Monday, 13 August 2012

Syria Raffleblog day 27 - £2,094

Guest post by Jo

I thought it might be a good idea to write a blog about the prizes, as Louise has worked so hard sourcing such an amazing bunch of goodies, and also because we're in a bit of a quandary about them.
So, the first bit first. Louise mailed and phoned like a demon asking people who she had written about and worked with if they would donate prizes, and suddenly these fantastic things started rolling in thick and fast. Dinner in an amazing hotel near where Louise lives, a signed Stephen Fry book, a £250 haircut from the X Factor's resident hairdresser Jamie Stevens, a cupcake baking and decorating course from her friend who run's Leah's Pantry: people were so generous.
The folk at People Tree have donated an astonishing £1250 in vouchers which, if we're honest, we don't even know how to apportion as prizes. The just-opened and decidedly lush Rock Mill Estate in Devon has donated short break, and nearby Elizabethan manor Combe House Devon is giving dinner, bed and breakfast.
I thought I would try and help out with the prizes so I phoned a couple of contacts, hence goodie hampers from Triodos Bank and Confiserie Florian. I also decided to cold-call some friendly companies and the delightful people at Sawdays publishing, who don't know me at all, donated a set of their brilliant travel books.
But Louise's contacts just kept a steady stream of prizes coming in: a piece from award-winning jeweller Jamie Stevens, a voucher from Boden, another cooking course, this time with TV chef Rosemary Shrager at the stunning Swinton Park. There didn't seem to be much point me doing any more cold calling.
It has been heartening to receive so much support from companies donating prizes. They're still rolling in, with the latest being dinner, bed and breakfast at Lower Slaughter Manor and a week in journalist Sue Lloyd Rogers' Ca'n Reus hotel in Mallorca.
The prizes were designed to induce more people to donate but we didn't realise that UK rules state that you can't Gift Aid if you stand to benefit from something like a raffle. And it has been difficult to convey to people that they must not tick the Gift Aid box if they want to be entered into the raffle. One donator pointed out that it feels a bit wrong to say you're not a UK taxpayer, which is what you have to do if you don't want to Gift Aid. We have a feeling that JustGiving used to have a special page you could have if you were doing a raffle, but no longer. We keep meaning to phone them up about it but haven't quite had the time.
So really, the point of this particular raffleblog is to say: 'Look! Brilliant prizes," and also to say don't tick the Gift Aid box and do leave your email address with us so that you can be contacted if you win a brilliant prize.
And if you and/or your mates are all charitied out, just think of the prizes. Even a five pound donation gives you five chances to win. Who doesn't want a luxury break, fabulous haircut or basket of chocolate? We can't give the prizes to ourselves!

Give it a whirl here.

Thanks to: Boden, Calcot Manor, Combe House Devon, Hair by Jamie Stevens, Lower Slaughter Manor, Confiserie Florian, Divine, Stephen Fry, Mo Hayder, Leah's Pantry, Harrop Fold Farm, Sue Lloyd Roberts, Me&Em, Eve Menezes Cunningham, Rock Mill, Sawdays, People Tree, Rock Mill Estate, Swinton Park Cookery School and Triodos Bank.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Syria Raffleblog day 22 - £1425

Raffleblog has been a bit quiet for a few days - just catching up with myself.

So, a quick report. Very excitingly, Stephen Fry has agreed to tweet out the raffle appeal. The man has got over four and a half MILLION followers, so if that doesn't whip up a bit of cash, I don't know what will. If our server doesn't crash.

Sue Lloyd Roberts, the Newsnight journalist has been in touch after I contacted her - she's just back from an undercover trip to Syria, and as well as giving the most generous prize of a week's stay for two in her beautiful Mallorca hotel, has also agreed to do the raffle draw on what I'm planning as an evening drinks fundraiser on Thursday 13 September. I just have to get a goddamn venue that doesn't want to charge me £600, which one place I give a lot of business to told me would be the charge. I practically fainted, then sent a very snitty email back. Not very professional of me, but good god, I mean, it's like taking antibiotics out of the mouths of children who will die without them. Literally. It really, really made angry.

So, the donations are coming in which is fantastic, but we need more! Please, if you can, share the JustGiving page with your networks, and encourage people to enter the raffle - it's a real, practical thing you can do instead of wringing your hands in front of the news, which is worse and worse for civilians by the day.

This is a bit of a downer of a Raffleblog, isn't it? I sort of knew there would be those days. I'm also feeling incredibly upset after watching an Aljazeera report by Andrew Simmons showing a two year old toddler being worked on for an hour by horrendously stretched medics in a clinic awash with blood, who then died. I have a baby who's nearly two, and the thought of his body torn and shredded by a shell is beyond bearing. A five year old boy also died in the same clinic. My other son is four, and I see their perfect, beautiful bodies and ache for the parents who have lost their children. It's like a desecration of something that should be absolutely beyond anyone's capacity or imagination to destroy.

If you'd like to donate so that Hand in Hand for Syria can buy stuff that will give some of the wounded a chance of survival. you can here.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Syria Raffleblog day 19 - £1,283

Post by Jo:

Louise and I met the lovely Hanadi from Hand in Hand for Syria yesterday. We managed to get our total number of children down from five to three thanks to the judicious use of babysitters, but it was still a little hectic as Louise's two boys and my small daughter ran rings round the three of us (note from Louise - Jo is being kind here; my four year old was a shrieking, wailing, whingeing nightmare).

Hanadi filled us in on a lot of the work Hand in Hand for Syria has been doing. Mostly the charity is made up of people who work full-time as well as running it. On top of this they all have friends and family who remain in Syria. Hanadi's family is in Damascus and one of the doctors is from Homs, where many of her family have been lost.

We also heard about the tireless work Hand in Hand's doctors have been doing getting into Syria and smuggling in equipment for life-saving operations. The conditions are so hard, with operations being carried out in field hospitals and patients who would in this country be in intensive care being sent home with follow-up visits from nurses. We're hoping to hear more from some of the doctors here on Raffleblog later on.

The charity has also bought a mobile clinic which is working with refugees in Lebanon, where medicines are sometimes sourced. Prices there are being driven up due to such high demand and obtaining medicines in Syria is becoming harder and harder. Hand in Hand's doctors are able to source drugs here in the UK and ship or airfreight them sent out to where they are needed in containers.

The work involved is incredible, especially with the weight of the worry over the worsening situation in Syria. The medical supplies that Hand in Hand provides are desperately needed and your money can buy them. The £40 added to the total on the JustGiving page today might buy eight hours of pain relief for an injured person, or 13 bags of intravenous fluids, or 12 bottles of childrens' antibiotics. This is real, practical help where it is really needed.

If you'd like to enter the raffle we're running on the JustGiving page to raise money, we'd be delighted. There are some fantastic prizes, so do give it a whirl!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Syria Raffleblog day 18 - £1,253

A guest post today from Cara Swift (@cswift2), senior Middle East producer at the BBC, who has very  kindly allowed us to use the account she wrote for the BBC College of Journalism of her trip to the rebel held town of Zabadani, Syria in February this year. She went with reporter Jeremy Bowen and cameraman Darren Conway, but has not been allowed to enter the country since.

The fighting yesterday has led to reports of 170 people killed. There will be many more terribly injured, with little or no access to the medical equipment and drugs that could save their lives. Rather than sitting feeling helpless and hopeless on a sofa, there is, truly, something you can do to help - by donating to our JustGiving appeal on behalf of Hand in Hand for Syria, those vital supplies will be bought and smuggled over borders to the makeshift clinics where they literally do save lives.

Tea with the free Syrian army - and our government minder

After so much time in Gaddafi's Tripoli last year, I became used to being herded onto a government bus and driven around on mystery tours. We were rarely given any detail of where they would be taking us, but we could always rely on coming across a 'spontaneous' pro-Gaddafi crowd of green flags being waved to the chant: "God, Muammar, Libya, that's all we need."

So, when I recently arrived in Damascus on an official visa, maybe I could be forgiven for assuming the same sort of fate lay ahead of me, with 'Bashar and Syria' in place of 'Muammar and Libya'.
But I only came across such crowds once in ten days, in an Alawite area of Damascus. It was the snarled Damascus traffic which slowed our bus down in Syria, not pre-arranged demonstrators.

To travel outside of the capital, we needed permission from the Ministry of Information, and a government minder to accompany us. To speak to opposition activists involved passing through many armed checkpoints. Talking to the opposition, let alone meeting them, is hard to arrange. And risky for them and us.

So we were surprised when we received a call granting us permission to visit Zabadani, a town west of Damascus where we'd heard there was a ceasefire between President Assad's troops and the opposition Free Syria Army. We arrived and were escorted to a house, accompanied by the minder and a team from Syrian State TV.

When a young man speaking fluent English appeared claiming to be a leading activist there, we didn't believe him. It seemed too easy. It must be staged.

Our first ten minutes were spent questioning him, trying to prove he really was who he said he was. We surreptitiously asked some trusted activists we knew to 'drive-by' and see if they could verify his claims. He was telling the truth.

Of course the name he called himself wasn't real. It's usual for opposition activists to call themselves names like 'John' to protect their identity. But, as with all the opposition activists I met in Gaddafi's Libya, his face and expressions were very real.

Dressed in a black beanie hat to protect himself from the minus eight degrees cold, he enthusiastically spent the day giving us a tour. Eager to show us walls scarred by bullets and shrapnel, he led us through the narrow streets. As we weaved through the city he told us stories of their revolution so far: of fighting, of defence, of bravery, and of injuries.

Our 'tour group' grew as other activists joined us, carrying parts of mortar shells they said had landed nearby. Curious children skipped alongside practising their English. "Hello," they would say into my microphone, and then shyly giggle and hide behind their friends.
Our guide asked us to stay for the evening. "There will be a demonstration again," he said. So we did. Our hosts were concerned about how cold we were, and insisted on taking us to an apartment with a roaring open fire. As we waited for dusk, I practically had my feet in the open flames to try to restore some feeling in my toes. We were served delicious sweet tea as the man beside me explained how he was arrested in Zabadani last year for protesting. He showed me his legs and told me they'd both been broken when he was in prison.

Three young girls appeared carrying a photo of their dad who had recently been killed. Everyone in the room had a story to tell. And they weren't afraid to share their stories with our government minder. I watched as our guide put a hand on his shoulder and gestured for him to sit next to the fire. Our minder smiled as he sipped a glass of sweet tea and thanked our hosts.

The apartment overlooked a square where a huge independence flag was flying. Hand-made decorations with the names of those killed hung from a fake tree. As dusk fell, people began to gather around it. Men, women, and children. Some were holding photos of loved ones who have died. Some were chanting, some were dancing. Some were riding around on the back of a pick-up truck which had enormous speakers blaring out anti-Assad songs.

Earlier in the day as we had waited for permission to travel to Zabadani, we never imagined we'd have such access to this side of the story. I'd spent ten months watching such scenes on YouTube and it was amazing to experience it for myself.

Since we left there have been reports of renewed fighting in the Zabadani area. Practically everyone we spoke to during our visit to Syria spoke of worse things to come - of continuing violence, of more blood being spilled.

No conflict is ever black and white. It can become so easy to group people into either pro or anti-Assad camps. But the image of our minder and our opposition guide sitting side by side and talking will forever stay in my mind. If they can talk maybe there can still be hope for dialogue.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Syria Raffleblog Day 16 - £1201

It's me again, giving Jo a well earned rest. And it looks like we've broken the £1200 mark! Some very generous people have donated today, so a huge thank you.

Quick note - if you want to enter the raffle, please DON'T add Gift Aid and please DO enter your email address on the JustGiving page - it's the last step you take before exiting. There are instructions for how to do it in our blurb on the page - without your email address, I can't send you your raffle ticket numbers and worse, you might win and not be able to collect your prize!

Right, off to bed. Another day, another dollar, as somebody famous said, I believe... please do keep sharing and tweeting because there's a lot of money left to raise and the need is urgent and growing. 

Syria Rafflblog Day 15 - £1,161

Guest post from Jo

Today sees another landmark for the fundraising with our 50th donation. Made by my university friend Mo. Thanks Mo!

We're hoping to raise a bit of money with a gig that a friend here in Birmingham is setting up. I had told her a little about what we were doing and she mailed me a while ago to ask if she could help. Her exact words were 'is there anything somebody like me could do?' She is a 25-year old who has just graduated with a degree in sound engineering and knows a lot of people on the music scene so I suggested she might organise a gig.

Within a week she'd booked a venue and confirmed three great acts. She's waiting on a headline act and possibly even looking for a DJ to make it a late-nighter. We should be able to sell tickets to over 100 people at £5 a time, raising over £500.

While I'm not yet over the hill, it has been quite some time since I was 25 and it is really nice to see someone this age getting involved. I'm also looking to a good night out as the bands do sound good. The gig will be on Friday August 17th at the Station in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Meanwhile, people are streaming out of Syria's largest city, Aleppo. Around 200,000 have already left for refugee camps over the border and to seek sanctuary in other parts of Syria. The BBC's Ian Pannell reported under fire from Aleppo last night; his footage showed another child killed by shrapnel, his bloodied body laid out on a gurney. Next to him on another bed was his younger brother, a boy called Mohammed who had been peppered with shrapnel and was screaming in pain as his wounds were cleaned as best they could be in the makeshift clinic. I can't imagine that Mohammend won't need antibiotics to stop his wounds going sceptic. But he may not get them, simply because drugs aren't available in many places. Even though he didn't die instantly from the attack that killed his brother, his long term recovery without drugs to fight infection can't be certain.

 By  donating on the JustGiving page we've set up, your money goes direct to the charity Hand in Hand for Syria which buys urgently needed medical supplies and gets them to where people are being terribly injured on the ground. If you can, please do take a look and enter the raffle:

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Syria Raffleblog Day 12 - £1,111

Guest post from Jo

The total is still edging up, we're still going!

One of my contacts Tweeted the Just Giving link to his 15,000 Twitter followers a couple of days ago, which was very kind of him. We're still working hard trying to come up with ways to get the link to as many people as possible and shares on Twitter and Facebook are  a great way of spreading the word.

I'm always interested to see how much people know about the Syrian situation. It sometimes feels very sad that people's lives are being torn apart really so near to us and so many people are just unaware of what is happening. Yesterday marked 500 days of conflict in Syria and with no end in sight it is essential to get medical aid to people suffering there.

To add to the Twibbon Louise posted about on Friday there is also a Facebook Picbadge, a little version of the Hand in Hand for Syria logo which people can stick on their profile picture to raise awareness. Using the Twibbon or the Picbadge is a help in getting people to perhaps have a little think about Syria even if you can't donate.

Louise and I have also been emailing everyone we know with a little note explaining what is going on and what Hand in Hand are doing. It feels a bit like pestering people, but dropping some information into people's inboxes has proved a good way of getting the message through. If you would like a copy of the letter to send to your contacts please do get in touch  with Louise at