It’s time for a new plan

19/08/21

We’ve now spent 6 years trying to support refugees living with terrible hardship. We were only planning to do that for a year or two. But look around the world and you’ll still see people being forced to leave their homes. And you’ll still see governments doing a terrible job of helping them to rebuild their lives.

Today the news is all about Afghanistan but there are many other crises in many other locations whether it is intractable ones like Lebanon, huge movements like Venezuela, recent failures like Greece or sudden new ones like Lithuania.

So, thanks to fantastic support from volunteers and donors, we’ve carried on. And we’ve always had to keep asking how to be the best we can be because demands are high, the conditions are chaotic and the resources are tight.

So we’ve got a new plan.

Change in a time of Corona

Covid-19 forced us to look local and tighten our belt. The world has irrevocably changed but as we all – tentatively – emerge from international lockdowns, we have to think about where we work and what we do now.

This is our current situation:

  • Locked down in the UK, our pioneering powerhouse John Sloan couldn’t sit still. He has been busy settling a refugee family from Sudan as part of the government’s Community Sponsorship scheme. He needs to continue with that and finally spend some time with his own family. So he is stepping back from Refugee Support and we need to find a way to help without his 24/7 commitment.
  • The need in the UK is huge so there is plenty we could do here. Our dynamic Trustee Alan Strang and his even more dynamic wife Katherine have already started helping asylum seekers on the breadline in Birmingham who are stuck in the awful accommodation the government provides.
  • Covid restrictions has meant that the Dignity Centre in Cyprus has had to cut some services and create new ones. The result is a complex operation that has played a critical role in Nicosia but can only continue if we simplify it or start employing more people.

How do we answer the big questions?

We talked to our supporters! Thank you everyone who took part talking to us on the phone, sending their comments and coming along to an actual face-to-face workshop to hammer out the details.

Every idea was considered but we didn’t have a completely blank piece of paper:

  • We need a single, clear focus: when the needs are huge we get pulled in many directions but we do a better job by doing one thing really well
  • It’s all about Dignity: how we do things is way more important that what we do
  • We’re a volunteer organisation: we have countless examples of how caring, committed people giving up their time have made magic happen!

Volunteers!

We’ve always tried to focus on the people we are supporting but need to be more vocal about what a great experience volunteering is. Giving your time is a noble calling and you get rewarded for it. There’s a selfish pay-off from altruism. This isn’t voluntourism, many volunteers have found it life-changing, go on to continue helping and found great, like-minded friends.

Once we made the decision to be an organisation dependent on volunteers, deciding what we need to do was obvious.

Back to basics and essentials

Essentially, if we are going to be a volunteer organisation that is capable of helping somewhere quickly, we need to distribute basics and essentials. The need for that kind of aid is huge and it means anyone who joins us will be able to start making a difference immediately.

It’s also how we started and we know that we can do it more flexibly than large organisations, more consistently than other volunteer organsations.

We’re good at being quick and caring.

In addition to being able to do set up and start helping quickly, our other unique difference is being able to do it with dignity.

When everything is chaotic and people can feel abandoned or with no control, our way of working offers people a sense of normality, community and stability.

But we need partnerships

And if we are going to stick to what we do well, we need to work on building partnerships so we signpost people to other organisations that can help with other needs and take over when we leave.

Basics and essentials can only ever be a short-term fix or we will undermine people’s independence. After a short period of time, it feels like a handout.

So we need to be in places where we only help people for around 6-9 months and ideally in more than one place at a time.

The UK is getting going. Greece and Spain have large and growing needs which we know well and have good bases of support. Mexico is a possibility and who knows what will be the result of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Although the vast majority of refugees will stay in the region, we suspect many will head towards Europe.

The climate crisis is a slow motion emergency that has to be a priority for all of us. It is going to lead to huge migrations so there is even more onus on us to become carbon neutral. That at the very least means minimising flights and offsetting them.

Some tough decisions

All this means that we now need to cut those activities that don’t fit with this vision.

It is clear that many of the services being run from the Dignity Centre in Cyprus need to end. We need to do what we can to hand those services over to others to manage and focus on what we should be doing there.

We will not be involved in resettling any more families in the UK. It carries a lot of responsibility and takes a lot of management time for a small number of people. There are plenty of other organisations that can act as Lead Sponsor to local groups.

Who are we and what do we do

Our vision: We want to see a world where all refugees can lead a life with dignity

Our mission: We provide short-term, essential aid with dignity to refugees suffering hardship

Our value: We build communities of support that help refugees rebuild their lives

What do you think?

Having said all that, our strategy cannot be set in stone and has to be flexible. If you have any feedback at all, good or bad, delighted or disappointed, I would love to hear it. By email or by phone, whatever works for you.

Comments

  1. Not an answer to the big picture questions of how RSE goes forward – but a suggestion. The two qualities that make RSE distinct are its fast and flexible response and its Aid With Dignity approach. Many groups and organisations are going to spring up to help these new influxes of refugees, all over the world. Like RSE was 6 years ago when it started, they’ll know very little and will make the rest up as they go along, which isn’t the most effective approach. RSE is ideally placed to help them “get it right” from the off. We’ve been there, made the mistakes, learned to be creative and tried and rested different initiatives so we know what works. This body of knowledge and experience is invaluable to start-up refugee support organisations and community groups. One thing RSE could do is set up an advisory branch, almost like a management consultancy for start-up refugee charities, a mentor they can go to for advice and guidance. Materials could be produced such as A Guide To Setting Up & Running a Refugee Support Charity: a handbook, PDF or even a workshop (both physical and online). Thus would also allow RSE to export its Aid With Dignity approach and embed it into the DNA of charity start-ups. Our volunteers are RSE’s greatest asset, and their mast valuable asset is the knowledge and experience they’ve gained working within the structured approach of delivering Aid With Dignity the RSE way. That’s a huge and valuable resource which can be of real benefit to new influxes of refugees and the charities that’ll help support them. It would be a terrible waste if we couldn’t leverage it in some way.

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