Max Porter – author of the award-winning novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers – spoke with *Kalil, a former Syrian refugee. Kalil initially came to London as a student but when conflict broke out in his home claimed asylum in the UK. As a refugee, he was safe but unable to see his family in Syria for many years.
After completing his studies Kalil worked for a global financial firm, but the isolation of being in a very different culture from his own away from family started to take its toll on his mental health.
Today, Kalil runs a social enterprise that helps organisations to be more people-centred and find the human connection in every aspect of their work.
Max spoke with Kalil about his experiences, the process of claiming asylum, memories of kindness and what kindness means to both of them. This conversation inspired Max to write the following:
I tell you what we need, what we need is kindness, oh and blankets, same thing really, what’s kinder than giving a cold person a blanket, right?
I tell you what’s lonely, in a foreign city, a long way from my close and warm society. I’ll tell you what’s so very lonely: Night.
I’ve seen parents walking their kids with huge bags of clothing, going into a big warehouse, volunteering to sort them and things like this.
This is the seed of the community. This is something that happens, in people’s ordinary lives here, this is a good thing to see, it’s a kind of bliss.
I would define warmth as being empathetic, yes, being kind, yes, doing something, instead of deciding to do nothing, is this true to you?
Yes, I would define warmth as the central human instinct, to make people safe, and protected, and comfortable, this is true to me too.
Systems in this world are cruel and people are vulnerable in many ways, so I ask myself, how can I give back, and that’s really about gratitude, I think.
Grateful for the support you showed me, or the advice, or the hospitality, maybe grateful even for a hug or a smile or a nice hot drink.
Even the tiniest thing has an impact, to lessen my loneliness, to ease my anxiety, to understand that the way this world works causes so much stress.
And that we make an effort for goodness, we give a gift, anything, it takes many shapes, that’s the only way to move forward, yes?
It’s a way of saying we, now, us, right here, we know that we are for equality in any way, shape or form, so to give back is a constant duty.
To think, How can I extend this thought? How can I support? And this isn’t always worry or stress, sometimes this can be a natural easy thing of great beauty.
There are good people here, everywhere, a fundamental goodness, but also so many terribly lonely people. So many people alone.
And the kindness is to know them, and hear them, and let them be themselves, and give them the gift, whether it’s a coat or a meal or a home.
I have many, many memories of kindness, and these are the ways I can create warmth in my heart and share it with others. As a gift.
It doesn’t matter where in the world we come from, how lucky or unlucky we are,
We all one day need this support, we all need this lift.
Here, let me show you عطاء this means GIVING, in my language, and I think sometimes the gift is as simple as the flight of one word.
You know, over time and space and borders, through this sometimes terrible, sometimes wonderful world, the flight of a little kind bird.
To create this wrapping paper Max’s words have been interwoven with an intricate pattern inspired by embroidery of Afghan women in camps in Pakistan who specialize in techniques that have been passed down for generations.
The artisans work with Artisan Links, a social enterprise partner in UNHCR’s livelihoods initiative, MADE51, which links refugee craftsmanship with international markets.
This winter tens of thousands of displaced Syrian and Afghan families with no one else to turn to will struggle to keep warm. Please give a gift of kindness to help UNHCR deliver life-saving relief like blankets, tent insulation kits, and emergency cash payments.
To read more about Wrapped in Kindness and to download this wrapping paper, please visit our website.
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*Name has been changed.