International Women’s Day award for Hastings pioneer

Pioneering work with a Hastings based refugee project will bring one local woman international recognition and a United Nations (UN) Woman on the Move Award.

Former Chilean refugee Rossana Leal was been recognised with the award given by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Migrants Organise, at the WOW! Festival in London.

The award has been made to Leal in recognition of her pioneering work with the Hastings and Rother Refugee Buddy Project which brings together a community of more than 100 East Sussex locals with refugees newly arrived in the country. Together they share meals, visit local sites and festivals, run sewing groups, driving lessons and children’s activities.

Rossana Leal

The Hastings and Rother Refugee Buddy Project is an integral part of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, whose mission is to promote ‘caring, shelter and sanctuary for all who live in our place’. It is part of a nationwide movement which seeks to build a strong network across the country to nurture an environment of kindness, support and hospitality towards those seeking refuge and towards all fellow citizens.

The awards are part of the WOW! Festival International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8th at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in London.

Hosted by the BBC’s Samira Ahmed, the award will be presented by Vanessa Redgrave, one of the most celebrated actresses of her generation and Jude Kelly founder of the WOW Festival.

In setting up the buddy project, Rossana drew from her own experiences when fleeing Chile with her family in 1976 and the warm welcome she received after being resettled by UNHCR to a small mining village in Scotland. She recalls the refugees being greeted with a party, bagpipes, toys for the children and a fully stocked coal shed during their first cold winter.

Redgrave was visibly moved to see the powerful impact of the Buddy Project’s work in Hastings. As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, Redgrave met with Chilean refugees fleeing Argentina in the 1970s.

Migrants Organise Chief Executive Zrinka Bralo said: “Good people tend to do good work quietly and Rossana and her friends in Hastings deserve to be celebrated for the amazing work of welcome that they do.”

Laura Padoan, spokesperson for UNHCR, said: “The most courageous people I know are refugee women. In spite of everything they’ve been through, they are reaching out to others in need and giving back to the communities that have welcome them.”

Alex Kempton, Media and Communications lead for Hastings Community of Sanctuary said: “We are enormously proud that Rossana has been recognised by such prestigious organisations. Her hard work in founding and running the Buddy Project, as well as her ongoing contributions to the wider work of Hastings Community of Sanctuary, make her an essential part of our mission to create a place of safety and sanctuary here in Hastings.”

For more information about the Hastings and Rother Refugee Buddy Project and to see how you can support our work please visit the Hastings Community of Sanctuary website:

Hastings and Rother Refugee Buddy Project was set up in 2017, the project invites local volunteers from across Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill to offer help of various kinds to the Syrian families entering our community through the Syrian Resettlement Project. Currently supporting 20 families, Buddies are there for all the everyday activities that any family starting a new life in a new country might need help with.

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