Emergency appeal: malicious attack on pro-JC campaigner

The SKWAWKBOX

r_swindPro-Corbyn blogger @Rachael_Swindon is one of the most tireless campaigners for Labour, Corbyn and a fairer society that you’ll ever find.

As well as blogging and creating some of the strongest memes to support Labour’s message, she is a full-time mother of two kids who also cares full-time for her disabled husband, who recently took a turn for the worse. As a result, she and her family are in the support group of ESA and PIP, which allowed them – just about – to scrape by, except when the DWP screwed up.

Until now.

Because of her effectiveness, Rachael has angered right-wingers both inside and outside the Labour party. Because she has a ‘donate’ button on her blog, in case the occasional donation comes in to help eke out meagre benefits, someone made a malicious report to the DWP, triggering an investigation.

Let’s be clear, Rachael has done nothing wrong –…

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Faces of Change: emphasizing the strength of Syrian refugees instead of their despair

clip(First published in the Holland Times)

The Netherlands is home to an extraordinary new project which aims to change the entrenched perceptions of refugees and educate the general public.

Syrian Change-makers is a transmedia project commissioned by a Dutch charity which aims to document the stories of those who have journeyed from war torn Syria to temporary settlements and then progressed to rebuild their lives.

The documentary is about the collective journey, moving away from a singular journey and the focus is on finding commonalities. The idea is to have an interactive media piece to really affect change so media can really resist and refuse the stereotype of refugees and remove the stereotypes that immigration is a threat in Europe.

The hope is that the project will move away from the media-based image of hopeless defenceless refugees and show the strength, entrepreneurial talents and resilience of displaced people.

The Netherlands-based charity Faces of Change was set up by Dr Saskia Harkema, who was born in the Netherlands but grew up in South America. When she returned she experienced questions that many face around the idea of home, where was it, what did it mean and what was her cultural identity. It is these questions that created a greater understanding and empathy with disenfranchised groups and led her to embark on several projects working with refugees

Saskia’s work with refugees and disenfranchised people began when she coached a refugee from Rwanda which inspired her to set up a project with the EU, Denmark, Belgium the UK and the Netherlands helping women refugees participate in society and this lead to the creation of faces of change her current charity.  She says the problem with the system in Holland is that the system doesn’t distinguish between refugees’ background and education it just pushes people to work in sectors that have economic gaps.  She believes this a real problem as it doesn’t engage with people’s hopes and dreams and talents.  “We perceive refugees from an economic perspective and forget the human stories; it is a very limited view on what they have to offer.”

The video Saskia shows introduces Abdel Qader who in April 2014 was living in Aleppo Syria.  On his birthday his neighbourhood was targeted by the Syrian Army and the building he was in was hit. Now he lives in Turkey and can work with the project which aims to help people cope with the horrors of war.

The project aims to create a tool kit to help others who are still there.  To help Syrians who have left the country as well as there is always a connection to back home.  There are multiple video diaries coming out of Syria so film director Manuela Maiguashca can collaborate stories and begin the process of a collective story telling. The hope is that the project gives a sense of hope, that people know their stories are being documented.  It is a slower process than other forms of media but Manuela says it feels like a more ethical form of media.

Manuela Maiguashca spoke of the project, how it impacted her and what she has taken away from this new endeavour. “We have seen the most incredible ingenuity… I have worked on many projects with disenfranchised people. I see an incredible ability to reinvent; it’s totally different to the helpless refugee image seen in the media.” She went on to say, “Aleppo is not only a place of death and destruction.  What is striking is the immense ability to survive.  To see the physical destruction yet carry on is quite extraordinary and our aim is to challenge the idea that refugees are defenceless.”

When asked what the difference was in this project compared to others she had worked on she said, “It’s early days but I’ve never gone through such violent footage in my life.  I’ve had to witness.  It’s been quite profound. I’m slowly constructing a picture of people’s stories.  People are dealing with a lot of trauma. It’s very raw.  Images of violence create a deeper pain, it’s on another level. I’m processing on many levels, I can feel it is just the tip of the iceberg in a way I feel I am having a deeper experience with this material. I am learning a lot about Syrian culture and not going too aggressively looking for stories. ” She said it has made her really respect the space that people, entrepreneurs, NGOs, Syrians and those working with her on the project are operating in.

The project is hoping to gain further funds via public donations.  For further information visit the faces of change website.

Lebanon – a place to party or avoid?

Yes! Lebanon for 5 weeks – I excitedly tell everyone I know, I can’t wait for the longest amount of time I have spent in my home country since I was a small child.  “Is it safe?” is the most common question; “sure” I say, fully convinced that as usual people worry too much.

Waiting for a delayed flight to Lebanon in Istanbul I meet other Lebanese travellers and soon the conversation turns to where we’re staying and what we’re going to be doing.  I answer, “I’ll mostly be in West Beqaa”.  “What?! Why are you going there?!” is the response from my seasoned fellow visitors. I’m slightly concerned that other Lebanese people think I’m insane for going to the region.  However, to me it is always a place of safety.  A retreat from the stress of life in England and a place of joy while I play with my younger siblings who are 5 and 6 years old.  I don’t see the danger and I don’t feel at risk.

Our flight lands and as we leave the airport to begin our trip home my dad points out a new army check point – apparently there have been lots of gun battles between Hezbollah and the Army on the section of road we’re travelling on.  Still not fully into Lebanese mode of devil may care, my heart rate picks up, however we’re soon past the danger point and thoughts return to all the good food I’m going to eat and the friends I’m going to see. Security is tight but it feels like usual.  There are the normal army check points however one along the way asks to see all our IDs – something that has only happened to me once before in all my trips to Lebanon.

My sister receives text messages advising her of emergency contact numbers and to check the travel advice for the area. You can see the original foreign office map here FCO_301_-_Lebanon_Travel_Advice_Ed13. Apparently where we live is an orange area. Only travel if really necessary. Am I scared? Am I hell! Life is different this year but I refuse to let it get in the way of my fun…

Then as we drive through Beqaa, early in the morning, with the fog stealing most of the beautiful view I see a sobering sight. Hundreds of tents, make shift homes of displaced people, humans who aren’t here for a jolly good time but who escaped and found some sanctuary in Lebanon. In my beautiful home-come-holiday destination there is real desperation and suffering.

Lebanon is still a place to party, and relax but it is also a place for sobering realities. It is a place of relative peace between a war in Syria and a war in the Gaza strip. We hear that Lebanon is experiencing water shortages due to a combination of lack of rain and a huge increase in population.  The country that holds 4 million Lebanese now apparently also holds nearly 2 million Syrian refugees and 400,000 Palestinian refugees. The situation is tense and the balancing act that currently holds is in real danger of tipping. The Lebanese are not a rich people, so the poor are supporting the poorer. They need help but the common opinion is that the international community and the UN are not doing enough. In the blistering heat a water shortage is not the only thing to fear. The tensions between different communities is rising and the easy solution for many is to blame the influx of refugees. The struggles of the country are out weighing the pity for human suffering.