ever been on Bettystown beach or experienced the pounding of the waves but I still expect that Michael, Elaine’s beloved nephew with special needs, had a hand in painting them.
There was one for Tasnim, one for Kays, one for Maysa, one with the names of all three children, one for Fedaa and Ahmed and a big multicoloured rock of a thing with all five names on it.
I arrived at No 17 with the box. Elaine declined my invitation to come along. She is a very kind lady who never seeks recognition for the good that she does. There was great excitement in the back yard as the contents of the box were examined and deeply appreciated.
I was down in the house this week and Fedaa and I were sitting at the kitchen table chatting. She understands a lot more English than she speaks.
When we get lazy, or the concepts too complex, we resort to Google Translate. Feeling drawn to talk about the stones I went out to the back yard just to see where they were. I looked around and couldn’t see them. Then I spotted them up on a windowsill, saved from being pelted around the yard by Kays!
We talked about the stones and about the fact that people cannot connect with millions of refugees or with thousands or with hundreds, because it’s all too abstract. But we can connect with real people, real lives and real names. Tears glistened in Fedaa’s eyes and in mine also.
Elaine had been on holiday, and I phoned her last night to tell her how well received the stones were and to relate my conversation with Fedaa. We spoke about identity. I spoke about the need to use more often the term ‘a person seeking refuge’ rather than ‘a refugee’ and it does strike a different note. Elaine now welcomes being invited to come to No 17 and being introduced to Fedaa, Ahmed, Maysa, Kays and Tasnim.
There is something else that Elaine would like to do, when the time is right, knowing that it might be too painful just yet. She would like to find more stones and to encourage them to paint the names of their loved ones left behind, so that they can nestle together in the garden and, knowing Elaine, she will find a way to create some kind of a garden out of a corner in the backyard.
As I write this, I am sitting up in bed sobbing. I think of all the work we put into making the house beautiful, getting the colours and the final touches right, and really nothing compares to the value of those craggy stones. Some quotes from Isaiah come to mind. ” I have carved you on the palm of my hand” and ” I have called you by your name you are mine.”