“When we give out sweets they help us break down barriers, build trust and help a newly arrived refugee child smile again.”
This year alone more than 750,000 migrants are estimated to have reached Europe by sea, many of them children who have experienced tremendous grief and trauma during the journey from their homeland.
Sweets4Smiles has a simple goal: bring a smile to newly arrived refugee children. Based off the idea that a simple sweet treat can bring children happiness, temporarily ease their minds, and help them rebuild trust — the organisation gives out packets of sweets to children arriving on the shores of Europe or to those waiting at refugee camps. The organisation was only founded in September but has already brought smiles to more than 2,200 children across Greece, Syria, France and Germany.
Farah Rafiq, founder of Sweets4Smiles talks to us about her work.
Can you tell us where the idea of sweets for refugees came from and where you get donations from?
A few years ago I supported a local charity, which collected food and baby essentials to send to those caught up in the crisis in Syria. Part of this work was to collect sweets to send with the food parcels. I realised this was my calling so Sweets4Smiles was born.
We all love sweets. They play an important part in childhood and can bring a child happiness and comfort. Sweets4Smiles sends its sweets to refugee camps via aid convoys from the charity Crisis Aid Milton Keynes. Currently we have a load on the way to the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais which will be personally handed out by the Crisis Aid team.
To collect donations we ask donors to donate bags of sweets or make a financial donation allowing us to purchase sweets at discount prices and we have sweet bin collections across various locations. The best sweets to send are boiled candy for travel and dietary needs.
How do the newly arrived children feel when they reach their foreign destination?
When children have just arrived in Europe they are disorientated, scared, hungry, sad and lost. I have read stories about children unable to speak due to the trauma they had witnessed and through my own children who know that there is something very comforting about a colourful, shiny sweet.
“You can see the fear in their eyes and they do not know what is happening to them or where they will sleep.”
How do the refugee children react when they receive the sweets?
The reaction of the children is priceless. They have often come from an environment where their parents can barely afford a meal a day, so a packet of sweets is heaven. Their faces light up and the joy in their eyes is indescribable.
The joy and laughter these children express is beyond happiness because for that little moment they are happy and not focused on the trauma they have suffered. The parents are also always thankful and you can see their relief when the child — whom they have seen cry and suffer atrocities we couldn’t even imagine — is suddenly just a happy innocent child again.
“As soon as we start approaching with the bags of sweets we are swarmed. Then they often go off and find somewhere safe to sit and swap and share their sweets.”
Do you think the money spent on sweets could not be better spent elsewhere?
There is always someone commenting on the effects on dental health or that the money could be better spent on essentials, but we don’t believe a few sweets are really that harmful and our sweets help to bring a little moment of joy to a traumatised child. By no means are we saying that our sweets will take away the trauma a child has suffered, but when we give out sweets to the children we break down barriers, build trust, and help a newly arrived refugee child smile again.
Readers can follow the donation link on Facebook page or call 07947210008 for a drop off address.