Maggie spotted the photo of Alan on Facebook and asked about it. I explained that people were trying to escape war zones or persecution but had drowned in the attempt. She assumed the little boy had fallen overboard and was an isolated case so when I told her that these drownings keep happening, that boats keep sinking and thousands of people have drowned she was horrified. At first she said she was glad she lived here where we're safe then worried that was selfish. I reassured her that being grateful for our lives doesn't make her selfish but some people think we shouldn't allow these people here too and that we don't have room for them. Her reaction was instant,
"That's just wrong! We have lots of empty houses here. We could go and buy a spare bed to let somebody live with us. It's not fair to let poor people die like that."
She is seven years old and in one sentence showed more compassion than many adults, including our Prime Minister.
In September 1940, the SS City of Benares was torpedoed, 90 children were on board, evacuees bound for Canada. When the boat sank 77 of these children died. These were children who had been put on a boat to seek refuge in a safer country. At the time there was an outpouring of sympathy and support for those who had lost children. These parents weren't criticised for making the decision to try and send their children somewhere safer even though it proved to ultimately be the wrong decision. Likewise the father of Alan and Galip deserves compassion not condemnation for putting his sons in what turned out to be a fatal situation. This is a man who has lost both his sons and his wife and they risked their lives not for a benefits package but because they hoped they would be able to start a new life where they could be safe.
I don't pretend to have the answers to the refugee crisis but I don't believe we can forsake our compassion, our humanity. It shouldn't matter whether a person is a brain surgeon or a street cleaner, is illiterate or has a university degree, we shouldn't only be moved to offer help because we may ultimately benefit from it, we should try to help because it's the right thing to do. These people are our fellow human beings and it should be our natural instinct to want to help. Of course that help should be ideally shared among countries, but we shouldn't refuse just because we perceive other countries aren't doing their bit. If we turn our backs and lose that instinct then I fear for what we have become and what we are capable of.
Thankfully there are still many people who haven't lost their sense of empathy and compassion, humanity isn't yet done for. This article in the Independent details ways in which people can help. The author, Patrick Ness pledged to match donations to Save the Children up to £10k, that total was reached in a few hours, John Green, Derek Landy and Jojo Moyes have since offered to match subsequent £10K increments. You can donate here. Dawn O'Porter is gathering supplies and raising money for the refugees at Calais. We may not have all the answers, we may often feel impotent but as long as we still feel, as long as we don't turn our backs then perhaps there is still some hope left?
Since I wrote this blog yesterday afternoon Patrick Ness' fundraising has gone from strength to strength and as well as raising a huge amount of money for the refuge crisis has sent out an important message, that many, many people do care about the desperate plight their fellow humans are in and want to help.
Patrick's £10k donation has been matched by John Green, Derek Landy, Jojo Moyes, Hank Green and a group of American YA authors have also clubbed together to donate more. Just as important though are the donations from the public, from £1 to £10,000, they all send a message of hope and solidarity.
As things stand, the amount raised is currently over £155,000 (not including at least £20k pledged and Gift Aid) and when it reaches £195,000 author Louisa Young has pledged to raise it to £200,000. Virgin Money Giving don't make a profit from the site but ordinarily charge a 2% fee to cover their costs - they have said they will waive all fees if the total reaches £250k.
Last night Maggie came into the kitchen and said she wished she could do something to help. I told her I've donated some money and we've decided we're going to give some supplies to one of the organisations collecting for the Calais migrants, she's going to help me.
Alan and Galip - remember those names but now let the spur be those who are still alive and need our help.
Since my earlier update donations continue to pour in and several other authors and publishers have offered to donate £10k as the amount raised reaches subsequent targets. Money isn't the only answer but the generosity of all these people, from the smallest to largest donation is making me feel a bit weepy (in a good way!) this afternoon. Follow Patrick, @Patrick_Ness on Twitter for further updates.