Thank you to committee member Tony Brewer for reporting back from this event.

AFRIL is a small charity that provides services and support for refugees in Lewisham. SELHuG has made a donation to support its work for several years and some SELHuG members are also personal supporters. I attended its AGM on 27th January.

The formal aspects were quickly dealt with and then we heard reports from the various service leaders, together with clients who had received support and, in some cases, from their children.

The Director, Sophie Wickham, gave a review of the year’s activities and the impact that they had had. She stressed that the current political climate is extremely negative and that this, coupled with the rising cost of living, is making life very difficult for refugees. Much of AFRIL’s effort goes into helping clients obtain their legal and human rights, and extracting decisions from unwilling or overworked bureaucrats. However, the overall mood was very upbeat – AFRIL clearly believes that it is “punching above its weight”.

Next came Kieran Tang-Wright who runs the Rainbow Club – the Saturday morning school for 4-11 year olds. It provides tuition in english and maths, plus art, music and PE. He stressed the kids’ very high levels of motivation and their enjoyment of the sessions.

Next was Food Bank manager Helen Mason (who spoke at a SELHuG meeting last September). Her group provides three services: the Helping Hands food bank itself, which operates from St Peter’s Church in Lee on Saturdays; the Allotment of Refuge on One Tree Hill, which not only grows fresh food for the food bank but also provides a place of calm and spiritual refuge for their clients; and the ‘Art@Home’ programme, which provides art opportunities for refugee families, including trips to local galleries and art projects. During the year this programme staged an exhibition of their art works in the Gerald Moore Gallery, Eltham College. Helen showed the short film ‘Art Without Borders’ (available on-line), which described the impact that the programme is having on the parents and children who were showing their work.

Finally the super-enthusiastic Chloe White described the legal casework and advocacy services that AFRIL provides, covering such areas as immigration, homelessness, benefits, housing, finance and eduction.

Clearly, the expression “punching above its weight” has a very real meaning for AFRIL and its clients. After the meeting we refreshed ourselves with spiced meat’n’rice and delicious homemade baklava. In the desperate situation in which refugees find themselves today, this was an oasis of joyous welcome.

You can find out more about AFRIL here.