When we had planned and won funding from the Activist Museum Awards for a project with Migrant artists Mutual aid (MaMa), COVID-19 was not a word in my vocabulary and the phrase global pandemic didn’t mean much to me either. Our team at the International Slavery Museum had envisaged a project that coronavirus turned on its head, we had to rethink the whole thing. We weren’t even sure if MaMa would want to carry on.
Recording experiences of lockdown
MaMa are an incredible group who we’ve worked with for several years. Their members, many of them mothers, include refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of slavery, who find friendship and solidarity through regularly cooking and singing together. Part of their manifesto (pictured above) is "MaMa believes its mission is to enable us to be cultural producers".
While we (mainly me) were still trying to get our heads around using Microsoft teams, MaMa had mobilised with urgent care packages for their most vulnerable members (creating MAMA on Wheels). They are a dynamic, creative and joyful group that we really love working with.
We chatted on the phone and came up with a new project they named ‘Together Apart’, which focused on journalling about their experiences of lockdown, while already marginalised and isolated. Mama set their own guidelines with weekly tasks to focus on. To ensure members could connect through sharing their experiences, we had to go backwards to go forwards by ensuring members had tools like paper and stamps, and access to tech. You can find out more about the Together Apart project on the MaMa website.
Amina, who has been leading on this project for MaMa, raised funds for her own legal campaign through photography. She has taught me so much already (though when I messaged her this she responded with a cry laughing emoji). Through her I’ve learnt more about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health and wellbeing of those who are already isolated.
I asked Amina how she was feeling about the project. She told me at the start of the pandemic she felt emotionally drained from the level of support many of the members needed and knowing people that were directly infected and losing loved ones. However, many weeks into lockdown, while it’s still an emotional rollercoaster it’s the connection to community and being able to help others that gives her strength. Getting others involved and excited about the Together Apart project was another thing she felt really positive about.
The asylum system and COVID-19
Amina has shown me what a real community can do despite the hardships they face. She also made me want to learn more about the asylum system, though researching made my head (and heart) hurt. I messaged a friend who talked me through the very complicated process and sent me the video below from Asylum Link, which explains how easy those that have been part of that system can fall through the cracks. Other countries have taken a different response, with Spain and Portugal allowing all those that had been in the process of applying for asylum the same rights as their citizens. This virus does not discriminate based on your country of origin but often our society does.
Amina told me more about the problems faced by those in the asylum system that are compounded by the lockdown. Many members don’t have the support of their families nearby and don’t have cooking facilities. Previously the group met regularly for meals together but as that isn’t possible it creates really difficult situations.
Amina has first-hand experience of being in the asylum process and knows what (limited) government support people are allowed access to at various stages. Some have vouchers to use that not all shops accept but exchanging them informally with friends is now much harder to do. As well as supporting members of MaMa she has extended support to former housemates and friends that she knows might be struggling. One of the challenges that the MaMa team have faced has been how they can best support some members through Ramadan, which started on 23 April and continues until 23 May.
Support for MaMa
By supporting MaMa you are helping them with their invaluable work supporting some of the most marginalised in our society. So I end this blog by asking if you are able to support organisations like Migrant arts Mutual aid, with donations or volunteering please do so! Visit the MaMa facebook page to find out more.
You can also contact Amina directly on this mobile number: 07537 884 537.