Children helping children: My Brownies made care bags for refugees

Leader Julie explains how children across Somerset are taking action to help refugees - inspired by 2nd Paulton Brownies’ good turn

For our unit, it was all about children helping children. That’s what we’re doing. People underestimate what children can do and don’t ask their opinions, when all you have to do is involve then.

It started when I asked my Brownies what they wanted to do for a good turn

Some of the girls mentioned to us that they were upset by watching the boats full of refugees on the television. So we felt we needed to give them something positive to do in response to the refugee crisis.

Children don’t deserve to be affected by war. They deserve to be happyKatie and Rose, Brownies

I went home from Brownies trying to think of something they could do to help the refugees coming from Syria and elsewhere. Could we try sending shoeboxes? But I was worried that they were too bulky and expensive.

Then, completely randomly, I read a Facebook post from a cousin of mine who lives in the United States, where people were making care bags - rather than boxes - for the homeless. I thought that it seemed like a great idea and perfect for us.

Of course, I needed help, so I contacted RAISE (which stands for Refugee Action In Somerset East). They really know their stuff and  gave us the most amazing support. They mentioned things I hadn’t even thought of – like making sure the food in the bags was halal. To top it all off, they decided to take on the project as their campaign.

We want the children to know we care – Esme, Brownie

Now our bag project ‘Somerset Smiles’ has taken off – it’s got a bit silly really! It was only meant to be our Christmas good turn but now 33 schools are involved and other Brownie and Guide groups too.

Packing the bags in our unit

In each bag we put things like gloves, socks, toiletries, something small to eat and a toy - they were only small bags really.

My Brownies loved packing their care bags because it was simple. We set up a little production line and they filled their bags with things they choose.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of thought they put into their bags! I thought filling the bags would be a quick job, but it took forever because they spent so long thinking about what to put in.

Some of the things they chose I wasn’t totally sure were right, but I figured that they were the experts. If a seven year old girl says that it’s what another seven year old would want, well, they know more about it than me.

The girls put messages in the bags too. Some I had to edit slightly – the things my Brownies say! - but most wrote something sweet.

For our unit, it was all about children helping children. That’s what we’re doing. People underestimate what children can do and don’t ask their opinions, when all you have to do is involve them.

It was good to think about how lucky we are. - Rosie

A community effort

It’s not just our Brownie unit who have got involved.

I put up a Facebook message on a local group, saying that my front porch is open. Now I find bags there every day when I get home from work.

One lady has put together bags for teenage girls. She had some beautiful scarves she thought young women might find useful and she included some sanitary products too.

The plan is, I’ll get them all together then take them on to Frome to RAISE. Originally, I thought the bags might go to Calais, but the situation has changed. Instead RAISE is going to pile them into a van and take them to Greece and Syria.

To be honest – I don’t care where in the world they go eventually, as long as they go to someone in need.

We like being kind - Mollie, Brownie

My Brownies’ parents have also been a huge part of the effort. They’re the ones who go out to do the shopping and bring things to fill the bags. I thought I might have to get some of the practical stuff myself, but I haven’t needed to at all. We have got amazing parents – they support us with everything and they love the daft stuff we do.

Going global

For me personally, one of the most special moments was when I told my cousin – the one who had originally posted the idea about bags on Facebook -  what we had done.

I messaged her just to let her know, and she replied explaining that the idea had originally come from her friend’s husband. Sadly, he had just recently passed away.

Well, when I read that I started blubbering in the car park.

My cousin and I felt so emotional - that a man all the way in America had managed to have such an impact here in the UK, and on refugees from around the world.

Your unit can help too

My advice to Leaders thinking about doing something similar – to help refugees or anyone else – is to keep it simple and keep it easy. And make sure you ask the girls what they want to do!