MAUK COVID relief operations
Report by Sreejith Sreedharan
Updated on 10th Feb 2022
The world, as we knew, was turned on its head by COVID-19. We live through unprecedented times that require an equally thoughtful and responsible response from individuals, governments, and non-governmental organisations. The deeds of individuals and organisations during such challenging times justify their existence. As the Pandemic challenged the survival of humanity, the resolve of the human spirit also strengthened, with compassionate people from all walks joining hands to beat this indiscriminate invisible enemy. Like any other reputable community organisation, M.A.U.K. rose to the challenge posed by the Pandemic. We were at the forefront of supporting the community to lessen the burden of the Pandemic from day one.
MAUK receives Newham Community Champions Award. From left to right -
Cllr Mumtaz Khan, Deputy Chair of Newham Council, Cllr Lakmini Shah, Peter Davidson, London Planning Director of Berkeley Homes, MAUK Chairperson Sreejith Sreedharan, East Ham MP Stephen Timms, Cllr Winston Vaughan, First Citizen of Newham.
M.A.U.K directors receiving Masks from Ford Dagenham Plant Managers
The wellbeing of our regular service-users
Taking stock of the worsening health and safety conditions, we paused our regular activities at Kerala House two weeks before the U.K. government announced the national lockdown on 26 March 2020 and focused on supporting those in quarantine and self-isolating. We started by taking care of the wellbeing of the users of our Elders Services. Even before the government declared a national lockdown on 21 March 2020, M.A.U.K. encouraged our elders and vulnerable community members to self-isolate for their safety. During the initial days of confusion and disarray, we did their regular shopping and delivered essential items to their doorsteps. We then trained them to do online shopping and arranged delivery slots with local supermarkets and speciality grocery shops. After that, we started checking up on them every week and later remotely trained them to participate in weekly online activities.
M.A.U.K’s first COVID support flyer was published on 18 March 2020
Behind the scenes of Ponnonam@Home, broadcasted on Facebook Live from Kerala House
Help across the U.K. and Inspiring unity
Our first request for help from outside our regular service users came from Glasgow, Scotland, where a newly migrated student family had no means to get money transferred over from Kerala, even to buy baby food for their toddler. We managed to address this and the array of calls that followed from baffled, vulnerable, and desperate people from across the U.K. Their requirements ranged from wanting help with food, accommodation, dealing with difficult landlords, travel guidance, making sense of the unprecedented situation, sudden and confounding changes in law and for some, just reassurance that they are not going through this alone.
During the early days of the Pandemic, our dynamic vision and thoughtful actions were instrumental in bringing together like-minded individuals and Malayalee organisations from across the U.K. to address the unprecedented and unpredictable demands of the U.K. Malayalee community. Through prompt communication via social media and dedicated volunteers, we reached out to Malayalees even in the remote parts of the U.K. We have teamed up with Loka Kerala Sabha and other prominent organisations to provide a nationwide support, including food, advice and reassurance to international students and undocumented migrants who have been severely affected by the crisis but have no recourse to the public fund. As a result, M.A.U.K. was referred to as a key service provider by the High Commission of India.
M.A.U.K Food Club operates at Kerala House every Sunday from 3 PM to 4 PM
Preventing food poverty
Working at the grassroots level, we recognised the severe impact of COVID-19 on the local community. Therefore, we started a Food Bank, which to date has supplied over 25,000 food kits to thousands of local families and international students. In addition to food kits, the Food Bank also provided sanitary and hygiene products, dealt with accommodation issues, referred many to N.H.S. services, supported with school enrolment and immigration advice. Our Food Bank was influential in creating the Newham Food Alliance by the Public Health department of the Newham Council. Our Food Bank still operates every Sunday as part of Newham Food Alliance, a partnership of over 30 organisations fighting food poverty in Newham and providing wrap-around services for residents. We partnered with British Red Cross Hardship Fund and referred 58 deserving families to receive up to £1080 over three months. During the lockdown, we were the primary means of survival for over three hundred undocumented migrant families- victims of economic deprivation and greedy human traffickers, who suddenly lost their cash in hand jobs.
Adapting to the new normal
M.A.U.K’s vision of adapting sustainable solutions had already sowed the seeds for digital means of working even before the Pandemic. The restrictions of the Pandemic accelerated this transformation. We took a giant leap and shifted nearly all our services to the virtual world. Aimed at protecting the emotional and physical wellbeing of our service users, we started conducting online mindfulness, yoga and exercise classes, cookery shows, discussion forums and social and wellbeing gatherings. Our volunteers remotely trained and facilitated provisions for many Elders to get online and be confident using this unthought-of medium. Our music classes and annual celebrations were also shifted to the virtual platform. We were the first Malayalaee organisation in the U.K to conduct its Annual General Meeting through an online platform.
During Spring and early summer of 2020, as the country came out of the first National lockdown and went into local lockdowns, Nisari, the music troupe of M.A.U.K, conducted a ground-breaking online fundraising event. The live musical concert held to thank the frontline staff and provide solace to those stuck at home due to the Pandemic restrictions was viewed by over 23,000 people. ‘Niswanam’ also inspired many organisations and individuals to follow suit and start online events to keep community members engaged and entertained throughout the Pandemic.
M.A.U.K. has been celebrating Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, in grand splendour since the mid-1970s. But, toning down on the pomp and festivity to reflect the sombre mood of the nation, M.A.U.K marked its flagship annual Onam celebrations through Facebook Live, connecting Malayalees from across the globe, educating and entertaining them, while encouraging a sense of normalcy.
The Pandemic brought added value to the concept and activities of the literary group Kattankappium Kavithayum (Coffee and Poetry). In January 2020, months before COVID griped the U.K, the Kattankappi team launched their activities on the cyber world with the hope of spreading its message wider and attracting global participation. This foresight has given Kattankappi an advantage of bringing people together regularly during the restrictions imposed by the Pandemic.
M.A.U.K’s online activities are a testament that although COVID-19 restricted our scope and forced us to change our practices, it wouldn’t stop M.A.U.K. from fulfilling its core objectives as a social and cultural organisation.
COVID Relief projects in Kerala
With its commendable response during the Kerala Floods, M.A.U.K. once again came to the forefront to help those indiscriminately affected by the second wave of Pandemic in Kerala during the early part of 2021. As the virus rampaged through the population, M.A.U.K’s prompt response to the emergency relief operation and subsequent COVID relief projects have saved the lives of thousands and relived the misery for many more. After careful vetting and case studies with the support of our contacts and partner organisations, we have funded thirteen projects in eight districts of Kerala. These projects included Rs 8 Lakhs worth of emergency medical equipment for a government hospital in Pattampi, Palakkad district, P.P.E, medical supplies and food kits for over 1100 low-income families in Kottayam, Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram districts, provisions to purchase second-hand ambulance in Kattappana in Idukki and Karavaram in Thiruvananthapuram, Medical equipment at a palliative care centre in Koyilandi in Kozhikode, distribution of 10,000 N95 masks donated by Ford Motor Company to frontline police and K.S.R.T.C staff through our volunteers, residents in coastal areas through local churches in Thiruvananthapuram and mobile phones to aid with the education of 16 students from Below Poverty Line families in Sishuvihar Upper Primary School, Thiruvanathapurum. M.A.U.K’s inspirational relief operations in Kerala attained wide commendations from many ministers, government officials, doctors, prominent social activists and paved the way for many other U.K. based community organisations to stand up for Kerala.
Acknowledgement and commendations
Many global media outlets have appreciated and acknowledged our efforts. Our Food Bank operations were featured on B.B.C. National news. The publicity the news coverage gave us brought offers of help and support from kind-hearted individuals from all communities across Britain, which eased our financial burden. We have also received commendations from many prominent personalities, including Stephen Timms, Member of Parliament for East Ham, who highlighted our services in the Houses of Parliament, a recognition of great honour. In addition, M.A.U.K was awarded the prestigious ‘Newham Community Champions Award’ for its commendable and inspiring work since the start of the Pandemic.
The Pandemic had taught us that despite our different backgrounds, we are all interlinked and that only through a sense of individual responsibility and collective community responses can we overcome adversities. It reminded us of humanity’s ability to recognise the harmony in all that exists and that despite our wealth or social status, it is simple human interactions that make our hearts smile. Despite the might of advanced weaponry or the enduring belief in the Almighty, COVID-19 – an invisible virus- attacked us indiscriminately and brought us to our knees. We’ve realised that human resilience, scientific advancement, and essential compassion were the only way back to normality. These values and beliefs empowered and motivated our courageous and noble volunteers.
Despite the Pandemic’s threat, immense scrutiny, and wide commendation, M.A.U.K. volunteers stayed focused on serving, became a beacon of hope, and set the standards for other community organisations to follow. Their altruistic actions spoke volumes, inspired other individuals and organisations to rise to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Their bravery, compassion and dedication epitomised the resilience of humankind. During these challenging times when most of the world spent in relative quarantine, M.A.U.K. embodied the vital role that voluntary sector organisations play in bringing people together to support each other, speak for and uplift those left behind and improve the moral fabrics of society. Once again, we wholeheartedly thank all our volunteers, members, sponsors, and well-wishers for their trust and the invaluable support they continue to bestow upon M.A.U.K. Your continued help and support empower as well as humble us.
We are now becoming accustomed to living with COVID and similar viruses. At the start of our COVID Relief Campaign in March 2020, we passionately declared that ‘Hope is Stronger than Fear’. Through our undeterred courage and conviction in serving our community and humanity, we have bettered many lives while cementing our role as the leading service-orientates Malayalee organisation and set an example for others to follow. We do not envisage the road ahead to be smooth, but we assure you that M.A.U.K. will be at the forefront to support and assist our community members whatever the challenges the future brings.