A British veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who is leading a community effort to provide care packs for refugees, says he has been “brought to tears” by support for the campaign.
Matt Simmons, 41 from Emsworth, Hampshire, started Ems4Afghans, a community-based organisation that provides a taskforce to support other agencies and Afghan refugees.
Among their initiatives are shoeboxes containing essential goods such as deodorant and toothpaste. Packages for children include sweets and stationery.
Since launching his campaign in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mr Simmons, a mechanical technician at Eaton Aerospace, has received £1,000 in donations and help from many local organisations and people.
These include the church and mosque in the area, councillors, schools and charities such as Sanctuary in Chichester and the British Red Cross.
Mr Simmons first asked his local church if they could act as a donation point and found that in just four days contributions were “going crazy”.
“These donations are absolutely fantastic,” he said.
“We can do something else which is a little more thoughtful and appreciates Afghans’ culture, and that is why I came up with the idea of the community support packs, where we empower them in a way.
“We’ve got children from the local school, which my daughter, Molly, six, attends, and local groups doing shoeboxes.
“I’ve been brought to tears these last few days just seeing how the children and local community are getting behind it and thought this is exactly what I wanted to do.
“When I turn up to a door and the children are so excited to hand over what they’ve been working on, and a lot of them have put personal notes inside, I’ve come away with a big smile on my face.”
Molly Simmons drew a picture to welcome Afghan children to the UK, which reads: “As a child, I want the children in Afghanistan to get what they deserve and go to beaches and play games with me and my friends.”
Mr Simmons, who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 to 2004, said: “I’ve had very mixed emotions about what has happened out there.
“I spoke to a friend who I served with and he couldn’t even talk about it. He was frustrated and angry at the situation.
“On subsequent tours, it was getting better. They must have had hope and thought we turned a corner and they are fleeing in terror and worried about what will become of their country.
“I saw it as a bit of a sense of duty to help out and I thought, what can I do to help out.”
Mr Simmons hopes initially to create between 30 to 50 community support packs for Afghan refugees, which will contain phone top-up cards and supermarket vouchers.
He said: “I have an idea of putting the shopping vouchers in an envelope and I work alongside an asylum seeker from Iraq and he’s helping me out with some Arabic and Pashto.
“We’re going to write a nice little piece on the envelope in Pashto to say welcome. That’s a lot more personal and a nice gift to welcome them into the community.
“I am speaking to a few local phone shops and computer repair shops about phones and laptops.
“Afghans are going to want to find jobs. They need to stay in contact with relevant agencies and they are probably fearful for those they have had to leave behind in Afghanistan.”
Mr Simmons hopes to send all items to the British Red Cross in the next six to eight weeks, since they are in contact with refugees quarantining in hotels.
In the meantime, he plans events in the community, such as a fundraiser with a local pub, to raise as much money as possible to create the care packs.
His fundraiser can be found here.
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