Drawing of a child embracing a colourful blanket.

A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Christina Clemis

Writer Neil Gaiman launches animated version of ‘What You Need to Be Warm’ to raise life-saving funds for Syrian refugees left out in the cold.

By UNHCR Staff 

“A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth. A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s. A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.”

These are the opening lines of ‘What You Need to Be Warm,’ a poem by writer Neil Gaiman inspired by over 25,000 words crowdsourced from Twitter last year in response to Gaiman asking followers to share their memories of warmth.

It helped raise vital funds for refugees from Syria and Iraq facing a bleak winter in frequently precarious conditions across the Middle East. Now the writer and Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is back with an animated version of the poem for this year’s Winter Appeal.


Last month, the ‘Stardust ‘author shared the poem again with his 2.4 million Twitter followers, this time asking them to submit artwork online to help bring it to life as part of an animated film. Images of seven specific motifs in the poem were crowdsourced over 10 days using the hashtag #drawforrefugees.

Over 900 artworks were submitted by contributors, ranging from schoolchildren and fans to illustrators and animators. A selection of the crowdsourced images have been combined into the animated film, which also includes rotoscoped, illustrated footage of refugees and live-action shots of Neil at home on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, reading the poem.

“This was an opportunity to come together to show kindness and creativity and to help vulnerable families.”

The coming winter is the hardest yet as refugees face snow, rain and freezing temperatures in tents, shelters and basic urban accommodation, as well as the impact of COVID-19, which has dramatically affected vulnerable families, put health at risk, devastated livelihoods, and pushed more refugees out into the cold.

“This year has been incredibly challenging and difficult for many people around the world,” said Neil. “But this was an opportunity to come together to show kindness and creativity and to help thousands of vulnerable families.

Draw Neil G 1
A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Helena BS
Draw Neil G 2
A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Paolo Parisi
Draw Neil G 3
A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Jocelyn Chang
Draw Neil G 4
A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Pepe
Draw Neil G 5
A submission for the Neil Gaiman #DrawForRefugees initiative. © UNHCR/Jessica Donkercurtis

“I have met Syrian refugees in Jordan who were forced to flee their homes often at a moment’s notice, only able to grab a few belongings. People have used their initiative and all the resources at their disposal to build the best shelters they can and provide for their families. But with the conflict now in its tenth year, their savings have been exhausted and, especially with COVID, there are very few opportunities to earn money and they will need UNHCR’s help to survive the winter.

“This animated film was a chance for people to come together to help raise awareness and life-saving funds to protect these families. I was blown away by the response and quality of the drawings submitted online. People really care and want to help, and they still can by making a donation!”

“People really care and want to help, and they still can by making a donation!”

Over six million people have fled Syria. Most are living in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than six million others are displaced from their homes inside Syria. UNHCR’s Winter Appeal will help families to buy lifesaving clothing, blankets and essentials to keep them warm as they struggle in makeshift and overcrowded shelters in freezing temperatures.

The creative project struck a chord with Samira, who lives in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. She helped design a rose motif that decorated the border of a giant Solidarity Scarf featuring the words of What You Need To Be Warm.

“All of us, and I speak for all Syrians, have been through what [Neil] describes in the poem,” she said. “There were points when we could not find food to feed our children, when … there was nothing to cover our children with to keep them warm. All of us have gone through this journey.”

You can donate to the winter appeal here.

Originally published by UNHCR on 8 December 2020.

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