Food and fellowship: A rock for Haringey’s Turkish and Kurdish community during the Covid-19 crisis

The glue that binds Haringey’s Turkish and Kurdish community’s most vulnerable, Refugee and Workers Cultural Association (RWCA) is a Tottenham-based educational and social charity that’s been changing lives for the better for three decades. But three weeks into lockdown, coronavirus was crippling some of their key services, like parent counselling, health awareness sessions and ESL (English as a second language) classes for refugee and asylum seeker women.

Thanks to our Haringey Heroes, the charity was able to deliver essential food supplies to the Turkish and Kurdish community’s hardest hit – the elderly, socially isolated and financially-stressed, whilst also transitioning some of their advocacy, advice and educational resources online. RWCA’s chairperson, Ibrahim Avcil, has experienced the outpouring of gratitude from the community, first-hand.

He says: “I was delivering some fresh food to a 75-year-old lady who told me ‘I don't have anyone in this country, not even a flying bird. You risked yourself and brought me all this stuff from your centre. Thank you so much.”

RWCA Volunteer getting food deliveries ready for distribution

But the hard work doesn’t stop when lockdown lifts. RWCA is committed to continuing its guidance on representation for asylum immigrants, vocational training and immensely popular folk dancing classes, which play an important cultural role in Haringey’s Turkish and Kurdish community.

“Haringey Giving’s support has enabled RWCA to continue to provide a valuable service, which has in turn been life-changing to the vulnerable Turkish and Kurdish community in Haringey,” says Ibrahim Avcil.

Person receiving food donation from RWCA

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Hi Ibrahim. Can you tell me about the Refugee and Workers Cultural Association?

RWCA (Refugee and Workers Cultural Association) provides a support service the Turkish and Kurdish community living in London, who began arriving to the UK in their droves in 1991. We provide a whole range of services, from cultural folk dance classes for youngsters to women support groups, addressing issues like domestic violence. One unique thing about the charity is that its management committee members are ex-service users and beneficiaries. To date we've had thousands and thousands of students who have benefited from the supplementary school we’ve provided in the centre.

RWCA delivery van volunteer with vehicle open

How would people find out about RWCA?

Six out of ten people in the local Kurdish-Turkish community are familiar with the RWCA because we are a long-established charity. We are also very active across multiple social media channels like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, as well as London’s Kurdish-Turkish radio channels, which support us with free publicity.

RWCA Volunteer delivering food

What have been the key challenges during the Covid-19 crisis for the charity?

Covid-19 has taught us some lessons. I think the whole voluntary community sector was underprepared for such a pandemic. Initially, around half our management committee trustees wanted to close down, go home and wait out the pandemic. But six days into lockdown, nearly every single member of the committee said, “look, we can't shut up shop, we have to start supporting the community”. We learned to work with a skeletal volunteer team, and shifted courses like our ‘Mad Science for Children’ experiments and English tuition - online. On the one hand, our income stream was severed, as we weren’t able to host our folk dances or educational classes (which became free to attend online). But in terms of workforce, plenty of people have been willing come to the centre and volunteer for us.

RWCA Volunteers delivering boxes of food and rice to vulnerable people

What other services have you been able to provide online?

We’ve also been able to host our public meetings (normally held at the centre) on zoom, addressing issues like changes to welfare services, as well as our empowering ‘Wednesday Women’ discussions, themed around topics like familial relationships and climate change.

How has the support from Haringey Giving been used?

The grant from Haringey Giving came at a very critical time. It was such a big relief to get the green light to provide essential food for 150 people in the community, with Haringey Giving’s grant of £4,750. Over and over again the recipients told our volunteers “thank you, thank you, thank you”.

RWCA Volunteer giving out  food parcel

What are in the food parcels exactly?

In a basic package you would find the ingredients to cook up a nourishing family meal: rice, eggs, long lasting milk, potatoes, onions, fresh fruit, vegetables and some small edible treats for children.

Older person receiving a donation of rice from a RWCA volunteer

Who has been receiving them?

90% are people with zero access to any public funds, with a particular focus on the over-65 demographic, families and Turkish business owners who arrived to Britain after April 2019 (under the Ankara Agreement), who aren’t eligible for the Government’s self-employed income support scheme during Covid-19. We’re talking about thousands and thousands of people in the latter category, who have gone hungry because the pandemic has shuttered their businesses. Two are currently volunteering in our centre, which is really nice.

What’s next for RWCA?

We’re trying to future-proof the organisation by being more digitally focused, which involves fundraising for technical equipment so that we can continue to run some of our pre-pandemic services online.

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