SolidariTee: Jesus students stand with refugees
Undergraduate students Jess Molyneux (2018), Karris McGonigle (2019) and Romane Balcomb Nevill (2019) volunteer with the student-led charity SolidariTee, which supports legal aid for refugees and asylum seekers.
We spoke to them about what their roles involve, the ways in which people can support SolidariTee, and how the charity has adapted to virtual fundraising.
What is SolidariTee, and how did it come about?
Jess: SolidariTee was founded in Cambridge in 2017 by first-year student Tiara Sahar Ataii, who started off selling t-shirts on the back of her bike! It’s since grown to include regional teams at 62 universities in 10 countries, with a total of around 800 volunteers. Tiara gave a TED talk in 2019 on the importance of legal aid, and her experience setting up SolidariTee.
We raise funds to provide grants to NGOs who work on legal aid for refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. We do this by selling our unique SolidariTees, which are sustainably manufactured, 100% organic and vegan, and cost £10-12. We update our designs, which are based on art by refugees and asylum seekers, every year. The 2020 design is the product of a community art project at a centre called Elpida Home, on one of the Greek islands.
We also host awareness and fundraising events throughout the year, locally and nationally. Finally, we work on social media to dispel harmful narratives around the refugee ‘crisis’, and to provide information about global refugee issues.
How did you become involved?
Jess: I joined as a rep in 2019 after seeing Cambridge reps selling SolidariTees at the Guilty Feminist Live Tour. Last June, I moved to the Central Team.
Karris: I became aware of SolidariTee through Jess in my first year, and joined as a rep in my second year.
Romane: I became involved with SolidariTee as a rep in 2020, after hearing about the charity through Jess on Facebook.
What’s your role with SolidariTee?
Jess: I’m a Regional Focal Point on Team SolidariTee, the management and recruitment branch of the organisation. I manage reps and head reps at seven UK universities, as well as speaking about SolidariTee at regional events and delivering sales workshops.
Karris: I’m a Regional Rep, which involves selling t-shirts and helping with rep events. I also promote SolidariTee’s work and legal aid for refugees and asylum seekers where I can. At this year’s SolidariTee conference, I gave a presentation on refugee education.
Romane: As a rep, I've also helped to fundraise by selling t-shirts and taking part in events such as a sponsored run for SolidariTee’s Week of Action. I also try to raise awareness of the importance of legal aid for refugees and asylum seekers through social media posts.
How can people get involved or donate?
Jess: There are a few different ways to contribute financially! You can get in touch with any of us to purchase a t-shirt. If a Cambridge rep doesn’t have your size, you can head to our online shop, which also has previous years’ designs, SolidariSweaters, tote bags, greetings cards, and wall posters. (It would be great if you could use the referral code Cambridge/21 at the checkout!)
Alternatively, you can donate directly or purchase a virtual gift on our website. One of our Sheffield reps makes handmade earrings, or you can buy animal watercolour paintings by an artist who supports us - all the proceeds go to SolidariTee! We also have partnerships with NEMI Teas and Jericho Coffee Traders, so we’ll get 15% of profits if you use the codes SOLIDARITEE15 (for Nemi) and JCTXSOLIDARITEE (for JCT) at the checkout.
Like our national Facebook page and follow our Instagram for updates and helpful infographics about global refugee and asylum seeker issues and information on the NGOs we support. You can also listen to our podcast, Right to Refuge, for more in-depth discussions of the language, legal frameworks, and media narratives surrounding asylum.
If you’re interested in volunteering with SolidariTee, keep an eye out for applications for our Central Team, which will be advertised on our social media channels this spring/summer. Head Rep applications will open in summer, and Regional Rep applications (for next academic year) towards September. There’s more information about recruitment on our website.
We’re currently working on a response to the UK Government’s worrying ‘New Plan for Immigration’, which proposes changes to Britain’s asylum system which are not only incredibly harmful for refugees and asylum seekers, but also breach international law. We’ll need as much public support as possible for this campaign, so do stay up to date with our social media channels to be part of it.
Karris: SolidariTee’s central and regional teams host a huge number of different events that anyone can join, from quizzes to cook-alongs to yoga sessions to panel discussions and more. There’s also a new SolidariTee Cambridge Facebook page, where you can stay up to date with the Cambridge team and any events.
What kinds of events will you be organising this year?
Jess: Navigating a pandemic has definitely changed the way SolidariTee does events, but we hosted our inaugural SolidariTee (virtual) conference this February, and are planning another one-day conference in Refugee Week in June. The outreach branch of the Central Team is also starting a series of weekly online speaker events.
This year, individual team members have had more opportunity and responsibility to organise their own ‘rep initiative’ event. We’ve seen so much creativity from regional teams, from movie nights, cookery classes, and yoga sessions to panel events, Zoom quizzes, and Instagram takeovers. Most regional teams take a step back from events during the exam period to focus on t-shirt sales, but we have a few more bake sales, panel events, and fitness fundraisers lined up!
Why should people support SolidariTee, in one sentence?
Jess: SolidariTee isn’t just good at raising funds for an incredibly important, sustainable form of aid which recognises the autonomy and humanity of its beneficiaries; it’s committed to leading the way on all fronts, from environmentally-conscious production to inclusivity, and empowering students to challenge the media narratives which have produced Europe’s crisis of compassion.
Karris: SolidariTee is a student-run charity (started in Cambridge!) whose only agenda is supporting refugees and asylum seekers in as many ways as they can, primarily fundraising for legal aid, but also working on outreach and awareness to drive foundational, long-term change.
Romane: SolidariTee plays an important role in both helping refugees and asylum seekers to access legal aid, and in dispelling harmful myths promoted by the media.