I have previously written on this blog about the early days of war in Ukraine and the courageous response of the Ukrainian people to outright aggression. As we have watched the conflict unfold on our television screens and through our news bulletins, we have all been shocked and appalled by the violence, destruction and human cost of the war. Our thoughts are still with those affected, whether they are in Ukraine itself, have friends and family there, or are seeking to establish temporary new lives elsewhere in Europe.
At the very start of the conflict, I received an email from a student at Dauntsey’s. This is unusual for me but confirmed that our young people are not prepared to sit by and do nothing as tyrants invade peaceful countries, forcing millions from their homes. Ophelia wanted to set up, at short notice, a non-uniform day for independent schools across the UK and around the globe to raise money for refugees fleeing Ukraine. This energy, urgency and enthusiasm from one of our sixth formers is reassuring and rather moving.
Of course, the email was just an early drop in a tidal wave of sympathy and support felt by so many in our school communities. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to do something from flying Ukrainian flags to Durham School’s imaginative construction of sunflowers out of Lego; Lego that was then sent to Ukrainian children. At Head Office, we decided that the HMC logo should be dressed in Ukrainian colours, as we busied ourselves providing what support we could to those of you able to do more.
Soon HMC schools and their communities were raising significant sums of money to support those affected by the crisis. The final tally is not yet known, but currently well over £500,000 has been raised. Hampton, St Paul’s, Latymer Upper, King’s Chester, Pangbourne, King’s Macclesfield, Kent College, Royal Belfast Academy, Felsted, King’s Bruton, UCS, Marlborough College, Harrow, St Peter’s York, Surbiton High, Oswestry and Yarm have raised huge sums for the DEC appeal. Following fundraising efforts, Warwick Schools Foundation bought two fully stocked ambulances, which were driven to a field hospital in Ukraine.
King’s Worcester and Downe House released charity music singles to raise money. Bootham School, City of London School for Girls, St Albans, Oakham and Ipswich School held bake sales. Repton, Francis Holland Sloan Square, Bishop’s Stortford, Shiplake, Repton, Godolphin & Latymer, Lord Wandsworth, Bradford Grammar, Wellington College, Fettes, South Hampstead, Gordonstoun, King’s Gloucester, Royal High School Bath, Tonbridge, Manchester Grammar and Highgate completed sporting or walking challenges to raise funds. Many chose to walk hundreds of kilometres, to recognise the difficult journey from Kyiv to the Polish border that many refugees have had to make.
As well as money, practical help has been offered by a significant number of HMC schools. Alleyn’s in London is running English and maths lessons for Ukrainian refugee children, helping those that have fled the war learn English and assimilate into their new communities. Prior Park College is working with a charity that provides counselling to support refugees arriving in the UK. Oundle School is supporting local schools to provide pastoral help to refugees settling locally.
Berkhamsted is working with refugees in Romania to support their arrival in the UK. Strathallan and The High School of Dundee bought and delivered beds and bedding for refugee camps in Poland.
Lingfield College is providing bespoke support for Ukrainian children navigating the UCAS process. RGS Worcester has employed a Ukrainian translator to help refugees settle more easily. Caterham has used its parent body to form a group co-ordinating help and responses to the needs of local refugees - finding everything from equipment for babies to helping with form filling, translations and applications for work.
Almost every HMC school has collected food, supplies and aid for the DEC appeal. Woldingham, Queen Anne’s School, Wellington School, Reed’s, Bryanston, Wrekin College, Royal Hospital, Portsmouth Grammar, and Dulwich even loaded vans and drove their collections to the Polish border.
HMC schools (too many to name) are offering scholarships and 100%+ bursaries to refugees that have been forced from Ukraine. HMC Projects, brilliantly spearheaded by Jonathan Wolstenholme and Rachel Owens from St George’s Weybridge, has been working in the country for many years and it is heart-warming to learn that they will be supporting 35 Ukrainian children this year, nearly four times its normal allocation. The final numbers of children and families supported must wait for now, but it will be in the hundreds.
While the images on our TVs continue to leave us angry with man’s stupidity, all I am left with is a very sincere feeling of gratitude to all our members and your communities that have, and continue to, support the Ukrainian people in this difficult time. From conflict comes tragedy certainly, but also opportunity. The cry of ‘slava ukraini’ (glory to Ukraine) is answered with ‘heroyam slava’ (glory to the heroes) and your response to this crisis proves that heroes are not limited to those fighting in the Ukraine.
Blog by HMC General Secretary, Dr Simon Hyde