After much anticipation, giddiness and stressful packing, 34 women and children from the maternity stream of Leeds City of Sanctuary were off to stay in Malhamdale for what turned out to be one of the best weekends of their lives..
The trip came about because People and the Dales, a charity based in Malham , who received the first in Refugee week 2015, arranged for a group of asylum seeking and refugee mums and children from Leeds, to visit people from Airton Quakers and St Michael’s Church, Kirby Malham to make Christingles last December. The two communities immediately clicked and wanted to meet again and the seed for spending a weekend together was planted. A planning group was formed, funding applications made but sadly these were unsuccessful. The group however, would not be defeated and appeals for support were made at a maternity stream conference in Leeds and to churches in Malhamdale and Leeds. Coffee mornings and raffles were held, donations made and £850 raised. The mini bus Company agreed a special rate for the trip and one of the drivers and his wife joined the group for the whole weekend.
Finding accommodation was essential and appeals were made through the Kirby Malham Parish newsletter. Four families agreed to host women and children and Malham Tarn Field Centre offered free accommodation, food and facilitation of activities for the rest of the party. The spirit of generosity from people in Malhamdale was heart warming and led to much excitement back in Leeds.
The weekend began with a welcome meal prepared by Airton Quakers before people dispersed to get to know their hosts and each other.
Stories were shared, games played, smiles exchanged and shrieks of laughter heard from the women as well as the children.
Saturday was a busy day. It started with a tour of Dykeland farm where the group learnt how milk was produced, stroked newborn calves and pretended to drive tractors. In the afternoon, the younger children looked for worms and made wood houses whilst the women and older children played competitive ball games and argued over the rules. In the evening a party was held for the two communities. People contributed food from around the world, songs and dances from different cultures and some stunning traditional costumes. Four of the families were Muslim and as it was Eid, they gave a talk about fasting during Ramadan and celebrating Eid.
On Sunday morning the whole group went to church at St Michael's. Rev Michael, had been instrumental in planning the whole weekend and went out of his way to ensure everyone felt welcome and included. He invited Rose to talk about the Maternity Stream of the City of Sanctuary and why the group had come to Malhamdale and Emily to share some of her story of seeking asylum. Emily is a deacon in her church in Leeds and gave a powerful talk about how her faith had sustained her through her life. She talked about the pain of losing family members but that this trip had made her feel part of a new family. She ended by saying
“The words can never be enough to express how and what I want to say to the people of Kirkby Malham. The hospitality and embracing you have given to us non-judgementally I was so touched and moved. Especial Rev Michael Jackson made us in his house to feel like were in 5 star hotel community chatting to us like they’ve known us years and years. Thank you!"
Three women sang an African Gospel hymn and all were invited to go to communion or to receive a blessing. Rev Michael was delighted that the Muslim members of the party went for a blessing and said afterwards “the concluding service was one of the most moving I've ever had the privilege to lead. I had to work hard to keep my emotions in check!” Feedback from the Muslim women included
‘It was increadable experience to be in a church for the first time in my life. To be in a countryside was my dream. Thank you for giving this opportunity to me.’
“Being in a church for the first time made me feel like regardless of our differences we are all together to worship god and love each other. Was a great experience of seeing the church culture.”
There were many tears in church that day and it was a moving end to an incredible weekend. As one mum said
“ I loved all the activities were great but what I enjoyed most was the church service. Thank you all sooooooo much!!!!”
The whole weekend felt like the beginning of something special, magical and unforgettable. The benefits for both communities were endless. Adoptive grandparents were found, friendships formed, lives understood and changed forever.
Feedback quotes include
"If only we could get more grass roots interaction like this, perhaps we could get more harmony in the world. One can dream, and actually the City of Sanctuary weekend in Malhamdale offered a mini template for this. It is important to stress that this was not a one way process. It was wonderful to have been able to give the visitors such a boost in their lives which meant so much to them. As I said at the end of the service though, they blessed us in the Dale with their fellowship, fun and faith, so it was very much a weekend of mutual blessing."(Rev Michael Jackson)
“Is been long 17 years never had a trip like this one. Me and my kids we are very grateful to be accepted in the community and been given this kind of opportunity .We had a great time and I thank the host and those who made this week for us. God Bless. Thank you very much.” (mum)
“He was so happy because he meet new family also he was worried with dogs but with Donna’s dogs all his worries gone, he was feeling so lonely without family but not anymore, they made him laugh and smile.” (mum)
“It was good idea to plan for this journey to the Dales and meet new people and visit farm and see how people get their life. For me I felt so happy and relaxed to go far from the city and stay in the Dales especially the family the invite me to their house. Thank you so much.” (mum)
“I had a great time. For me the trip takes away my loneliness and I felt I was in a sort of family. Also it was good break from life stress and putting away the stress of the town. In addition it has given me an opportunity to see the countryside and refresh my mind.”(mum)
“My child enjoyed the activities of looking worms, making wood house and feeding baby cows. Low the diversified music Yorkshire dance particularly and food. Thank you so much for all your hospitality an organizing the trip.” (mum)
“I had a fantastic time. It feels like I had a nice pause in my unpredictable life. The view gave me peace and the people so welcoming and warm. All the activities were fun and warming” (mum)
“Staying with Michael make me feel home and fatherly love and seeing Jones around and running after him make me happy. My sleeping fine and my son says mum I sleep well good and no noise, I feel calm and no stress.” (mum)
"Staying in Malham makes me feel at home. I sleep well and I am always stress free here in Malham” (10 year old girl)
“Well… You see I thought this weekend was going to be so boring and not really that fun but after we started the activities I actually started to have some fun so thank you for this interesting trip”
(15 year old boy)
“I am privilege to knowing you all and I had such good time and unforgettable moment for me and my children. Staying here is made me realise that I am not forgotten. Thank you and we wishing to see you again as you show us smile and caring open hands. God Bless Amen” (mum)
“A great weekend and so good to see the women and children relaxed and happy and embracing the surroundings. I particularly enjoyed the service today. Maybe we could go for a walk next time?”
“It has been a truly inspiring weekend. I loved the service in church especially Rose and Emilys contributions. I have loved the friendship, fun and conversations.” (helper)
“This weekend has been one of the most moving I have ever experienced. I can’t express how wonderful it was to see women smile, laugh, do handstands be young and free. I know many are going through terrible hardship yet when they are given a chance to live, they really know how to live!” (helper)
“I didn’t feel for a moment that I was a driver but a member of the group I wish we were here for a week with very friendly people and five start accommodation. Food was very nice and very friendly welcome.” (mini bus driver)
“The smiles and calm on the women’s faces, the shrieks of joy and laughter as both women and children took part in games and activities, the care and compassion that came from the host families – a very special and truly memorable time for all concerned .None of which would have taken place without the work you all put in so thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a part of making this magical experience happen.” (helper)