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Teddies for trauma victims

462. Dr Marion Gibson

A Belfast psychosocial trauma consultant who helps thousands of refugee children and those affected by natural disasters cope with trauma, outside of her professional role.

Dr Marion Gibson, 74, first started knitting and organising others to knit “trauma teddies” 15 years ago. She was inspired by firefighters in Australia who gave children fleeing bushfires soft toys to help them cope with the shock and trauma of losing their homes. The teddies gave the children such comfort that she was inspired to source the knitting pattern and share it widely with different community groups.

Marion has dedicated her entire career to caring for traumatised people, a career which began in when she moved to an interface area of Belfast, where riots and civil disobedience were commonplace. She later spent time in the US, where she helped Vietnam war veterans returning from service and before ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ was recognised as a condition.

She has also spent time in Thailand after the 2004 tsunami as a British Red Cross volunteer and was one of the founders of the British Red Cross Psychosocial Support Team who support the Foreign and Commonwealth crisis response. She has taken and sent her ‘trauma teddies’ around the world including through the Mission to Seafarers Chaplain’s network for whom she volunteers her training skills.

When the first plane of child refugees who arrived in Northern Ireland to be resettled in the UK landed in her hometown of Belfast, she had a box containing 30 hand knitted toys ready. Small enough to be held snugly in a child’s hand, knitted in colourful wool with smiles and eyes stitched on, her toys are included in the Red Cross aid boxes being given to new arrivals, and are often the first belongings a refugee child may own.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Marion’s trauma teddies are a simple but powerful idea that have provided much needed comfort to thousands of children affected by natural disasters and conflicts around the world. She has inspired a huge number of people to support her work by knitting bears, including her local community in Belfast who recently welcomed child refugees from Syria with trauma teddies. I am delighted to be able to recognise Marion as the UK’s 462nd Point of Light.”

Marion said:

“I am surprised and delighted to receive this award from the Prime Minister. I accept it with gratitude and the knowledge that it also honours the courage of those people whose lives have been shattered by trauma and who have allowed me to support them as they struggle to rebuild their lives and begin to find hope for their future. The Trauma Teddies are knitted with ‘love’ by volunteers to bring love and comfort to children facing trauma in their lives.”

British Red Cross Chief Executive Mike Adamson said:

“We are very proud of Marion and delighted she has received this award. Her teddies are a reminder to us all that the refugees we see fleeing the war in Syria are human beings, people and not simply numbers. “Assisting such people is not just a matter of logistics; these people are fleeing conflict and have faced significant trauma. Beyond the physical needs there are pyscho-social support needs and the teddies are a symbol of the compassion we feel towards all those who are suffering because of this conflict. “We sometimes forget the staff and volunteers working on this crisis, but they are vital in touching people who are deeply affected.”

British Red Cross  have been overwhelmed with offers of support but unfortunately cannot accept any more trauma teddies from the public at this time.

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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