To celebrate our first birthday operating the Dignity Centre in Cyprus, we have handed control of the whole operation to its members during the week of 15th June.
The timing for this initiative at such an important anniversary and during Refugee Week is perfect.
The initiative is about constantly pushing ahead with better ways to provide dignity and how to help people rebuild their lives.
We hope this is a first stage to giving members even greater control of the Centre.
Dignity has always been a moving feast. It depends on the humanitarian situation at the time. In an emergency, you can’t offer people many choices. They often have to take what they are given.
So the objective as situations become more stable is always to take as much power as possible away from the ‘givers’ and put as much as possible into the hands of the ‘receivers’. Charity is fine but people need independence and self-determination.
Our Dignity Centre was created as a safe and welcoming space for people to take up the offer of whatever services we have on offer. We have always listened to what people want and tried to provide them. There are some fairly desperate and complex needs with limits on resources and what can be achieved and resources.
So we have budgets, booking in and queuing systems and importantly we have had Coordinators who have introduced, developed and managed the many services. They have been helped by over 90 European/US volunteers and 15 member volunteers.
This week a team of 10 members is deciding what goes in the weekly food parcels for 300 people, distributing them, managing the hygiene services, running the sewing cooperative for both men and women, arranging the bike repair, running the barbers, and … managing our team of European volunteers.
Even in the relatively stable situation for refugees and asylum seekers in Cyprus there are big challenges to overcome in ceding control:
- They are by definition a transitory population in precarious circumstances so may not be around for long before there is a change in their asylum status, the need to search for new accommodation or to get new employment
- There are different nationalities and that can lead to accusations of favouritism, or actual favouritism
- There is also letting go. That is not easy when you’ve been used to managing everything
You’ll notice that we’ve not mentioned the challenge of finding capable people to take over.
There is plenty of talent in the refugee and asylum seeker community that is capable of running the operation. Governments and employers would benefit from understanding that instead of creating constant hurdles for them to leap over.
The main benefit from the week has been the excitement from the members for this initiative. Refugees and asylum seekers have had so much control taken from their lives here is an opportunity to get some back.
It’s not charity handouts, it’s enabling and empowering a community to help each other in a situation of extreme emotional and material hardship.
We will continue to hand over more and more control to the Centre’s members.
Lockdown has helped to prompt this move but the timing is perfect. In the words of our Coordinator Paula who has made all this happen: “While many Refugee Week activities are taking place online, we are doing something that is making a difference in the real world.”
But let us leave the last words to a Member: “Today you are a year old. Thank you for your existence because without you many of us would have died of stress.”