By Lucy Irven, Coordinator Leeds Diocesan Refugee Support Group

cover of poem bookletLast year, Refugee Week celebrated its 20th Anniversary and to raise awareness amongst the younger members of our community, the Refugee Support Group asked the schools in the Diocese to write Poems of Hope on the theme of refugees as part of a competition. The children and young people, of all ages, were asked to prepare short poems that expressed something about the lives of refugees, whether in our own country or elsewhere in the world, and that would offer a message of hope. Suggestions for resources that teachers could use in class, such as those available on the CAFOD website, were also provided.We received over 100 entries from eight schools across the Diocese, including some eye-catching artwork and a wide range of thoughtful and powerful, written work. The styles ranged from acrostic poems based on the word Refugee or Peace to free-flowing text full of imagery and emotion. Some relayed reassuring messages of hope while others focused more on the difficulties that child refugees encounter on their journey. From the youngest, at age 5, to the oldest, in Year 12, the children and young people wrote with imagination, compassion and with strikingly clear messages of support for refugees. Many were beautifully presented with pictures and artistic designs.

  • The Fourth prize poem from the booklet – written by Jenna Johnson
  • Children at the Launch event
  • Lucy Irven, Diocesan Refugee Support Group coordinator, speaks at the Launch event
  • John Battle, Chair of the Commission, speaks at the Launch event
  • Fr Barrie Holmes speaks at the Launch Event.
  • The winning poem by Esmee Vince-Morgan of St Joseph’s Primary school Wetherby.

One idea had always been to compile a booklet of the winning entries which could then be used to help raise awareness in the schools, and especially to promote Schools of Sanctuary. With this in mind, the Refugee Support Group decided to make the publication of this booklet, with a launch event in one of the schools, our focus for Refugee Week 2019. With the help of funds donated privately, Lucy Irven worked with a professional design team to prepare the material for printing and 500 colour booklets were produced.St Joseph’s Primary School in Wetherby agreed to host our launch event for the book during a special Refugee Week assembly. This was especially appropriate as last year’s Yr 6 students had provided the colourful art work which has been used to make the book so attractive. Teachers and children from St Robert’s Primary School, Harrogate and St Joseph’s Primary School, Tadcaster, were also able to attend as well as visitors from Harrogate District of Sanctuary, a few parents, and members of the Diocesan Refugee Support Group, John Battle, Joe Cortis, Brian Hamill, Janet Kent and Lucy Irven. After refreshments we were warmly welcomed by Louise Milivojevic, Head Teacher at St Joseph’s, Wetherby. Fr Barrie Holmes read a Prayer for Refugees and John Battle spoke about the Refugee Support Group and the idea behind Poems of Hope.
Lucy Irven said a few words about preparing the Poems of Hope booklet and told the children about Pope Francis’ message of hope, quoted inside the back cover of the booklet.

“We can and must all nourish this hope!!”

Children from all three schools stood up to read poems from the book, including two who read their own, and others presented more recent work prepared for this year’s refugee week. The afternoon was a great success and enjoyed by everyone who had come together to celebrate refugee week in this way. Lucy Irven will be visiting another three of the contributing schools before the end of term to say thank you to the staff and children and to give copies of the book to those who wrote the winning poems.
The Schools that contributed to Poems of Hope are: Notre Dame 6th Form College, Holy Family Secondary School, Carlton and five Primary Schools: St Philip’s, Middleton, Leeds; St Joseph’s, Tadcaster; St Stephen’s, Skipton; St Robert’s, Harrogate and St Joseph’s, Wetherby