This week has been a week of paperwork, meetings and seeking funding. We currently have a lot of contacts and requests asking if we can provide education to refugee children stuck in camps and unable to access school education. If we were to try to meet the demand of all the requests we would need more than $10 million to fund all the programmes. Our finances are extremely tight at the moment. So there is a truly enormous funding gap between the needs for refugee children’s education and the ability to meet that demand.
Fund raising is a very slow process. There are a lot of very generous people and organisations, but it takes considerable time to approach the right people and to make applications and requests in the right format. We’re also having to make sure that we make requests in an economical way too. Some processes have a lengthy phone element. Unless we can do that phone contact by Skype the reality is that we cannot afford to make the phone calls in order to try and raise the funding through that approach. August is not a particularly good time for trying to contact people, as it is the holiday season for a lot of people. However we are managing to open discussions with organisations and so perhaps it will lead to something in the longer term. Some of the organisations have a long ‘lead in time’, so decisions and funding decisions will not be made until the following Spring or Summer. Ideally, as children typically only get one chance at education, we would like to find some sources of funding which would enable us to engage children this Autumn. Older teenagers who miss out on education now, potentially miss out for the rest of their lives. Even if they are given asylum in the West somewhere, they will struggle to join and participate successfully in educational systems which are at the point of trying to examine and award qualifications.
We are also having to be very thoughtful about where we work for administration purposes. In France we needed wifi regularly and the only reliable, regular and easily accessible fast wifi which we could easily access was at one of the local McDonalds. We therefore spent many an hour doing our correspondence and planning in McDonalds. So much so that some of the McDonalds staff became very supportive and would make considerable allowances for us. We had a lock-in one evening when our paperwork took us over the closure time of the McDonalds and the staff kindly agreed to lock up and let us finish before closing. We have also benefited from the kindness of staff in terms of samples and handouts. On the downside, we have become unfortunately word perfect in our recall of various French pop songs. Another chorus of Je suis fatigue is fast approaching more than we can ever be worthy of.
In the UK we tend to use community cafes or shopping centres as work venues. In Cambridge there is a community centre: ‘the Meadows Centre’ which has a very reasonable café, fast wifi and a range of facilities that we can book when necessary for larger meetings or training events. We do sometimes find ourselves sharing a work space with toddlers and pensioners but we have always been able to do meetings and planning sessions, so we make it work. For London we are increasingly using the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford as our monthly meeting point for London matters. It has good communications and a number of internal spaces where we can meet people and work purposefully between meetings. We are very conscious that sometimes our surroundings and work situations are not ideal, but as a poor charity we also know that our focus has got to be upon making sure that we can get as much of donations into the front line as we possibly can. And when the front line consists of tens, and hundreds of thousands of refugee children unable to access the education which will enable them to rebuild their lives, it is a daunting and humbling prospect.
We were recently touched by the generosity of Future Leaders, the organisation training the country’s next generation of headteachers. After a talk to a gathering of staff and participants they immediately organised an impromptu whip around and made a considerable donation to us from their own pockets. We never cease to be amazed at the kindness of individuals.