YANA (You Are Not Alone)
Name: Sherry Fatemi
What is the name of the project/ activity? You Are Not Alone (YANA)
Where did the idea come from?
I came to Nottingham 10 years ago and found it difficult to find and connect into the Iranian community and to find other Iranian single parents/ Farsi speakers who understood my situation. There was no Iranian women’s group and I found there were language barriers As a single mother with a young child who didn’t know anyone in the city, I felt very lonely and wished I could find a supportive community. I went to college to learn English and then I got a job as an interpreter. I kept seeing people who had been like me and wanted to set up something for people; the Farsi speaking population is quite transient so it is hard to access continuous support. Slowly I found some other people who shared my ideas and in 2018 it felt the right time to set up YANA which is open to Farsi speaking women.
We started by organising events and some classes in different parts of the city. Our aim was to provide support and reduce isolation of Iranian/ Persian mothers. Before Covid YANA had developed lots of different activities, classes and cultural events as well as opportunities for volunteering, where we could meet up. When we could not meet together because of the lock down we started to use social media to keep in touch and offer support. We have a constitution and there are 3 trustees and 7 key volunteers who run YANA.
Was it developed as a new initiative/ project/ group? Or was it an existing organisation/ group changing what it did?
YANA had existed for over a year and it was more about changing the way we were keeping the links with our members and continue to provide support to them and to others who needed help.
What did you hope to achieve? What was your initial aim?
YANAs general aims are:
- Reducing isolation of Iranian/ Persian women and YANA group members
- Maintaining community cohesion, health and wellbeing of Iranian/ Persian women and YANA group members
And we added another one
- Getting food and other practical help to those who needed it most
We moved all our activities on to social media, Facebook and started to build a website. We kept in touch with people by phone and through our community members.
When we got asked for help we would put out an appeal to our community, so we saw that some people were going hungry and asked for help. People volunteered to cook as did a restaurant, the food bank offered help and so we were able to cook and deliver many meals to people
We also had a request for help from Iranian men in a temporary accommodation hotel in Nottingham who needed good quality clothing as the clothes they had been offered were no in good condition. When we contacted them we found there were 60 Iranian refugee men in one hostel run by SERCO who needed other kinds of support, such as interpreting, immigration and legal advice and support, as they could not afford WIFI for their mobile and also translation and language barriers, and they wanted culturally appropriate food.
Initially we put out appeals for help and collected many clothes and we arranged for clothes to be collected from a community venue by the men on appointment on a socially distanced basis. YANA arranged for the excess clothing to go to temporary accommodation hotels for distribution amongst refugees and asylum seekers in need. We also found that people in the hostel wanted individual items like a guitar or barbers tools, so we were able to help the with these so they could develop skills to help each other.
YANA also provided translation and interpreting support regarding access to immigration advice and support. Nottingham Council for Voluntary Service (NCVS) Group Development Officer, Pauline was already giving group development and funding support to YANA. We raised the problems people were having with contacting Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum as people were finding it hard to get their help as due to COVID it was a landline message service where clients were rung back. There were language barriers with liaising with the Red Cross who are the local lead in providing support to refugees and asylum seekers pathways. In her NCVS role she contacted the Refugee Forum Initial Accommodation Liaison Officer to raise these issues to ensure that these issues are taken up with SERCO and other agencies that can be brought in to support on these issues on longer term basis. She also raised these issues with a Nottingham City Council Resettlement Lead Community Development Officer, and chair of the Temporary Accommodation Hotel Multi-agency working group. This would facilitate improved multi-agency working and responses as well as co-ordination in these challenging work and COVID conditions. Slowly there is more co-ordinated work and we are invited to join meetings and have better ways to contact these organisations directly when our members have problems.
We launched our new website in August to help promote the group and its online activities so we hope that this will increase the numbers of women attending online sessions as well as any face to face sessions when these are permitted. Our online sessions have attracted Iranian/ Persian women from other parts of the UK as well as internationally but the focus is still very much concentrated on Nottingham Iranian / Persian women.
YANA will be gauging the feeling of group participants to return to face to face sessions when this is an option or continue all or some of the sessions online. This will depend on levels of fear and transmission of COVID at the time. We will be getting feedback from group members during the activity sessions on zoom and social media
We will be providing professional mental health support by a Doctor in an online group in Farsi on an ongoing from November 2020. With the group participants setting the agenda for the next session so we can provide targeted health discussions ie on menopause, cancer, children’s health in Farsi.
Outcomes and Reflections
Did you get the take up you expected?
We reached many people who we knew about and some new people who came through our social media appeals and word of mouth. As we were not able to do face to face interpreting work we lost the opportunity to contact new people. We could have reached more people if other organisations would have referred people to us. We went to meetings before Covid and explained our work and asked for any Farsi speaking people to be referred through to us but this doesn’t really happen. NNRF and NCVS have provided publicity for YANA and its activities through network e mailings, NCVS ebulletin but other organisations will not refer people to us
We have provided support and advice to many people; kept people in touch with each other, and supplied practical help to many others. By being here we have helped some very vulnerable people who were depressed by their isolation and were considering suicide.
Our online sessions have attracted Iranian/ Persian women from other parts of the UK as well as internationally but the focus is still very much concentrated on Nottingham Iranian / Persian women.
For our future we are now in a position to apply to become a charity and we are thinking about this.
Did you make any changes as time went on and the virus became less acute for some people?
As other agencies stepped in so we could reduce our support for the men’s hostel and as people could get out more we reduced our food deliveries to once a week.
Based on your experience, what do you think that communities can do best on their own?
As Farsi speakers YANA could really understand and translate the needs of individual people in emergency need
The Iranian / Persian community responded really quickly and strongly to a call out for clothing and different types of donations for refugees and asylum seekers across all different ages and background. It is because they understand the struggles and difficulties which people face because of their own experiences.
Lots of people volunteered to help cook and deliver food
Based on your experience, was there any help that would have made your work easier?
We have only had small grants in the past. We were given some information about grants to apply for and some help to write the applications at first. YANA have secured some COVID related funding from Active Notts for online yoga and relaxation sessions, Persian dance, tutors fees and if can return back to face to face sessions also room hire and also from the The Lottery and the National Emergency Trust NET.
Based on your experience, were there actions you wanted external agencies to take?
It would have helped to have different organisations sharing information about YANA and making referrals.
Some of the barriers which YANA and the men have experienced in trying to contact and work with services such as NNRF and Red Cross have been around communication, remote contact, lack of mobile data and language and interpretation needs.
SERCO to have provided more food and culturally appropriate food in the temporary accommodation hotels.
Greater provision of interpreters and translated materials as well as immigration and legal advice and support.
What are your overall reflections on the project?
We were pleased that although it can take a lot of time to respond in COVID pandemic with additional support to people, we found it really rewarding.
Some people in the Iranian community really wanted to help in Coronavirus pandemic but didn’t know how. So they were really happy that they could join and respond to YANA’s call out for clothing and food donations.
Learnt that really valuable to be self-sacrificing and needed to be really passionate to respond with additional services. YANA had to work really hard to build up trust with people fleeing persecution. People really trusted YANA as they were experiencing isolation, fear and lack of knowledge about where to go for support