At the end of a year like no other, Arukah adviser and ambassador TED LANKESTER reflects on what's taken place in our network during 2020.
I’m writing this in the week that the first person in the western world received the Covid vaccine. Her name, now known to many, is Margaret Keenan, a 90 year old grandmother.
And I am also reading these verses from the Old Testament: “My soul was downcast within me. But this I call to mind and have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed; his compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3: 20-22)
I hope many of us will soon have something in common with Margaret - a vaccine flowing in our veins. And I expect that most of us will also identify with the writer of these verses. During this year, we will have grieved and lamented, often with sadness, occasionally with anger and frequently with anxiety. But we may also have had days of hope: seeing how good can come out of trouble, hope from despair.
In Arukah, there have been countless stories of compassion from our Clusters. Food shared with neighbours. Kindness shown to these who have been stigmatised. Support given to schoolchildren as they coped with isolation from friends. And sharing information about the dangers of teenage pregnancy.
But above all, we've seen people from all backgrounds work collectively to ease the agonies of those in poverty, starvation and mental anguish. It’s a story of how together, as a network of compassionate people, we can and have responded to the needs of the times, whether expected or unexpected. Kindness, creative thinking and receiving the Grace of God have been authentic marks of who we are and what we stand for in this era of Covid. And I am thankful both to God and for all those in our Clusters who have put the priorities of other people beyond their own, who have loved their neighbours as themselves.
Here are three of my highlights of the year:
1. Our Covid Response
Of course, Covid-19 has dominated the efforts of all Clusters this year. As many countries went into lockdown, one of the biggest challenges faced in the communities that Clusters serve was hunger and a lack of basic supplies. Across our network, Clusters began to source and distribute food and other materials to families who were struggling.
To support these efforts, Arukah launched a Covid Support Fund. Many of our wonderful supporters donated generously to this, and Clusters applied to the fund for sums of money to help further work they had already begun.
India’s Bihar Cluster conducted a huge survey in the State in order to understand an enormous migrant crisis as a result of the pandemic. They used the findings to direct their own relief efforts, but also to inform the media and to lobby the government for targeted support.
India's Uttarakhand Cluster co-ordinated the relief efforts of its 50 member organisations, with many being recognised by the government as 'Corona Warriors' in the process. And Clusters in Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia worked in their regions to share food and supplies, to fight fake news and to spread good practice.
2. Two New Clusters
Before Covid we welcomed our new Rwanda Cluster - a diverse collection of people and organisations whose work supports teenage mothers, orphans, agriculture, homeless children, the environment. And shortly after our Forum we welcomed our newest, and ninth Cluster, Monze in Zambia - a Cluster which is already running numerous initiatives from road-building to provision of sewing machines and training for young people. I'm looking forward to sharing more from them in the new year.
3. Our Online Forum
Every two years we aim to host an international forum, in which a couple of members of each Cluster meet for a few days somewhere in the world. We share stories, ideas, training and plans. Of course, this didn’t happen in 2020. But what did happen was the coming together on Zoom for our first ever Online Forum! We had 8 sessions over 4 days, all on themes suggested by our members. We connected, learned, and developed relationships and friendships, probably more than ever before. You can read a short report about the forum here.
Overall, I believe the impact of Covid has amplified the value of our network. It has demonstrated how in times of acute or ongoing need the network has proved its relevance and value. It has demonstrated one valuable way of how God brings hope and new life out of grief and confusion.
We are now on the cusp of a New Year and hopefully of a new era. The roll out of the vaccine will gradually help us to again enjoy more of our favourite things in life, such as hugging our friends and families.
But the direct and indirect effects of Covid will last a long time and the value and the challenge for Arukah will be greater than ever. We must continually re-engage and receive support from God and each other even if we feel physically and emotionally tired from what we have been through.
The second part of the verse quoted above continues: “His compassions never fail: they are new every morning”. If you are a person who prays, then let’s make this our prayer for each other, for those we care for, and for our network during this coming year.