CAFOD volunteer, Leah Fox, 19, from Newcastle spoke to thousands of young people at Flame 2017 about her experiences of meeting refugees in Lebanon and sharing messages of hope from the UK. Here, she reflects on her experience and encourages others to act.
Tell us why you were on stage with CAFOD at the Wembley SSE Arena on Saturday 11 March.
Last year I was part of Youth Ministry Team in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, whilst I was there I became a CAFOD Ambassador with representatives from other retreat centres around the country. All around the media, we could see that there were a lot of negative things being said about refugees, and they weren’t being treated in a dignified way. We decided that the Refugee Crisis needed to be addressed so we started talking to the young people we worked with about refugees and gathering messages of hope from them.
Refugees are people and we are all sisters and brothers, so we need to all look after one another, therefore I am very passionate about sharing the experiences of refugees across the world. As a Catholic, it is important to me that everyone is given equal opportunities and access to their human rights.
I was asked to visit Lebanon in October to see the work of CAFOD’s partners Association Najdeh and CARITAS Lebanon and their work with refugees. 1/4 of the population in Lebanon are refugees so there was an obvious strain on resources.
At Flame, Ryan and I were sharing our experience of being in Lebanon in the different refugee camps and seeing the amazing work of the different partners, in tackling injustices with refugees.
How did it feel speaking to thousands of young people?
It was such an amazing experience to be speaking to so many young people from across England and Wales. Naturally, I was quite nervous as I really wanted people to hear our experience and really understand our message but I enjoyed it so much once I was up there.
Do you have a favourite moment of the day?
The whole day was very special as I loved going to Flame 1&2 as a young person, so to be part of the day was a great blessing. For me my highlight was the end of the day when Matt Redman sang We Are The Free, everyone was dancing and singing and there was such an amazing feeling in the room. We heard so many inspiring stories and messages that to me it felt full of hope that all 10,000 people were being sent out filled with a fire to make a change in our world.
Thousands of young people took the Flame action of writing messages of hope and love to refugees. Tell us what it was like sharing and receiving messages of hope with the people you met in Lebanon.
Sharing the messages of hope with people in Lebanon was very interesting and you could see the effect that sharing the messages had on some of the people. People were very thankful for all our thoughts and prayers and some were even surprised that there were that many people who were thinking of them.
One thing I noticed were how the children were desperate to have a normal life, they wanted to play and have fun like any other child, and without the support of things like CAFOD’s partners Association Najdeh and CARITAS Lebanon, it is something they can’t do often. This really struck me as such a simple thing can have such an effect on children, and you could see the difference it was making to their lives by being at the partners and having pyschosocial support lessons.
For me gathering and sharing the messages of hope is the first step towards making a difference and there is so much more we could do.
What has Flame inspired you to do going forward, and what is your message to young people reading this?
After every Flame I have been to, I have left inspired. This time I feel inspired to do even more and to really go out of my way to make sure that I am trying to make a difference in my own community, but also communities around the world on a day to day basis.
One thing I would encourage people to do is to really take on the message of Peter, a 14-year-old boy we met in Lebanon. Peter was a CARITAS volunteer and he did a lot of volunteering outside of school, whilst still making enough time for his studies. He said to us that he sees free time and volunteering time as very different things, and volunteering is something everyone should make time for. This is a challenge to us all as we all lead busy lives, but I think it is very doable and an excellent way to put our Faith into action.
Watch the film of Leah and Ryan in Lebanon: