This assembly discusses British citizens stuck abroad due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland and subsequent flight ban

Over the past days, what Robert Browning called ‘Home thoughts from abroad’ have been a constant theme. Now, as stranded people return and reflect on their experiences, our assembly tries to gather together some of the thoughts and feelings that lie behind the many stories that are being told by travellers, in public and in private. There are numerous quotes, gathered from the various news reports, and discussion points arising from them.

It may well be that you have people in assembly, staff or children who have just arrived back in school after being delayed by the flight ban. You may have people who are still absent because of continuing flight delays. The assembly is an opportunity to think about them.

You will need a world map to identify the places mentioned.

(Begin by welcoming any members of the school community who have returned after being held up by the flight restrictions. And, if appropriate, mention people who are still not back.)

The words ‘going home’ have a special sort of sound don’t they? As long as human beings have been on the earth, they have joined together in families and made homes for themselves in the place where they’ve chosen to live. And you know that just as ‘our school’ means a lot more than the building, so does ‘our home’ mean a lot more than a house or a flat. Home is where you are together with your family, where you are comfortable. All your things are there, and your friends can come and be with you for a while before going back to their own homes.

So, when you’re away from home, even if you’re having a good time, you do like to be home at the end of it. Think of all the things that people say about that:

  • ‘It’s good to be home.’
  • ‘There’s no place like home’.
  • ‘Home at last.’

In recent days a lot of people have been thinking about words like that. So many people have been stuck on holiday or on business or on school trips not able to get back. It’s been a frustrating and worrying time, and today I just want us to think about some of the feelings of the people who have been affected, and discuss some of the experiences they’ve had.

Stories, feelings and experiences
We have learned in the news about Suzy Christopher, a young woman who was stuck in Australia. She’d been there five weeks, and although she’d been having a good time, she was surely ready for coming home. So although it was a bit more holiday for her, she was still frustrated. Here’s what she said: ‘It is a very strange feeling and I go from making the most of it and sightseeing one minute, to crying the next minute.’

I guess a lot of people must have felt like that. She was in a nice place, but she just wanted to be home.

And Michael Pruchnie, who’s a businessman, felt a similar way when he was stuck in Azerbaijan.

He said, ‘It is difficult and challenging but adaptation to the situation is the only way. It’s a nice city with nice food and a friendly population.’

That’s very sensible isn’t it? Michael knew it was no use complaining or getting angry. He just had to get on with making the best of where he was. He said something else interesting, too: ‘There are good communications to allow business to continue.’

What did he mean by ‘good communications’? He doesn’t explain, but we can guess that he means phones and the internet. There’ll be email, voice and video over the internet, and of course social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. All of that means that people have been able to keep in touch with home and with each other, exchanging information about what’s happening and what’s the best thing to do.

There have been school parties stuck, of course, lots of them. Some were lucky enough to get home another way. A party of forty-nine from Comberton Village College came home by coach 1,800 miles all the way from the island of Sicily. One of their students, Abigail, who’s fourteen, was glad to be home. She said:

‘It took fifty-two hours. We had to get the coach and then the ferry from Sicily to Italy. We then took another coach to Siena. The next day we took another coach to France, and got the ferry back from there. The teachers have all been amazing. It was a really good trip – but it’s really nice to be back at last.’

I wonder why they were in Sicily? Not many school parties go there. But wait a minute, Abigail has the answer to that: ‘We were there learning about volcanoes – it’s pretty ironic.’

Lots of people found that everyone else was really helpful, sharing information, doing their best to help. That’s been a good thing especially for people who didn’t have much money left after their holiday or their business trip. One man, Scott English, is grateful to a man called Stuart who hired a coach to take people from Brussels, in Belgium, to Calais to get a ferry. It’s about 200 kilometres, and Scott didn’t know how he was going to get there. He was at the railway station but he couldn’t find a seat on a train. Then Stuart appeared and said he had seats on a coach. All he wanted was enough to cover the cost, which was forty euros each, about thirty-four pounds.

That was good because some other people were doing the opposite of being helpful. Taxi drivers were charging 800 euros for the same journey, and they were so annoyed about Stuart and his coach that they drove in front of it to try to stop it leaving. The police had to move them away. It’s really terrible when people try to make money from other people’s misfortune.

For some, the whole thing hasn’t really been an adventure, it’s been a serious worry. Ten-year-old Maddie Cronin and her parents were stuck in Singapore on their way back from Australia. They were safe there, but Maddie needs special medication following a serious brain operation, and she couldn’t get it in Singapore. They had to stretch the amount she had, not using quite so much each day, but they were really worried. And there have been lots of people in that sort of position. So when we think of being stuck abroad as an adventure, we should also remember the people for whom it’s quite frightening. Maddie’s dad said, ‘We’re trying to stay strong, but our mood goes up and down.’

Moods going up and down. That’s been the story of the last few days for many many thousands of people. Trying to be cheerful, thinking of ideas for helping themselves and others, and all the time just wanting to be safe at home.

And, by now, lots of stranded people are home, with stories to tell. Some will be telling them for ages, to anyone who’ll listen, which is fine because they need to do that. They’ll be filled with relief at being home, and that’s a feeling that usually makes people want to talk and share stories. They’ve been affected by something which reminds us that the earth which is home to all of us has to be treated with respect. We humans still aren’t in charge of everything that happens on our planet, and maybe it’s a good thing to be reminded of that.

A prayer
Lord, we’re thankful for the safe return of so many people who have been away from home for longer than they really wanted. We’re grateful for the generosity and resourcefulness of people who have wanted to help. And we pray specially for people who are still in difficulty, perhaps still away from home, or perhaps made ill by their experience.

Most of all we are thankful for our homes, for the safety and love that we find there.

A thought
You take your home for granted until there’s a time when you want to be there and you can’t be.

Things to think about

  • Can you make a list of the feelings that go through the mind of someone who is in a safe and good place, and yet wants to be at home?
  • Why were the Comberton boys and girls studying volcanoes in Sicily? Look up volcanoes in Sicily to see how many there are there.

Further information and sources

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Gerald Haigh