Our latest ‘Spotlight On…’ features Kheira Mohammed and Rashid Campbell from ISRA-UK who have been supporting vulnerable individuals and families in Hall Green and the wider Birmingham area since the Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK.
The origins of ISRA-UK date back to 1984 after the charity was established in response to the Sudan famine. Since then the charity has supported a number of international causes, including working with victims of the Bosnia War in the 1990s and more recently travelling to Lebanon to support those fleeing the conflict in Syria. In recent years the charity has begun to focus on expanding its reach to provide local as well as international support to vulnerable people.
For both Rashid and Kheira the work that they do for ISRA-UK is as much of a passion as it is a job. Kheira’s relationship with the charity started when she began volunteering for the charity’s shop which is adjacent to their main office. Kheira moved into a paid role with the charity some time later where she noticed the potential for ISRA-UK locally very early on: “Customers would come into the shop initially wanting to buy things but would hang around and chat, and soon they were coming in for just a chat”. Kheira realised that there was a need for a space locally where people could meet and develop friendships. Based on her observations she started a coffee morning, one of ISRA-UK’s first local initiatives outside of their international aid work.
Kheira has a strong background in community work; before her role with ISRA-UK she was a play scheme coordinator. For both Kheira and Rashid a desire to help others was what brought them to their roles with ISRA-UK. Before joining the charity Rashid had spent many years working in a variety of different jobs, “I went through much of my life continually asking myself what I wanted to do with my life” Rashid told us. After working in a factory, spending time as a lorry driver, and owning and running a café on the Ladypool Road Rashid soon realised that what made him happy was helping other people, a realisation which lead him into pursuing a career with ISRA-UK.
When the Coronavirus pandemic reached the UK Rashid was getting ready to embark on a trip aboard to take food parcels to Syrian refugees fleeing the war. Unable to travel he began working with Kheira, their colleagues and their team of volunteers to support those facing adverse suffering because of COVID-19. Having been established in the Sparkbrook area for many years when the full force of the pandemic hit Birmingham ISRA-UK were the first contact for many. From late March onwards Rashid and Kheira began taking calls from schools, the local Job Centre Plus and families in need. They quickly recognised they had a role to play in the response locally to the pandemic and mobilised to start providing food parcels to those without the ability to panic shop or leave their homes to buy groceries.
Like many organisations ISRA-UK have had to adapt to work in new and creative ways, a situation that has brought both challenges and rewards. “There have been positives and negatives” Rashid told us, “we know more about other local organisations and have developed better partnership working with places like ACP and the Muath Trust. But we have seen a lot of people struggling and this struggle is only going to get worse for many.” A lot of the people ISRA-UK support have been made redundant due to the virus and have been struggling to afford food and essentials on a decreased income. With news of recession and mass redundancies hitting the UK ISRA-UK are mindful that the need for their support will likely remain for months to come.
ISRA-UK’s work both home and abroad means that they are supporting people in times of crisis and trauma. Based on this I asked Rashid and Kheira how they relax and switch off when they are not at work. For Kheira discovering cycling has played a massive role in helping her to relax; “when I found cycling I found that my mental health and wellbeing improved so much”. For Rashid spending time gardening at home with his children helps him to unwind. Both Rashid and Kheira are also big fans of travel and enjoy exploring the rest of the UK and countries abroad with their families. Unable to travel too far during the pandemic both Rashid and Kheira told me that getting regular exercise has helped them to switch off from work.
Although the majority of the work that ISRA-UK undertake focuses on international aid, before the pandemic struck ISRA-UK were in the process of expanding their local work. They had been successful in receiving funding to renovate their office space and make room for a community café and food pantry. While the food pantry has carried on throughout the pandemic and has been operating as a foodbank helping to ensure those in need have food the café has had to be put on hold whilst social distancing measures have been in place. There were also plans to use the renovated space to host cooking clubs, yoga sessions and to rent out the space as a community venue for other groups in the area.
ISRA-UK aim to return to the projects they had had planned when the pandemic stabilises. Alongside this they also have plans for exciting new local projects; an example of this being ideas around a project for Birmingham’s Refugee community. For ISRA-UK their creativity and ability to adapt to change quickly has helped them weather the storm that has been the Coronavirus pandemic. As an organisation they are always keen to learn new skills, expand their reach and use the talents of their staff and volunteers to support those most in need.
We look forward to seeing what ISRA-UK do next, and would like to thank Rashid and Kheira for taking the time to speak to us.