Tags: brexit, gratitude, humanity, special needs
This article has also been published in The Huffington Post.
My 20-year-old son has multiple health issues, and learning difficulties. He therefore needs 24/7 care. He lives, term-time, at an outstanding specialist college. He is looked after by a fantastic team of carers, or facilitators, who come from a whole range of different places, including England, South Africa… and, of course, Eastern Europe. Poland is high on that list.
I would love to give the whole team bouquets of fragrant flowers. But I’m a little too British and reserved for that. The facilitators do so much for him. They cut his hair, trim his nails, help him to eat and drink, and routinely handle life-saving medical equipment under the supervision of his amazing nurses. They also support him to study, exercise and socialise – all the things that make life worthwhile. And they do it all in a way that respects him as an individual. He enjoys life, hugely. That’s only possible because of the team that supports him.
Over the weekend I spent an afternoon with my son. During that period, a carer arrived who was new to me.
“Where are you from?” I asked her.
“Poland,” she said. She didn’t say it with any sense of happiness. Though she smiled, she wasn’t exactly glowing. All was not well.
I paused, acutely aware of the ongoing post-Referendum backlash against Eastern European workers.
“I want you to know,” I said, “that we’ve both just signed the Petition.”
She looked surprised.
“You know, the Petition for a Second Referendum.”
“Yes, I know about the petition.”
I went on to explain how my son had communicated, very clearly, that he is keen to support his European friends and carers. He had taken great pleasure pressing one finger against the green box on the Petitions page. He had been keen to confirm his vote by email.
“Oh,” she replied. “I’m so glad you told me. That is really good to hear. It’s not pleasant at the moment, knowing that so many people in England don’t want us here. It’s not a nice feeling.”
She was visibly moved. When she left the room shortly afterwards, I have a feeling that there may have been tears.
The reality is that we get a huge amount of help – real, physical, caring help – from Europe. As the mother of a young person with complex needs, I know that it would be really hard to get enough of the support we need if we were to close our borders.
My son’s facilitators, with their diverse backgrounds, literally bring the world to him. During his intermittent hospital admissions, the carers stay by him. During long hours at my son’s bedside, my family has learned about different countries from a personal, human perspective. My son has absorbed all this information.
My family has learned on a deep level that humans are not so different from one another. We share remarkably similar values. We laugh at the same things. We cry with the same sadness. We all of us worry when we feel under attack. And we love in the same whole-hearted, hopeful way.
People are people, wherever you go. It’s only the background that changes. We are enriched beyond measure by the clever, compassionate, caring individuals who help our son. That includes all the ones from Britain, South Africa… and Eastern Europe.
The petition may, or may not result in a second Referendum – I hope it does. At the same time, although I voted Remain, I do respect and share the view that EU reform is needed.
However, I think the Petition’s purpose runs deeper than politics. Signing is an act that shows the many European residents in this country that we do welcome them, and are grateful for the work that they do.
I don’t give my son’s facilitators bouquets of fragrant flowers – perhaps I should. But I certainly hope these words will let them know how much we appreciate them.