First Published February 2020
LORRAINE’S FASHION RELIEF RETURNS
It’s probably something that we’re all guilty of to some extent from time to time. We think that because we can’t do something huge there’s no way at all in which we can help those in most need around the world. But thanks to LORRAINE KEANE and her FASHION RELIEF event with OXFAM, thoughts like that should never cross our minds again. The reason why is simple. From Lorraine’s own personal experiences of visiting some of the most impoverished places on Earth – countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Somalia, Haiti, Guatemala, and more – she came to realise that in such places even as little as €20 can feed a family for a week. Just take a moment to think about that… €20 can feed a family for a week…
That knowledge was the spark from which FASHION RELIEF was first born a couple of years ago, as Lorraine and Oxfam combined to create an event where designer, pre-loved, and celebrity donated items can be purchased for as little as €20 in many cases. So even one sale like that will do a world of good that most of us, please God, will never be in a position to need. To date, FASHION RELIEF has raised in excess of €200,000. This year’s Galway event takes place in the Galmont Hotel on March 1st, and will be followed by a full weekend in Dublin’s R.D.S. on March 28th and 29th.
Ahead of those dates, I had the pleasure of catching up with Lorraine last Friday evening. We began our chat by going back to late last year when Lorraine visited somewhere that, hopefully, most of us will never come close to experiencing…the largest refugee camp in the world, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh…
“Like all of these trips that I do, and I’ve been doing them once a year for the last ten years, it was just very difficult. I’d like to think that they get easier, but I think they actually get worse, to be honest with you, because you know what to expect. These people are living in extreme poverty. When I’m there, yeah, I get a little homesick, I miss Peter and the girls, and my family. But when I come back, it kind of stays with you for ages as well. You meet these people actually face-to-face, you hear their stories, and see how they’re living, and the conditions they’re living in. And they’re so grateful. That’s the really sad part, when they’re thanking you for helping them and thanking Oxfam, and asking you to please tell the Irish people how grateful they are for giving them shelter. And that’s just a very basic tent they’re talking about, made from tarpaulin and bamboo. And also for giving them clean, safe drinking water, and food, and other supplies. I mean, all of these people were living in what were certainly poorer conditions than any of us would ever have to experience in this part of our planet, thank God. But they were still self-sufficient, they had farms and land, and homes. But they [the Rohingya] were literally just thrown out of those homes and off their own land, and their houses were burned down.”
Lorraine continued, “If it wasn’t for the Bangladeshi government being so generous – because they’re not a very wealthy country themselves, they’re already struggling to look after their own – but they opened up the boarder to a million refugees. And that’s a huge example to the rest of us. All these people want to do, remember, is to go home. Because they’ve been there now for two years, and it’s at about four times the capacity of people for the space that’s available, and according to what the U.N. recommended capacity is. But at least while they’re there, they’re feeling safe. And we’re trying to keep them healthy. Oxfam provide health -workers and have little clinics and things like that. And because of where they are, like so many places in the developing world, extreme climate is a huge part of the reason that they are impoverished. We worry about climate change on our little island, but my goodness! Our part of the world is doing all the damage, but their part of the world is suffering all the consequences, ya know.”
“There was one woman in particular, Nalia, who told me about herself”, Lorraine said. “She had four children and was pregnant with her fifth when she was trying to leave Myanmar, to escape to Bangladesh after her house had been burned down. They escaped in the middle of the night, but they were caught, and her husband was shot dead in front of her. So, at eight and a half months pregnant, she struggled to get to Bangladesh. And then, just as they got to the boarder, her son was also shot in front of her, her eldest child. And her other children witnessed that. She went on to give birth to a little girl, and now that little girl is being brought up in Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee camp in the world. Nalia has become a leader within the refugee camp for women, and for girls. It’s a very strict culture, and religion, so it’s very restrictive for them living in those kind of conditions. They have no privacy. And yet, their culture and religion insist that they are very private, stay covered, and all the rest. It’s very tough. It would break your heart.”
Lorraine’s first Fashion Relief event of 2020 was just over a week away when we spoke, so I asked her how hectic was life as she took care of all the final preparations for Galway, and of course, continued to get ready for the two Dublin shows in the RDS at the end of March, also?
“Well I was just down in Galway for the last couple of days delivering by hand our leaflets around shops, and cafes, and restaurants, and boutiques, anybody that would take them! Just to publicise the event on the ground, at a local level. Then the lovely Keith Finnegan had me on with Jon Richards on Galway Bay FM, who is a friend of Peter’s for a long time because he’s been a big fan of The Devlins [Lorraine is married to Peter Devlin, of the band The Devlins], he would have had the band on performing ‘live’ over the years. And they’re running ads for us all next week for free, it’s just amazing, the generosity of people, what they’ll do to help. So maybe it does help to make a difference, the fact that I get to travel to these countries and then show everybody the difference that the money raised makes, ya know. Irish people, as we know, are some of the most generous people in the world. Nobody has said no to me. And that’s anybody from well-know, high-profile celebrities and sports personalities, like Miriam O’ Callaghan, Rob Kearney, Norah Casey, Mary Kennedy, Rosanna Davison, all of these fabulous people, the list goes on and on. I just had a text message there from Vogue Williams to say she was posting over some items, and Vogue donated last year as well. Roz Purcell was in touch this morning saying the same, so was Holly Wright, and Holly Carpenter. But apart from that, it’s the people who I wouldn’t have known, in AV (audio-visual), and staging, and events, things like that, they’re all providing it for free too. And that’s worth thousands and thousands of euro. But they want to help. I think most Irish people want to help, but they just don’t know how or what to do. So I’ve given them that outlet.”
Thinking back a few years to the moment when Lorraine first knew that she needed to do something to help these people, and then arriving at the idea of Fashion Relief with her husband Peter, did she have any idea at all at that time that this would become something which, as Lorraine has since said many times, she feels like she’ll be involved with for the rest of her life?
“Ya know what? I didn’t even know if the first one would work! You have to take some risks in your career. And I thought this was a risk worth taking. So we said we’d try it and just do our best. I mean, when you’re out there, in these countries, and you see that €20 would feed a family for a week, gosh, even longer, I knew that no matter what we raised it would help in some way. And it’s all been because of people being so generous. But no, I really had no idea. To go from one event in year one, and then last year having five events! And this year, we’ll probably have five or six altogether. It’s been great. And we’ve now raised over €200,000 which I never imagined we’d do, because Fashion Relief is not even two years old, although we’re on our third lot of events.”