Refugee leads Holocaust Memorial Day event

Published Monday, 28th January 2019
Refugee leads Holocaust Memorial Day event
Sile Sibanda, a refugee leads the 2019 Holocaust Memorial Day event

At just 10 years old Sile Sibanda’s world was turned upside down.

Her idyllic childhood playing with her friends in the Zimbabwean countryside came to an abrupt end as her mother was forced out of their homeland to seek work elsewhere. The brutal regime under former president Robert Mugabe meant money was scarce and food was hard to come by.

Despite being a qualified teacher, her mother Sithule Moyo was unable to earn enough money to feed her family so she set off for England in the hope of securing work and a new beginning.

For two years Sile and her sister didn’t see their mother, speaking only occasionally over the phone.

Finally Sithule was able to send for them to come and live with her in her new home in Rotherham, after she successfully applied for asylum.

“We were with our relatives in Zimbabwe,” says Sile, who is now 21. “But it is never the same as having your mother. It was really hard without her and I missed her so much. It broke my heart to be separated from her. I couldn’t wait to finally be able to see her again.”

Arriving in Britain was a shock for the young sisters. “I just remember thinking it was so cold,” laughs Sile, who is now at university in Derby studying Forensic Science with Psychology. “The first thing we did was buy some jumpers to wear. And I remember being so amazed when it snowed as I had never seen snow before.

“But the main thing I remember was just how kind people were. Yes over the years I have felt some prejudice but in the main everyone has been so lovely and welcoming. I really feel this is my home now.”

Sile is also a poet, and she often goes on stage to perform her poetry. And this year she was one of the main speakers at Rotherham Council’s Holocaust Memorial Day event in All Saints’ Square, on Monday 28 January, 2019.

She was joined by pupils from St Mary’s Primary School and St Bernard’s Secondary School choirs as well as Rabbi Yonason Golomb – from the Sheffield Synagogue. Year 6 pupils from St Ann’s Junior and Infant School performed hits from the Greatest Showman and local singer songwriter Nic Harding closed the event with her especially composed song “Torn From Home”, which captured this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme.

Council Leader Cllr Chris Read, who spoke at the event, said: “In remembering the darkest corner of human history, the systematic extermination of six million Jewish people alongside millions of others including Roma and traveller communities, Russians, Eastern Europeans, and lesbian and gay people, we are reminded every year of the terrible consequences of forgetting our common humanity. This year we will also remember more recent atrocities like the genocide in Rwanda, which happened 25 years ago this year.

“Personal stories like Sile’s help us to get an understanding of what horrors some families have to endure and are still enduring today, and that we cannot and must not pretend that we can hide behind walls and pretend there is no consequence. It is only by remembering that we can try and learn from the past with the aim of making a better future for us all.”

Also attending the event were the Deputy Lieutenant and the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, the Reverend from the Minster Church of All Saints and an Imam from the Rotherham Council of Mosques along with a representative of the Rotherham Military Community Veterans Centre and council dignitaries.

Sile's Poem

Imagine never sleeping in your bed again.
Or feeling the sun kiss the right side of your face to wake you up.
Imagine knowing that if you stay put
you would be visiting your loved ones in heaven
So you have a choice between going into the unknown or waiting for your death
Imagine knowing this is the last time you will see your friend, last time you will laugh together
Imagine today is the last meal you will ever have your house.
watching your children eating the last portion of rice you had left, while you haven't eaten for 2 days, you can't go to the store and buy more because you haven't been paid,
You don’t know when you will be paid
You can't ask your neighbour for help because they don’t have any food,
You contemplate stealing from the local supermarket
But you would be stealing air because they don’t have food either.
Imagine trying to pack as much as you can but you have to leave the memories behind
They can’t fit into plastic bags
Imagine becoming evicted by bullets because you believe in another interpretation of god
Imagine being beaten for the pigment on your skin or being born woman.
Wishing you could rewind the time and ask to be a different shade or gender.
You will even pay extra for it.
Imagine our children being born hatred, living, bathing dying in fear.
Imagine having to sweep your ambitions and dreams into the bin
not having a place to call home
Imagine being punished for breathing

For millions of people throughout history and today don't have to imagine, this is their reality.
Every waking moment, peace is a whisper in the wind, they float in the air with no direction, no landing.
Respect is something they only receive when sleeping but upon waking up
It disappears
They cry for help until crying replaces prayer 
They are being punished for breathing.
What can we do to help

welcome those torn away from home with open arms because what if one day
This may be your reality
wouldn’t you want a friend to help?