Charities: Unsung heroes

When we think of organisations that have been hard hit by COVID-19, we often think of goliaths such as the McDonald’s, Pizza Huts, and the Debenhams of the world. Seldom do we consider the effect of COVID-19 on charities and non-profit organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, Guide Dogs and Greenpeace. They can sometimes be the difference between whether a person/animal will prosper in life or not – 93% of households have at least once turned to a charity in the past. However, with the pandemic and a lockdown, how have they been able to cope?

In April 2020 Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the UK government’s plan to commit £750 million in funding for charities and non-profit organisations.  About half of that sum would be allocated to smaller charities. A further £360 million would be provided to organisations helping vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic. This is a lot of money, but does it mean every organisation that helps the vulnerable – people, animals, the environment  – will receive money? I spoke to three unsung heroes. All different in their work, but all operating with a common goal for the amelioration of British society.  

The Literacy Pirates

I spoke with Jude Williams – chief executive of The Literacy Pirates – a non-profit organisation who operate in two places (or ships- in line with the pirate theme) in the Boroughs of Hackney and Haringey in London. 

“The Literacy Pirates develop literacy, confidence and perseverance among young people who are falling behind at school and who face disadvantages.”

Jude Williams

Being a volunteer at The Literacy Pirates myself, this is indeed true; students always enjoy being there – it is not merely an imitation of a typical school setting, characterised by rigidity and conformity.  At The Literacy Pirates, students work on projects from which they can find joy. One notable project was when students wrote a ‘story’ of how they got their names which were published in a book. Just before the pandemic, one of the biggest events on The Literacy Pirates’ calendar occurred – the students’ film regarding a story they were looking at was showcased at the local cinema. Within the cinema were all the students, their families, volunteers, fundraisers, journalists and even the mayor of Hackney. For those associated with the Pirates (but especially the students), this is a great proof of improvement. Jude mentioned that for the  “9-month programme, students make a 16-month progress on average in reading age- normally they would be making a 4-month progress in the same period”

The Literacy Pirates provide much-needed support for young people in Hackney and Haringey- so how has it been since the pandemic has started?

“[we] currently closed the ships and [had to] move to the virtual ships”. 

A big part of The Literacy Pirates is being able to help students not just academically, but also with personal issues.  The Literacy Pirates made an active and consistent effort to keep in touch with the Young Pirates (the students). Each one was phoned at least twice in the past four months to make sure they were fine. This does not only illustrate the commitment for The Literacy Pirates to adapt to the disruption of normal life brought about by COVID-19 but also the speed at which it did so. During a training session for current volunteers, we were made aware of the changes of the ships (once opened) – the layout of the ship, not being able to give fruit or hot drinks – for the Pirates and crewmates respectively. They may not seem like major changes, but every little thing requires time, money and patience. This has all been happening where money would likely have been an issue – they have had to use the job retention scheme and funds from London based funders. They do raise money via donations (maybe less so than in normal times) – but fortunately, The Literacy Pirates have been able to run fairly smoothly.

Migrant Voice

What is Migrant Voice? To this they replied that: 

“We started Migrant Voice because there was a huge debate taking place about us, without us. We were scapegoated and faced hostility. We wanted to speak for ourselves and to support other migrants to speak out too. For the last 10+ years, we’ve been doing exactly that, developing the skills and confidence of members of migrant communities – including asylum seekers and refugees – so that policymakers and the public hear our voices on the issues that affect us.” 

The portrayal of migrants in the media is not always positive- UNHCR released a report explaining how certain nations (like Britain) portray migrants negatively and how the media plays a big part. Migrant Voice has addressed a vital point – migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are all people; they are deserving of basic human dignity. Migrant Voice seeks to help create positive change in the UK. There are a lot of interactions with people in their daily running of the organisation – so how has COVID-19 affected them? Much of their work involves extensive in-person training and the hosting of events as well as activities in the regions that they operate in. COVID-19 has impacted them, but not necessarily negatively. When the lockdown was enforced, they had to go virtual to keep their services as accessible to as many people as possible. Some members were not adequately acquainted with digital technology, so training was provided to use platforms like Zoom, while making sure they have enough data to use it. By moving their operations online, it has allowed more people to participate.

We’re able to bring members together from across the country; the sessions are more accessible to people who find it difficult to travel or who have childcare or other caring responsibilities”

Migrant Voice

The pandemic has made it harder for businesses and organisations across the country and throughout the world – some have gone into administration, whilst others had to close some of their stores and offload employees. For Migrant Voices, their COVID-19 experience has almost the opposite. They have cut their costs (haven’t had to hire venues), so money was allocated “in more productive ways”. Migrant Voices have also introduced an initiative dubbed as ‘Cup’a’Tea sessions – informal, monthly online meetings – ensuring members are happy and healthy during a difficult time. For some, it would be extremely difficult to have good mental health. This could be because they may have PTSD from past events or they have a lot of stress (money, housing, food). These sessions strive to address this.

One interesting point that was made, was the exposure that migrants have attained over the pandemic- more specifically in the UK. It has been more so due to negative issues. 

For example, when it was clear that undocumented migrants were too scared to seek treatment for COVID-19 and were dying in their homes, journalists were suddenly interested in hearing and writing about the problems facing undocumented migrants in the UK – something that is usually difficult to pitch to journalists.” 

However, a lot of focus has been on migrants who work for the NHS, which has made a slight issue as it should be portrayed that all migrants (and people) have the same value. This pandemic has highlighted that migrants are people; migrants could be living in your area; a ‘highly skilled’ migrant isn’t more valuable than a ‘lowly skilled’ migrant- they are people.

Human Appeal

The third unsung hero that I spoke with was a charity called Human Appeal- “a humanitarian organisation, delivering disaster relief and development programmes around the world for nearly 30 years.” They were founded in 1991 by students in Manchester. Before COVID, they were growing at a good rate and were thinking of how to help more people throughout the world.  

Volunteers play an integral role in any philanthropic organisation. As such an organisation grows further, volunteers become a bigger force; without enough of them, a charity is likely to crumble. COVID-19 didn’t hinder them in their main task; to help those that need help.

 “COVID-19 has affected all charities, especially in the Muslim charity sector where we had to pivot pretty quickly to delivering our flagship Ramadan campaign entirely online” Human Appeal is an Islamic charity organisation, so Ramadan is a time where they are likely to help more people than usual – particularly those without a family. They said that unless a vaccine is found, charities will need to find new ways to operate. This means that their long-term plans are likely to have been affected. However, they are still working with a positive attitude as COVID “has not dashed our ambition to continue growing as a charity.

Human Appeal has still been able to help numerous people due to the support of volunteers, fundraisers and partners. They have had to manage resources accordingly, which would have been a tough task. Regardless, they have pulled through and still have been able to “carry out our work at home and abroad”

Human Appeal’s main aim is to tackle poverty and that 

it was evident to us (in the UK) that many of the vulnerable people we helped may not have known where else to find that help.”

Sometimes we are not aware of the seriousness of the poverty situation, especially here in the UK and it shows that we ought to tackle this issue as we return to the ‘new normal’. COVID-19, businesses, NHS, education, benefits system – these have been the major sectors that have been focused on and in comparison poverty can easily be ignored; it shouldn’t be. 

However, at least there is help in the UK. Abroad, in nations that H.A is helping, has significant concerns. Where the issue of malnutrition is prevalent in cramped Yemeni and Syrian refugee camps, COVID-19 “has the potential to wreak havoc.”  Extreme poverty is rife, so they’re attempting to give the right medical kits for those in dire need of them. This is a mission, not impossible, but one Human Appeal is more than willing to combat.

Interestingly, finance wasn’t the major issue (from those I contacted), but it is the people whom they help. They had to adapt due to the pandemic and have done it successfully. However, there will be charities/non-profits that are finding the digitalisation of their work more difficult. Despite these obstacles, charities and nonprofits have done sufficiently well. The people whom they help have felt comforted. We have applauded the NHS for their help- charities and non-profits should be congratulated for their work. Hopefully, they will not be left behind in the shadows and will be aided – but will that be the case? As Human Appeal commented:

“It is vital that nations work together in order to break down the international barriers that stop aid from reaching the most vulnerable.”

Thanks to The Literacy Pirates, Migrant Voice and Human Appeal, for their voice in this matter. For those who are interested, these are links to their websites:

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