Thousands of donations collected for Afghan refugees in one week thanks to Emsworth RAF veteran’s community organisation launched in support of those in need
AN EMSWORTH veteran has rallied his community to show support for Afghan refugees being welcomed across our area.
Founder 41-year-old Matt Simmons launched the Ems4Afghans organisation as a way to help the people he worked alongside as an RAF technician in Afghanistan.
The group has around 20 active members collecting and packaging the thousands of donationed items of clothing, shoes, and toys which have poured in over the last week, given by kind residents across the area from Chichester to Fareham.
Matt, who has lived in Emsworth for six years, was in the RAF as an airframe technician working on Chinooks based at RAF Odiham.
He said: ‘The Chinook squadrons at RAF Odiham were some of the first to arrive in Kabul once the airport was secure.
‘I was on the first detachment of engineers/aircrew and supporting personnel to arrive in Afghanistan.
‘Over the course of the weeks and months with Taliban getting pushed back into the mountains you could instantly tell the sense of relief from the locals.
‘We had locally employed civilians working alongside us in such jobs as working in the mess, doing laundry, working as security for the airport, working to clear mines. The list is almost endless on the jobs they worked alongside us with.’
Matt says that he feels a ‘huge sense of duty’ to help those in need, including Afghan refugees who have come to this country with nothing.
He added: ‘Myself and many veterans I have spoken to this last week feel a mix of emotions and I feel a huge sense of duty, like we owe it to the Afghan citizens that have helped us all these years. Now is our time to support them as evacuees.’
Ems4Afghans was launched as a ‘mission’ for the local community to come together and help those in desperate need.
Matt said: ‘Living in Emsworth and seeing over and over again the amazing community spirit people have - we saw it with Covid response - I knew starting an organisation would be like the civilian equivalent of a call to arms.’
Ems4Afghans has had support from Matt’s employer, Eaton Aerospace in Titchfield, as well as South Central Ambulance Service, Havant’s Girls and Boys Nursery and Pre school, and local schoolchildren.
The 1st Emsworth Rainbows group are also creating care packages for the project.
Matt added: ‘I feel very passionate about pulling together what will be not only local communities but people from all walks of life, for one cause and that's to support those evacuees, whether they are in Hampshire temporarily or they make their lives here.’
‘It really is becoming something amazing and everyone is pulling together to help provide support in any way we can.
‘I'm so pleased that people have got so behind it.’
The next stage for the group is producing personalised ‘wardrobe in a bag’ packages.
The organisation is also going to hand out shopping vouchers for the refugees to use.
Matt said: ‘I want to be very conscious of their culture, I want to do right by them.
‘I want to empower them to make their own choices.’
Find out more by visiting the Facebook page at facebook.com/Ems4Afghans, or on Twitter at @Ems4Afghans.