Empowering refugees through knowledge
Welcome to our ‘The Kind Link’ series, aiming to bring a piece of positive news in such uncertain times by talking to organisations whose work creates a positive impact. We will be exploring the challenges, motivations and goals of such organisations with consideration to the Covid-19 situation.
What motivated the establishment of the Centre for Armenian Information and Advice?
Our interview with Misak starts by asking him what his inspiration was to create the Centre for Armenian Information and Advice (CAIA). He shares that he came to the UK with his family as a group of refugees. As they were trying to settle in the UK there was no organization that provided them with any kind of support. Misak shares the many issues and uncertainties he faced – bureaucracy, legal issues, housing, immigration, education and finance. Of course, there were many more issues surrounding refugees. Unfortunately, at the time of Misak’s arrival in the UK, there was no one to share information and knowledge with them to help them get on their feet. This experience leads to 1987 when CAIA was founded. The charity aims to support through knowledge of the various challenges that newcomers face, and through that to start empowering refugees. The organization also aims to create a community of people helping each other. As time went on, the opportunities the charity was providing expanded.
The generations forming a community
As Misak and his wife became parents, they decided to organize events for parents and their children. This way the children can play and interact with other peers and the parents can socialize. They also focused on helping the elders interact, by starting and Elder’s Club. Afterwards came the Youth Club and a library, thanks to the building they managed to acquire that became their centre. It is evident that the charity has taken a very holistic approach towards the situation of the refugees in the UK. The charity building also became a part of the wider community. Many events were organized there by the local council, as well as other parties. This helped fund the charity and combined with all the other events organized by CAIA the organization was able to work on all the various projects. Misak shares that multiple generations have grown and settled with CAIA and it has become really important to the people associated with the charity. Many refugees were empowered through the knowledge and activities provided by the charity. They, however, faced a problem in early 2020.
A passion to help stronger than Covid-19
With the uncertainties surrounding Covid-19 and the lockdown in late March, the main activities and face-to-face work had to be suspended and transferred online. This resulted in the loss of CAIA’s unrestricted income.
Misak and CAIA’s advice workers remained at the centre throughout as they considered themselves key workers, who continued to provide much needed information and advice, coordination of food distribution to the most vulnerable, maintaining links with the help of several dedicated volunteers.
While for some this transformation was easy, for others it can be a very scary challenge. Some people do not have the financial capabilities to afford internet, phone or computer, and others do not understand English or have limited understanding of computers and similar devices. This is why the charity had to take action and they managed to provide devices to people so that they can maintain contact with those who are alone and those in need of help. Misak is available 24/7 for the beneficiaries, which often means that there is a lot of work and not much time to sleep.
Many of the activities are sustained currently but people share that it is not the same as meeting their community in person. But for the time being CAIA and all of the beneficiaries are making due with online meetings, food deliveries for those that were meant to come for the Lunch club and phone calls to keep in contact with those who are alone and in need of assistance. It is important to get together and support the refugees, as not only their journey to the UK can be difficult but as is evident, settling in a foreign country can be equally difficult.