Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
The response to our recent campaign, ‘Armed Forces Veterans & The Salford Community, unite to support Ukraine’ for Armed Forces Veterans, Mark Hatfield and Martin Dunwoody, was amazing. However, our children once again led the way as they supported Ukraine by drawing and painting sunflowers, sharing their chocolate and finally, writing letters of love and support for the Ukrainian children.
So, once more, we listened to the children and let them lead the way; after all, it’s not the first time…
I wanted children to lead the way and support Ukraine.
Who can forget how children came together, drawing pictures of rainbows as they showed support for key workers during the pandemic? For me, children would understand how to show love to the children in Ukraine; because, as children, they innately know. And, with their innate empathy, from the purest intentions, they knew that a child, travelling alone, scared and away from their home and family, would need to see, we did not forget them…
Thankfully, our children heard our voice; and aided and abetted by teachers, they did what children do best. Once again, the pencil cases came out. And the children opened their hearts as they wrote letters of love to the children of Ukraine and drew sunflowers to make them feel happy. Finally, in the act of ultimate kindness, the children shared their Easter chocolate with the children to enjoy as they travelled to safety.
Children support Ukraine with chocolate, sunflowers and friendship.
The children came together in schools and at home, writing heartfelt letters in English and Ukraine of support and hope for the children. Also, the children learned the Sunflower was the national flower of Ukraine, so they drew and painted sunflowers for every child, signing them with their names and ages. This gesture was pure in its intent because they wanted children to feel loved, make them smile, and recognise the simplicity of a flower given by a child who cared about them.
Finally, they shared their Easter chocolate; and with this gesture, their message resonated loud and clear. However, one question needed answering. How does the Easter Bunny give chocolate to children when they are on a train? How do they find them? We knew that if the Easter bunny couldn’t get chocolate to children as they travelled, the Armed Forces Veterans would. So, with peace of mind restored, the parcels for the children of Ukraine, together with other donations stored at Pendleton Church Salford, were collected and subsequently; delivered by Armed Forces Veterans, as planned.
‘First and foremost, we are family men.’
When I wrote the blog, ‘Armed Forces Veterans and the Salford Community unite to support Ukraine’, I wanted to help Mark and Martin raise donations for the return trip. However, Mark said, ‘I don’t want to offend; but please don’t write an article about us being Armed Forces Veterans. I want this article to be about the women and children travelling alone.‘ ‘Yes, we are former soldiers.’ ‘However, first and foremost, we are family men with children and grandchildren of our own; our mission is humanitarian.’
Mark said, whilst in Ukraine, he went to the border and helped give out supplies at the train station. He said,’ I saw children boarding trains alone; some didn’t look like they were even ten years of age; these children were vulnerable and needed help.’
I listened as Mark explained, ‘it was mayhem, and you can see parents holding on to their children’s hands so tight. There are so many people rushing to get out; it’s hard to watch. It is so easy to lose a child in the chaos. God helps them if they let go; because they would never get them back.’
‘There are children everywhere; some are travelling alone…’
Mark added, ‘there are children everywhere; some children are alone. Many families have no choice but to send them ahead; it is not safe for them to stay.’
Is the reality it is safer for parents to take a chance to send their child alone rather than stay for the unimaginable in Ukraine? Also, many older children, especially boys, maybe drafted in as soldiers and risk losing their lives in conflict? Ultimately, this is a risk that many parents are not prepared to take.
Families become desperate in the hope their children will meet with the kindness of strangers. However, there is another danger waiting at train stations; sex traffickers gather, ready to befriend children travelling alone. Thankfully, humanitarian Charities also wait, as do strangers with kind hearts who keep an eye out for children alone and the vulnerable.
Hassan, aged 11 travelled alone; officials noticed him by his smile.
On March 22, the Telegraph reported a story about Hassan, aged 11 years. Hassan was a child from Ukraine who travelled alone to his family in Slovakia; Hassan’s mother wrote the family’s contact number on Hassan’s hand and attached a note to his body. Thankfully, Hassan made it to his destination, and officials noticed him because of his brave and beautiful smile and notified his family, who came for him. Hassan was fortunate, and his bravery was remarkable. Thank God he made it to safety; however, he was lucky.
As Mark had seen, more children are travelling alone; we pray the officials and humanitarian charities keep an eye out for them, and please, God, they stay safe. However, what happens to these children when they reach the borders? Who is helping them to get visas? Will they move on to the care of Local Authorities; and be matched with families who best meet their needs? Hopefully, we will start to see answers to these questions because we need to know these children are safe.
The children of Millbrook Primary School, Wigan, are awesome.
Vicky Galligan runs a marketing agency in Wigan, Beltin Marketing; she is a Mum to two young daughters and a thoroughly decent human being. I spoke with Vicky, and she knew what to do. She contacted her daughter’s school, Millbrook Primary School in Wigan and told them what we wanted the children to do for the children of Ukraine.
We wanted children to help the other children feel they were not alone. So, the children drew and painted the most stunning pictures and paintings of sunflowers. Also, they made pink and blue bags of treats for the children. The bags included colouring books, pens, and, more importantly, chocolate, sweets and notes from one child to another to help them stay strong.
The children, aged 5 and 6, shared a heartfelt message to the children of Ukraine, a gesture which belied their years. The children drew from their hearts, and subsequently, this message was relayed to the recipients; as intended. Furthermore, when Vicky rang me to say she had the children’s gifts, I went to meet her, and I inherently knew the children would have understood, and they did…
As usual, our children listened and showed their support for Ukraine.
I felt humbled by Vicky, her children, and the children and staff of Millbrook Primary School, Wigan. They listened and heard our voices as we looked to them to guide us. After all, who best to help children than children who know, and as usual, they got it right. They got the pencil cases out once more and made everyone feel better by the simplest gestures; they drew and wrote from the heart, from one child to another.
Vicky also designed a web page as I told her of the shortage of mobile phones as people travel. I told her that Mark had said the major mobile operators were giving out sim cards, pre-paid to people as they boarded trains; however, many did not have a phone. Once again, Vicky was on it; she delivered without fuss. Ultimately, Vicky knew what was needed, and she got the job done. Thank you, Vicky; you are amazing.
Claire Marie Street, Verve CIC, Armed Forces Ambassador, knew what to do…
Claire Marie Street is Verve CIC Ambassador for the Armed Forces, and it was Claire introduced me to Mark and Martin. She explained what Mark and Martin had told her, and importantly, she told me what they needed. Claire asked me if I would do an article? I, of course, said yes.
Claire is a Director of the Salford Veterans Community Centre CIC in Eccles, Manchester and the hugely popular Armed Forces Naafi Breakfast Club every Saturday from Pendleton Church in Salford. Also, Claire runs the Breakfast Club with her team of dedicated volunteers, including young people within the local community. More importantly, Claire and the team support young people from the Co-op Academy Walkden as they complete their Duke of Edinburgh Award for volunteering. These young people volunteer their time to help out at the Breakfast Club every Saturday; they are now a much-loved part of the Club and adored by all the Armed Forces Veterans.
Young people wrote letters of support and inspirational messages of hope.
Claire explained what we wanted, and they put together letters of support, written in both English and Ukrainian, to include as part of their bags of treats. Also, the envelopes showed inspirational messages of hope and solidarity, and once more, these wonderful young people understood from the heart. Thank you; your messages and letters of love mean so much to a child; you are wonderful.
The support we have received is amazing, and I know Mark and Martin feel humbled and proud of the kindness and support from everyone in our community. However, most humbling is the empathy and compassion shown by our children and young people; as Mark and Martin said initially, ‘we are, first and foremost, family men.’ And, as family men, we listened and allowed children to do what they do best; they lead from the heart on a path we follow and move further as needed.
We are supporting Ukraine, one day at a time.
The situation in Ukraine is not likely to end soon. We must continue to support the people of Ukraine as they settle into a new life. However, we have to create support networks from charities and community groups. So, when Martin Dunwoody asked me to meet a group of Ukrainian refugees who had arrived in Cheetham Hill, Salford, I went because he needed help. He asked, did I know of anyone who could help them with housing? I did, and Jos Croston, Verve Ambassador who works for Salford Housing, came with me as we met at the Troops Naafi Breakfast Club. Together, with a translator and a breakfast kindly supplied by Claire and the young people who volunteer, we listened as they told us of their journey so far…
The families arrived in Salford within ten days of each other after waiting three weeks at the border for their visas. Once the permits for everyone were issued, they travelled to Salford, where another family member met who was supporting them. Mainly they are women and children with elderly family members; they now live in a three-bedroomed house owned by their cousin in Cheetham Hill, Salford. However, there are 18 of them. But, for now, being together is important, especially for the children.
Charities unite to support Ukraine.
The women talked about their family homes, husbands, partners, grandparents and family members too ill to travel; obviously, they were worried. Also, they explained that officials had told them to apply for Universal Credit, which they had done that week. However, they now faced a five-week wait for the money. I didn’t want to ask, but I did; did they have any money? They smiled and said yes, they had some savings. It wasn’t much, but once it was gone, they had nothing. They had left Ukraine with nothing; however, they are proud people guided by their strong Catholic faith. I had enormous respect for them, so I called on support from various people and charities within our community. As usual, they came forward and did what they needed to do…
The Ukrainian Catholic Church supports families in need.
Thank you to everyone who answered the call for help. Thank you to Verve Ambassador Jos Croston, who came forward with advice on housing; your help was invaluable. Also, Verve Ambassador Yvonne Simms delivered food parcels; and the Glossopdale Charity Crafters gave Easter eggs and knitted toys, blankets and clothes. Also, a huge thank you to Georgina Jones from Caritas Diocese, as she brought much-needed donations of toiletries and much-deserved toys and games for the children.
More importantly, Georgina gave me clear and precise advice because I had questions I wanted answers to; they were important questions. The women told me about their strong Catholic faith; therefore, did Georgina know of anyone from the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manchester with whom I should connect them? Someone who could, ultimately, look after them within their community? Furthermore, someone who would support them within a community network?
I could see these people had been through enough; now, they must start to heal. However, they need support as they deal with day-to-day issues with people who can get the necessary answers. More importantly, with people, they could trust.
Children support Ukraine with messages of hope.
Georgina asked me if I had heard of Father Taras of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manchester? I hadn’t, but one of the women had mentioned they had been to the Ukrainian Church in Cheetham Hill. I found the Facebook page for the church (4) Ukrainian Catholic Church Manchester | Facebook and left a message explaining everything. Could someone get back to me with advice? Father Taras rang me that day. He read my message and understood and gave me the contact within Manchester City Council, which provided support to Ukrainians and had the information they needed for housing. Father Taras asked me to pass his details on, including his mobile number. I said maybe they could meet at church the following Sunday?
They did meet, and they are now working together, and for me? I feel proud that our children connected the right message, which led to a chain of others connecting and working together; ultimately, it enabled us to get the support needed with the minimum of fuss. Also, I feel relief; because the Ukrainian families can settle within a safe community, where they may hopefully find peace until they can return to their beloved Ukraine.
Our Armed Forces and the community of Salford support Ukraine.
Martin and Mark are Armed Forces Veterans and, like many of our Armed Forces, are moved with a desire to do something when, ordinarily, many others wait. Thankfully, they are family men. When they spoke, our community and our children listened; they then created a network of good people who come together quietly, getting things done with the minimum of fuss but with the kindness and sincerest of intentions.
However, we must not stop supporting our Armed Forces Veterans as they continue to help the people of Ukraine as they flee to safety from war. If you can help us, please, get in touch on the contact form below; we appreciate your continued support. Finally, I will leave this here with a message from my grandson, Henry, aged eight, who I think speaks for most of us. May God bless you all. x