A FIVE-YEAR-OLD boy who fled with his parents to Scotland from the fighting in Sudan has received 200 birthday cards and a sackload of presents after an appeal on social media.
Little Yousef Hago laughed with delight, while his mother Rahab burst into tears, when they saw the pile of gifts waiting for him at a party thrown by Glasgow-based charity Refuweegee.
After having to leave all their family and friends behind in Sudan, Rahab told the Sunday National they now felt they had family here as a result of the response.
“Last week Yousef asked me what we would do for his birthday as we had to leave everyone to come here,” said Rahab, who also has a two-month-old baby girl called Raghad. “He was so very, very happy when he saw the cards and presents. We were crying and laughing. It is amazing and I want to say thank you to everyone because I feel very happy. I feel I have family here now.”
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It was also an emotional occasion for the Refuweegee team as the event summed up all they have been trying to achieve since Selina Hales first set up the charity in 2015 to support and welcome refugees.
They have just moved into new premises in the city center and Hales said the new space was everything she had dreamed of, with a playroom, quiet room, prayer room and a space where donations of clothing and household goods are displayed so people can choose what they need with dignity.
There is also space for partner organizations to hold classes on the premises and when Rahab tried out a yoga class last week, Yousef went to the playroom – and had so much fun he didn’t want to leave.
“Rahab told us they didn’t have friends and family in Glasgow and Yousef often asked why he doesn’t have anyone to play with,” said Hales. “She said it was his birthday very soon and asked if he could come for it here as he would really like it. We were so touched by that because that is what we have been trying to create – a space where people feel safe and comfortable and want to spend time in it.”
After Hales mentioned the forthcoming party on social media, cards and presents began to arrive, with one gift sent from as far away as Canada.
“Rahab just walked in, looked at the table and burst into tears,” said Hales. “It has been really emotional for the whole team. The system can be so harsh and cruel and it can make people feel so alone that when we get to present people with a visual of the kindness a community holds for them and the welcome they want to extend, it is just wonderful.”
The new premises are a far cry from the charity’s origin in Hales’s living room where she first organized welcome packs for refugees from donations from friends and family. She had taken a fortnight off her work from her at the Chamber of Commerce to get ready for Christmas but received so many donations the festive preparations “went out the window”.
Now she works full time for Refuweegee, with a staff of nine, and the charity has moved into two floors of a building in West Regent Street. The property is one Hales actually viewed in 2017 as possible premises but dismissed as too large.
“Now here we are with two floors right in the city center which is important as people from the refugee community are housed all over the city and we need to be central,” she said.
Since its inception, Refuweegee has provided nearly 20,000 community-built, personal welcome packs and emergency support packs to people all over Glasgow and across Scotland.
During Covid, the charity was involved in emergency food distribution to people in need, delivering 150 packs a week for around 18 months.
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“If we had known what it would become we might never have done it as it was non-stop,” said Hales. “So many food banks and community projects had to close because they were run by older people who had to shield. We had to plug that gap because local support that was normally there just stopped.
“We have eased back on that now as we much prefer people to come in and pick up what they need. There is so much more dignity if you can choose your own food.”
Donations and funds from the Scottish Government support the charity for which the team is very grateful.
“Even though many people are struggling they are still sharing what they have to make sure others are OK so we are very lucky,” said Hales.