Solidarity in a pandemic- we hear from our volunteer, Amna

31 May 2021
Ffion Wyn Evans

During the last 12 months Migrants Organise has worked with an amazing 105 volunteers to connect with our members through welcome, solidarity, and friendship. 

Our buddy programme matches up volunteers to our members; building lasting connection, common ground and 121 support. During the pandemic this all moved online, with our volunteers and members connecting by phone or zoom on a weekly basis. 

For #VolunteersWeek we caught up with one of our volunteer buddies, Amna Qureshi, to learn how human connection can break through the most hostile of environments. 

 

Amna Qureshi, Volunteer

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Migrants Organise 

I am a data protection lawyer, freelance film producer and writer. I have made documentaries for the Guardian, i-D and Converse on race, identity and social issues. I am of Pakistani heritage and Australian, grew up in Sydney and live in London now. 

I first heard about Migrants Organise through a good friend who works at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). My friend has done a lot of work in the refugee advocacy space and she highly recommended Migrants Organise as a place to get involved. 

 

My own family was among the first-wave of migrants from Pakistan to Australia in the 1970s. I think growing up hearing my grandfather’s stories of migration, first during Partition and then again to Australia, really connected me to migrant rights work. 

Being a Volunteer Buddy can be a big time commitment, what keeps you motivated?

Hearing the excitement in my buddies’ voices when I call, knowing we have a genuine friendship, is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a volunteer. With each week and each phone call, I feel like my buddies become more comfortable and open with me and the relationship feels more casual. I have multiple buddies and they’re all different but each is unique and interesting in their own ways. 

In my own professional work I don’t always get to work directly with people, so I wanted to do something that involved working with individuals and also as part of a grassroots organisation. I really like meeting new people, hearing their stories and just talking and listening generally. I have really enjoyed the connection that you can form with people through the buddy system. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your relationship with your buddies?

Well I actually started volunteering right before COVID-19, so I’ve only ever been part of the buddy program through phone calls. It’s a bit unfortunate that I haven’t been able to meet my buddies in-person, especially as they aren’t super far away geographically. I think it has definitely taken more time to establish that trust and build conversation due to COVID-19 and not meeting in person. 

That being said, I think it’s great that the buddy programme has been able to be there for people during such a surreal and scary time for everyone in London. From the Zoom classes to the check-in calls, it just means that there has been a way to chat about concerns and the things that are going on – in a time that has otherwise been so isolating.  Anything that focuses on community-building and solidarity have been really invaluable this last year.

I’m really looking forward to getting to meet everyone in-person now that some of the restrictions are being lifted. I’d love to go for coffee and take a walk with my buddies– just let them know I’m a real person, not just a phone call or text message. 

What has been the most rewarding and/ or challenging aspect of the Buddy relationship? 

For me one of the most challenging aspects of being a volunteer was the feeling of imposter syndrome especially when I first started! It’s a bit daunting. I found myself questioning whether I was being annoying by calling my buddies and if I could possibly be adding any real value to these people’s lives when they are dealing with so much. However, a year on I do think our conversations have been of some benefit and I am excited to meet my buddies in-person soon. I think we often underestimate the importance of feeling heard and just listening.

One of the most rewarding parts of being a volunteer buddy is witnessing the strength of my buddies in the face of major administrative, social and personal uncertainty. Our relationships have really made me realize that there are many things that I take for granted in daily life like access to services, travel documents, and the freedom of movement to see family and friends. For example, the challenges of accessing technology has been so difficult for so many families in London during this time. I’ve had my buddies tell me that they are trying to help their kids access learning at home with only a smartphone and limited data. It’s really inspiring how resilient these individuals are –   my buddies are all amazing women who are super strong and inspiring. 

 

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Migrants Organise runs a thriving mentoring and buddying scheme.

To learn more and get involved please email Francesca@migrantsorganise.org 

 

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