Online Editor, Miriam Higgs, had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Save the Children society’s President, Alex Madden, and Campaign Officers, Poppy Pearce and Juliet Jarvis regarding their Moria Refugee Camp support programme. They discussed the foundations of the campaign and getting it off the ground, how COVID-19 has changed the face of donating and giving aid, and how Save the Children and charity societies more broadly are so important in establishing a support network within the student community. Their discussion follows:
Miriam Higgs: Why did you choose to send clothing materials to the Moria refugees over any other item of necessity?
Alex Madden: In the past, we have done a lot of collaborations with All Hands Together and STAR (Student Action for Refugees’ Society), and during lockdown representatives from SAGE (Scouts, Guides and DofE Support), All Hands Together and STAR set up a project called the Voices of Refugees. In this project, we worked very closely with different refugees on how they are combating COVID-19 and trying to keep themselves safe. Obviously, when COVID-19 hits a camp it spreads like wildfire because they are all packed in so tightly. When this inevitably happened to Moria, within five days a youth gang set the camp on fire and completely destroyed it. As a response to this, the societies set up a recycling programme using the money we raised. Our biggest affiliation is that refugees only have the bare basics, as a refugee camp is not really a home, so they are ultimately homeless.
“Once a camp and all their belonging are destroyed, we had to ask, where do we go from here?”
These refugees were pushed out of their surrounding villages and were left with nothing. We were very aware that winter was coming, so they would not have anything to keep themselves warm. Also, being able to change clothes is so important, particularly for children and women. So, we are not only collecting clothing, but also blankets, sleeping bags, and sanitary items. If women do not have access to water or a change of clothing, then keeping yourself healthy and clean is difficult. When you think about University students and how privileged we all are to receive further education, and that men, women and children have nothing, you must ask: why wouldn’t you give away that jumper that has been sitting unworn in your cupboard for years?
MH: How many clothing shipments are you hoping to send to Moria? Did you go into this programme with a target?
AM: We have already done two shipments, and we’re currently doing another one. We are hoping to send 20 boxes between the three societies, and we have already donated 7. We still have another couple in storage, and we have some coming from a person in Brighton who has chosen to donate. We are working on getting some boxes in charity shops, so people can spend an extra £3 on an additional jumper, put it in the charity box and then it will be sent to Moria.
Juliet Jarvis: We’re currently in discussions with Sanchos, the ethical, sustainable company on Fore Street, so we hope we can get a few donations from there as well.
“We’re hoping for 20 overall, but if we can get more, the more the merrier”
MH: This project has been a collaborative effort. Do you think it is important to collaborate with other societies and organisations to support those in crisis? How have these partnerships helped you ensure that the Moria emergency response came into fruition?
JJ: The collaboration is really important, particularly as we share a lot of principal aims. All the societies have their own set of resources and networks, which has been really useful for spreading the word about raising money and clothes donations. Everyone is so enthusiastic, so hopefully we should get some really great results.
Poppy Pearce: Definitely, and each individual society: Save the Children, STAR and All Hands Together all link together with the campaigns that we share upon. So, with the Moria fire, that affected everything within Save the Children, STAR and All Hands Together.
“If we join forces, our target audience will be bigger, and we can share the vision together”
MH: You mentioned that COVID-19 has had a massive impact on Moria, does the pandemic also change how Save the Children provides its pragmatic aid?
“The charity sector has been massively hit by COVID-19″
AM: Charities rely on funding, which tends to happen face to face. So, the charity sector has changed as a result of that and in that sense, it changes the aid that can be given because there is less money available to distribute aid. Also, you must play on people’s heart strings to get them to think about other people outside of their own country, so with any aid, you must relate it in in some way to yourself. I would argue that there is only so much compassion in one’s heart to give donations and aid.
“Especially when at home COVID-19 has hit the UK so hard, it is difficult for people to think about others when we’re really struggling ourselves.”
AM: I think it has been difficult to relate to people and to get them to realise the importance of the cause and thinking about those who are less fortunate than us. With the current circumstances on top of that, it has been particularly difficult to get people to donate money and to acquire aid.
MH: Not only are you providing an emergency response for Moria by sending clothing and materials, but you are also running an education campaign. Why do you think that mobilising child education is important in areas of crisis?
PP: Education is crucial and Juliet and I have been focusing on promoting refugee education through camps, which is our yearlong campaign. There is an initiative called Promising Practices in Refugee Education, where Pearson partner together with Save the Children and UNICEF to create education schemes. They go to refugee camps, provide pop up classes and get education to the refugees.
PP: I think that it is very important because without education, leaving a refugee camp and going into the workplace would be so difficult.
JJ: Also, there is a such a gendered element to education, so girls and women are significantly less likely to receive an education than boys and men.
“This education gives young girls the tools to be more empowered, to speak out and to have the confidence to stand up for what they think.”
MH: Many societies have had to adapt themselves over lockdown and through these strange times. How did Save The Children society adapt?
PP: We hosted an online exhibition called ‘Life in Lockdown’, where we highlighted how other societies adapted individually. In terms of the society, we have had to adapt hugely, as we cannot do in-person events. However, we host our weekly committee meetings on Zoom, and we have some great Online events coming up, whether that be talks or our ‘Save Space’ fortnightly coffee mornings. It’s a virtual safe space for members and non-members to drop in and have a chat. We have talking points for each coffee morning, so recently we discussed homelessness, which is our winter campaign, and we have previously thought about University in lockdown. So, we are doing lots of adapting, but I think that it is working quite well, and we are doing the best that we can.
AM: There is an element to adapting to it as you would with ordinary day to day life. Equally, as we are such a new society (we were affiliated with the Guild in January), we have only had two and a half months of doing in-person events on campus. In terms of adapting, we have actually been around longer in lockdown than we have with in-person events. So, it’s been a different learning process as we started from scratch and we are learning how to function in lockdown.
Save the Children is such an important society. How did each of you get involved?
AM: I worked for Save the Children International doing internships over the last couple of summers. I came to University and really wanted to partake in the running of a charity society. Then, I had this moment of inspiration and I looked online and saw that there wasn’t a Save the Children society, which really shocked me because it is the second largest children’s NGO in the world. So, I started the process of setting up Save the Children society, which took a year to get to the affiliation process. I guess I have been a part of the society since the idea in my mind to where we are now. It’s taken a while, but we have got here, and we are still progressing.
PP: I am also very interested in charity work in the international development area. Last year, I went to a few UNICEF society events and there was a speed dating event, which was in collaboration with Save the Children society. They were a very new society then, but that is how I heard about them. From there, I liked the Facebook page and kept updated. Through word of mouth, a friend had seen that committee roles were being listed and I did some research and got really interested it.
JJ: I had quite an unconventional journey to the society. I met the Publicity Officer at a friend’s birthday party when Save the Children were planning the speed dating event. I was automatically interested and after a bit of research I discovered that they were recruiting. I am really interested in activism, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give back and get involved with an NGO within the charity sector.
You mentioned that your winter campaign is supporting homelessness in the UK. That is obviously so important given the local cases around Exeter. How are you going to support the homeless?
PP: There is a project near my home in Sussex called the Crisp Packet Project. A lady, who lives in Hastings, started this charitable organisation, wherein she collects crisp packets, which are opened, flattened and washed down so they become 2D sheets. She puts them in a machine that transforms them into sleeping bags and blankets for the homeless. One of our campaign ideas is to create boxes and place them around campus, so when people are done with their crisp packets, they can insert them into a post office style box, and we will collect them and send them off. That is one of the active initiatives that we want to do for the homelessness campaign, as well as raising awareness through talks and coffee mornings.
With the current financial climate, many people cannot afford to donate to charities. So, what can members of the University and the community more broadly do to support those who are in crisis?
“Even if you cannot donate anything, it is really important to raise awareness, spread the word, and educate yourself”
PP: Through educating yourself, you will understand the situations elsewhere and be informed on the hardships that other people have. Understandably, not everyone will have clothes to donate, but ask friends and family if they have some spare.
“It’s not always the financial, monetary donations that count, more often than not, you can donate in other ways”
AM: With the crisp packets, it’s something that you would not think twice about when throwing it in the bin. Many of us our benefitting from the free Pret coffee system; why not find a recycling bin nearby when your done with it, or you could donate your coffee to someone in need. All of this has a knock-on effect on helping people, which many people do not realise.
“It’s being mindful of not being wasteful”
JJ: Also, if you have the time, there are so many ways in which you can volunteer. Then, you don’t have to pay for anything and it’s such a good opportunity to give back to your community.
Why do you think that charity societies are so important in a University setting and what do charities do to promote a University sense of community?
AM: They are important within a University setting, particularly to ground oneself. Pre-lockdown we would probably be going out and partying all the time, but to take a step back, say if you see a poster of a child or adult in poverty, and when you can put a name or a topic to someone’s face, it really hits home. I believe that that really grounds a person. Also, within charity societies, there is arguably a very different community aspect to it compared to any other type of society. Often, the people who join tend to be very passionate about what their charity promotes.
“Everyone is so enthusiastic about supporting their cause, so there is very much a sense of empowerment and unity. There is motivation, with no competitiveness because you are all working for the same cause. It is so raw and emotional, so it really forms close friendships with people”
JJ: At University, it is so easy to get sucked into your personal routine of deadlines, friendships, and socialising. Charity societies really give the opportunity to think about how we can build a better community.
MH: How can societies like Save the Children provide a support network for students at University?
AM: In our ‘Save Space’ coffee mornings, we provide a space wherein people can discuss not necessarily charity or Save the Children stuff. In that space, they have someone who looks out for them in a very different capacity. You may have your flat mates, friends on your course, or a wellbeing officer from the University, but having that extra person in a different dynamic who is removed from University life provides a good support network too. Also, by meeting likeminded people, it supports and drives you in your motivation and it builds you up.
“You can support each other both emotionally and professionally”
– Miriam Higgs
To find out more about Save the Children’s Moria Refugee Camp support programme, how to donate, and their events and talks please visit their Facebook page.
Featured Image Source: Exeter University Save the Children Society // Facebook.