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Care farmer Doeke invites group of refugees onto his land to share produce

PUBLISHED: 16:11 03 September 2015 | UPDATED: 16:11 03 September 2015

Doeke Dobma of Clinks Care Farm, Toft Monks, Beccles.

Doeke Dobma of Clinks Care Farm, Toft Monks, Beccles.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

An East Anglian care farmer has invited a group of refugees based around Ipswich to pay a visit next week and pick produce grown on his land.

Doeke Dobma, who is originally from the Netherlands, and runs Clinks Care Farm, of Toft Monks, Beccles, decided to make the gesture “in admiration and respect” for his mother, who died last month and whose experiences as a young Dutch girl in post-war Holland scarred her for life.

“She witnessed horrific events of cruelty to mankind, utter chaos and desperation,” he explained. The refugees fleeing to Europe now were experiencing “a lot of misunderstanding, misinformation and hostility”, he added.

Clinks Care Farm, launched in May 2010, is a social enterprise which aims to help vulnerable and disadvantaged people which runs a ground-breaking ‘Farming on Prescription’ scheme helping patients with mild mental health problems, as well as supporting groups including vulnerable women with issues from abusive relationships to addiction.

It is run by Doeke and wife, Iris van Zon, with the support of a dedicated team of directors, staff, volunteers and colleague farmers.

Doeke, a leading light in the region’s care farm sector, said his mother had to flee Rotterdam in the Netherlands during the hunger winter of 1944.

“It was a time when food was very scares in large cities in the Netherlands as the Germans confiscated all the food,” he said.

“My mum walked, as a 15-year-old girl, three times a journey from Rotterdam to a rural area above Zwolle and back to bring food from good willing farmers and local people to her family.

“Each time, she would take her mum, brothers and sisters with her looking for shelter to stay.”

Doeke decided in the light of the recent tragedies involving refugees to make contact with local refugee support and advice groups in Ipswich and Norwich.

“We offered free and surplus produce to individual refugees in both cities, most of them awaiting the outcome of their asylum application in the UK,” he said.

“We know that a lot of refugees themselves suffer from mental health issues, anxieties, depression, breakdown etc. Whatever somebody’s religious beliefs, political colour and social background, watching and reading horrific stories will touch any human being who is compassionate about humanity as a whole.

“As a social enterprise, county farm and care farm we could no longer stay on the sideline and the least we could do is to provide the produce - potatoes, onions, french- and runner beans, carrots, tomatoes and salads.”

A group of around 15 refugees are due to make the journey up from Ipswich to Beccles on Thursday, and will be invited to pick produce and spend time on the farm. Doeke hopes this will “relax them and feel welcome in this country”.

“To watch the scenes now in the Middle East and Southern and Eastern Europe reminds us not to judge before we fully understand the reasons why people leaving their countries. At a small and local scale we hopefully can bring a smile on people’s faces,” he said.

Doeke is also hoping to host a similar visit from a Norwich group.

Lucinda Rogers, volunteer co-ordinator at Suffolk Refugee Support, said: “We’ve been moved by the compassionate response of local people to the horrific scenes they have watched unfolding during the current refugee crisis. We have had many offers of practical help, from people wanting to volunteer with us, offering to donate clothes and even to take refugees into their own homes.”

“The visit to Clinks Care Farm next week is a lovely idea, not only because the produce being donated will help families who are struggling to feed themselves, but also because many refugees lose a valuable connection with the land when they are forced to flee their homes.”

Anyone who wishes to make a donation to Suffolk Refugee Support can do so through its website at www.suffolkrefugee.org.uk.

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