Published on June 10th, 2020 | by Aftab Rahman0
HERE TO SERVE: A STORY FROM LOCKDOWN
The onset of the pandemic has had devastating impact on society in general and Lozells in particular. The Birmingham Mail wrote an article entitled ‘Lozells at the epicenter of coronavirus deaths in City warns councillor’, and our experiences within the community have sadly borne this out. I spoke to Cllr Waseem Zaffar at the start of the lockdown several weeks’ ago. He shared with me that in just one household an elderly man had died, and his wife had passed away the next day. Behind every statistic there is a human tragedy. A business leader and activist who I knew, Chowdhury Aslam Wassan, died. He was a gentle character, always with a smile and a kind word. Having spoken to others, working within the community and beyond, I know that it is a sad fact that we all have experiences, either close at hand or within our broader social circle, of this merciless virus.
In my continual search for purpose and meaning, I had an epiphany towards the end of last year. I realized that my purpose was to serve. This purpose could be demonstrated in the largest or smallest task, from making your colleague a drink to more impactful service within the wider community. During this lockdown, many of us has had the opportunity to reassess our priorities and our purpose, although many of us are itching to get back to our old reality once again which will hopefully happen as the Government eases the lockdown. I hope that the insights that we have gained during the lockdown will not be lost as we return to our more usual routine.
This period has also had an impact on families that Legacy WM work with. Many of them live in overcrowded homes; in some instances there are three generations within one household with elderly grandparents, parents and children living in cramped living conditions. During the lockdown, we have been calling people to ensure that they were coping within these new circumstances. However, I wanted to do more, and through my urge to serve, I sought out other opportunities to help my community. I heard that The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) were cooking and delivering food for vulnerable people as part of #brumtogether. I contacted them and asked if I could cook for them. They directed me to Birgit who made the arrangements whilst self-isolating and recovering from Covid 19.
Abdul Quddus (Raju)
I shared with friends that I would be cooking and asked if they would like to join. Abdul Quddus (Raju) responded and said that he would like to help. The night before, he messaged me and told me that another person wanted to help and if that was okay? I said, that would be fine, the more the merrier. The next morning I made my way to the Armanah Centre where cooking was taking place. In the morning I was surprised to see Jahangir Miah (I Gas Plumbing); as it happens, he used to come to a youth club that I used to run 25 years ago. We were met by Dennis who had been volunteering for the last two weeks without any respite, so he was happy to see us. We worked with Dennis to cook-up 200 stir fries! We agreed with Birgit that we would support Dennis the first week, and that the following week we would cook Bangladeshi food. Jahangir kindly agreed to donate the rice towards the cooking.
We agreed to cook every Tuesday and we promoted the work that we were doing on social media, and the following week we had a request from Johur Uddin (Nowka Bais CIC), Nasir Uddin (Director of CCF) and Shale Ahmed (Aspire & Succeed) to support us with the cooking. All the people involved are part of the Nowka Bais CIC, so it felt like a mini re-union with friends and it soon became something that we all looked forward to. My wife also started to volunteer every week, as she wanted to do her bit.
Four weeks into it and 800 meals later, I got a call from Shawkat Chowdhury Head at Olive School in Small Heath. He called me on a Sunday night and said that they would like to do something from their School and asked how they could go about it? We spoke to Birgit and agreed that we would cook from there on a weekly basis. Shawkat has encouraged his staff team to volunteer and prepare meals too, one day a week. Shawkat has also managed to get food donated from local businesses in Small Heath and Morrisons. They prepare food packs for some of the families that are on Pupil Premium. Shale called and said that Tudor Trust has given them a donation for food packs for the local families and asked if Legacy WM could support them. Harun and Ahmed both agreed to help and between them they distributed food to local families. At our recent team meeting, they were both really positive about helping and how this made them feel that they were contributing in supporting vulnerable people.
We have learned some lessons along the way; the first one is to take the initiative and people will come and support you. The second lesson is that there is a lot of pride in Lozells and people do not wish to accept food parcels. Our research has shown that people would welcome resource packs that contain family games for in their home and garden. To this end, we have submitted several bids to funding bodies and if we are successful we will be able to donate them; we have had our first successful bid with Heart of England and we are waiting to hear from BBC Children in Need and Awards for All. We are planning welfare visits to all the families that we work with maintaining social distancing as per Government Guidelines.
There have been so many sad stories and tragedy within our local area, but these last few weeks have also shown me the power of positive intention. Let us carry this forward into the future and see the difference that we can make within our community.