In the ideal world, what would the #KindEconomy look like? Maybe… people sharing what they have with each other, each according to their skills and experience? People cooking for each other, helping entertain each other’s children, getting to know a bit about each other’s music, culture and sense of humour? People getting to start potential friendships and explore ways of staying in touch and supporting each other in future?
The people of Rathlin Island, a small community living a 40 minute (on a calm day) ferry trip from the mainland, are well used to supporting each other, to problem solving, to wearing several hats at once and to meeting challenges as a group. On Sunday, 15 May they hosted a visiting group of asylum seekers and refugees from Belfast and, together, without really having intended it, the two groups showed what a miniature #KindEconomy could look like.
The families boarded the Rathlin Island Ferry with food they’d prepared, dishes important to their respective cultures. They were met on the other side by Rathlin Island residents carrying their own homemade dishes wrapped in tea towels. Everything went into wheelbarrows and was trundled around the bend of the bay, as Charlie the world’s friendliest Harbour Master led us to the beach park by the Rathlin Island Visitors Centre.
For some of the children this chance to run in the open air, play together as a group and make as much noise as they possibly could was something very far out of the ordinary.
While the adults set up the picnic, Fiona, the island’s youth worker, and the youth of Rathlin, brought out balls, paints, toys and a spectacular giant kite, and local children got stuck in alongside kids from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere.
For some of the children this chance to run in the open air, play together as a group and make as much noise as they possibly could was something very far out of the ordinary. It’s something they as children are meant to experience as a matter of course but, due to the Home Office placing their families long term in NI hotels – where they don’t have access to the outdoors, play spaces, communal areas or, in many cases, even school – they just don’t.
After the meal (which took a while – there was a lot of food!), Rathlin Island residents seemed determined to show off the best of their home place. They organised a shuttle bus to take their guests to the Rathlin Island Bird Sanctuary, where staff members welcomed the group with goodwill and binoculars, leading them on to the viewing platform over the sea so that people could identify their first ever puffins, gannets and fulmars.
After this amazing experience, the bus driver took a long route back. No one was sure why – until suddenly someone called out a word in their language, followed by someone else speaking a different language, and someone else a third. The word, it turned out, was “seals!” There were what seemed like dozens of them, basking on the rocks along the shore – an amazing and unexpected sight, and something people most probably would never have experienced in their lives had not that kind driver, off his own bat, decided to put his heavily laden bus through that extra mile or so of coast road.
Once back at the beach, it was suddenly close to home time. People began rounding up their children and their belongings, exchanging leftovers and toys in the process. But Rathlin residents had organised another surprise: a trailer load of new lambs, pulled by goodhearted local farmers who’d also brought along the lambs’ late afternoon feeding bottles so that the children could have a go.
This, it turns out, is what a #KindEconomy looks like: nothing heroic, just ordinary people taking the time to look at their own daily routine, tasks and activities from someone else’s viewpoint. Those farmers must bottle feed lambs year in, year out, but familiarity hasn’t blinded them. They were able to imagine what a lamb might look like to a child growing up indoors. That’s a real gift.
Just when we thought that Rathlin couldn’t pull out any more stops, to ensure we didn’t go hungry on our long ride home, the Island’s only food-truck ‘The Hungry Seal’ gave each visitor a bag of hot chips. With these in hand the wheelbarrow was put into service again, and the Rathlin Islanders walked their visitors back to the ferry, exchanging names and numbers on the way. More than one child told their parents, “I don’t want to go back! I want to stay on Rathlin Island!”
Thank you Rathlin Island! For the pleasure of the day, for the hope it’s brought, and for the example it’s given.