5 DECEMBER 2016
'There were young girls who had been raped and had no underwear. I had to act,' says Miss Kerr
'Bras not Bombs' has seen thousands of bras donated by women in the UK sent out to refugee camps Caroline Kerr
As shoppers in the UK rifle through racks of underwear to find the perfect bra, women in refugee camps are a long way from this luxury.
Pregnant women and rape victims are among the millions of female refugees who are having to deal with the discomfort and humiliation of having no clean underwear in camps across Europe and the Middle East. But one British woman has decided to do something about it. Caroline Kerr, from Nottingham, set up Bras not Bombs at the start of this year after hearing about the lack of clean underwear in refugee camps. Her action has seen thousands of bras and knickers donated by women in the UK reach those who most need it.
Miss Kerr, 44, told The Independent: “A volunteer in Turkey told me there were young girls who had been raped and tortured and there was no underwear for them. Others had told me they'd met pregnant women off the boats, sometimes women who had lost their babies in the ocean. “I was horrified. It was a eureka moment. I had to act.”
The mother-of-two started a Facebook group and invited friends to join. She called it 'Bras not Bombs' in reference to Syria being “bombed into obliteration” at the expense of innocent people.
Having already been involved with refugee action group, People to People Solidarity, she was able to use her contacts to connect with groups across the country. Ms Kerr asked people to collect underwear and send it to her address. The deliveries began to come in thick and fast. "It started off with just bras," she explained. "But within a week I started asking for pants as well."
Miss Kerr began sorting through the underwear in her living room – to the dismay of her teenage boys – dividing the items by size into carefully labelled packages, before transporting them by post or in her car to individuals or groups travelling out to the camps.
Mis Kerr sorts through the underwear in her living room, dividing the items by size into carefully labelled packages (Caroline Kerr)
"I got in touch with groups who send containers to Greece and Syria, and people I know who go to Calais, then go meet them in my car or send the underwear in the post,"she said.
Nine months on the project has seen around 2,000 bras and several hundred pants delivered to refugees, with donations “exploding” in recent months.
“The desire of people wanting to help has been immense. There have been a lot of words from volunteers about how grateful the refugees are," she said.
"One told me a little girl came running up to her and with a great big smile lifted up her dress to show the pants she’d been given.” Miss Kerr explained that while most of the underwear she sends out goes to women and girls, there is a drive to get underwear to male refugees as well.
“We are planning to extend to boxer shorts as well," she added. "Everyone needs clean underwear. A bit of dignity can stop people fighting and feeling so agitated." While sorting through the thousands of underwear donationsis, it is important to be wary about what is and isn't suitable. “Sometimes the underwear is too sexy. I have to be mindful of who’s in the camps and make sure they’re given the dignity they need," Miss Kerr said. “A lot of the refugees have been the victims of mutilation and torture – girls as young as seven. So it’s important to make sure everything is soft, and not sexual in any way. Cotton and stretchy is generally best.” With donations soaring in recent weeks, Miss Kerr has started raising cash funds to go towards wholesale buying, which will enable her to order certain sizes and provide the camps with exactly what is needed.
Bras not Bombs' biggest ever delivery is arriving in two weeks time. Thanks to £1,000 worth of funds raised through a GoFundMe page and Paypal, more than 3,000 pairs of knickers at 33p a pair will be arriving at Miss Kerr's door. There are also plans to expand Bras not Bombs to provide sanitary provisions for women with each underwear package. “I'm teaming up with a woman who is introducing reusable sanitary products for women and girls in the camps,” Mis Kerr said. “We're meeting up and we’re going to work together to start sending out underwear and sanitary products together.”
You can donate underwear on the 'Bras not Bombs' Facebook group or donate money for the cause here.