After days of watching helplessly in horror at the chaos unfolding in Kabul, I’d been wondering when the call might come. When we first heard of Afghan families arriving in a central London hotel without warm, clean clothes and nappies for their children, it was a relief to finally do something positive. Little Village has taken the lead on supporting 0-5 year olds. Since last Friday, we’ve coordinated with other baby banks and supplied 8 hotels across London with bundles of clothing, nappies, toiletries, toys and activity packs, for at least 410 children.
The requests for support came through in dribs and drabs at first – requests from other charities, a London borough, and then we were linked in with Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP) who are doing an amazing job of co-ordinating the response from organisations across London.
Families are in Covid quarantine hotels as I write. This means we’ve been making up bags of supplies to place outside hotel room doors, but often with very limited information about the age and gender of children So we’ve had to do a lot of guess work and take time to ensure that we’re making bags as generic as possible. As one example, we’ve been guessing nappy sizes, and adding them in for all children up to age 5 – due to the likelihood that traumatized young children might not stay dry overnight.
It’s been a logistical challenge – we’ve been super grateful to work with other baby banks Stripey Stork and Mamma Kind to prepare these bundles – not helped by the really limited information coming through.
In our hubs, we’ve had children helping out alongside their parents over the bank holiday. They’ve been brilliant at selecting comforting soft toys and just the right small items for a bored child in a confined space to play with.
The outpouring of love for these families has been just incredible. Our staff and volunteers have dropped everything to help, cutting short camping trips, enlisting their whole family to volunteer, opening up their homes as donation points, driving across London late at night to ensure the hotel drop happened that day….the list goes on.
Once we opened up a public appeal for donations on Saturday, we were also hit by a wave of support from people across London. We had two van and seven car loads of donations delivered to our Camden hub on Saturday from an appeal by Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow to drop donations at her office. I opened up my own home in Lewisham on Bank Holiday Monday and ended up with people queuing down the street, some donors in tears, to drop off precious baby items – after four hours we had two full rooms, chest high with bags of donations. There have been similar levels of donations at our other points in Streatham and Tooting.
It’s just the start of our support for Afghan children – alongside all the other London families who still need our help. We’re going to be providing much bigger bundles of clothing and kit for children once they’re out of quarantine hotels, and there will no doubt be an ongoing need from the Afghan families housed in London.
We have launched a crisis fund to help us provide essential items to Afghan children today and in the coming weeks. Money raised through this appeal will be spent on our response to the Afghan crisis so we can:
• Create additional volunteer sessions to receive, sort and pack essential bundles for children.
• Secure and coordinate additional delivery vehicles to pick up and deliver to hotels and our hubs across London.
• Source additional packaging and toiletries for the bundles we are lovingly packing for children.
• Increase our human resources and therefore the number of children we can support.
• Longer term services for children and families who will continue to need Little Village’s support such as signposting and advice.
We will also keep on trying to meet – and draw attention to – the growing need in London, where child poverty is deepening, Universal Credit will be cut by £20-per-week this September, and furlough is ending. The demand for our work is just going to grow and grow.
It feels overwhelming – particularly after a hectic weekend – but in a good as well as a challenging way. Many of us feel ashamed that our country’s actions have left people in these circumstances. I think it’s why the response has been so incredible. What we’ve seen this weekend is the best of London and of Britain.
You can read our press release here.