A poem for the Scottish Refugee Council

poet Rachel McCrum
Poet Rachel McCrum

Poet Rachel McCrum attended Scottish Refugee Council's annual staff and volunteer conference in December, which marked the charity's 30th anniversary year and coincided with the day of celebration for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Rachel explains how her poem 'The Threads that Bind the Shifting Ground' was created from her observations from that day.  

On the train over from Edinburgh, I re-read AL Kennedy's introduction to the Amnesty International/Waterstone's edition of the UDHR. I find the whole essay as trenchant and insightful as AL's writing always is, but these words in particular especially powerful:

'We had been forced to define what was worth fighting for, dying for, what a contented life would contain, what we would wish for the children we might never see. Peace, freedom, dignity, equality – these had stopped being dreams and had become goals.

 'We knew they were necessary, because we had experienced their opposite. We knew their power, because they had sustained us, even when it had seemed we were utterly alone.

'The United Nations project was at the heart of a communal effort to save us from ourselves...The UDHR was formally adopted on the 10th December 1948, now known as 'Human Rights Day'.

...The UDHR establishes the fact that mankind has a conscience and that for us to survive we must attend to that conscience. This will always be true. It's as simple as that.

...To love someone unknown to us for their benefit is perhaps the finest human act of all – the UDHR helps us to do that, time after time.'

The writing reminds me that the great communal efforts of humankind being the best it can be are a constant act of work. You can't just rest on your laurels, or think that the work is finished. It never, ever is. 

The day spent observing, speaking with and listening to the employees of Scottish Refugee Council reinforced this for me. The atmosphere was impassioned, often on the edge of exhaustion, but frequently punctuated by laughter and warmth. They have faced an unprecedented amount of activity in the past year, some positive (a wave of public support and newfound openness towards refugees, a desire to help – which, of course, brings its own sort of work) and some negative – the need to constantly redefine what they do and how they can support refugees when they are facing hostile and changing policy at government level. This situation is mirrored, desperately, in the temporary and uncertain way of life faced by refugees coming to a supposedly safe haven. Scottish Refugee Council is a stabilising force, a stone to lean against.

They do this by remaining fierce, committed and dedicated to using their considerble expertise, experience and passion to welcoming and supporting refugees coming to Scotland, by lobbying for policy change, by being a centre of knowledge and strength in uncertain times. The sense at the end of the day, I felt, was one of quiet pride in what they do. They should be.

Rachel McCrum video

The threads that bind the shifting ground

'crisis and uncertainty is a given' 

Who are we for?

For the tide that ebbs and flows.

For the exhausted streams

running determined

and afraid. 

What are we for?

Horizon scanning.

Passage navigating.

For shouldering a hull

made for ice breaking,

steel for resisting

a creeping pressure.

For the lighting of beacons

and the tending of the flame.

For the carving

of harbours and havens. 

Who are we?

A cat's cradle

to bind this cracking earth,

resilient as woven leather straps,

tenacious as prayer flags.

High proud shades

face to the wind

rooted in the shivering ground. 

A spade dug deep

is a gift of fight

is a light listening

to darkness

is a shoulder shoring up

this fragile shifting world.

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