Where and how can I contribute?

When COVID-19 started impacting people around me, I thought about the type of community efforts I wanted to get involved with. This is important for me because I want to contribute in some way to society. I joined the local “mutual aid” Facebook group which was one of many created in response to the pandemic. With the information they provided, it seemed like a good idea to print off some of those flyers to post through the doors of the people who live around me, but I wondered how it would be possible to help people without possibly exposing people to the virus. I also received about three myself so I figured my block of flats had been covered. I then read online that it would be best to sign up to my local council’s volunteer hub as they would organise people – so I did that – but I haven’t heard back yet. When I read and heard about an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic, I looked for charities that support victims (usually women). But they were no longer taking volunteers. I then tried to sign up to the NHS volunteers scheme but found they had reached capacity. I also offered to take things round to my friend’s grandma’s house who lives quite close to me but she already had someone looking after her.

So, in essence, I didn’t do anything that really helped anyone. But maybe these hurdles just let me off the hook so I could focus on my own, sometimes overwhelming, work-life. Essentially, it seems that the only thing that I could do right now is donate money – which isn’t ideal as I find myself wanting to be cautious with money. I did sign up as a patron for a local theatre, and I decided I wouldn’t stop my direct debit to a charity I have been supporting for the past year. However, I haven’t donated money to any of the gender-based violence charities or any of the other causes I care a lot about. If I donate, the amount would be so small.. If I donate, where would I pick to send the money?

During the lockdown, I have (virtually) joined a group of researchers, activists and community leaders who are at different stages of learning or working with Participatory Action Research (PAR). We originally met to plan for a summer camp taking place in June which is now planned to take place next summer. I still know very little about this field, but I understand the idea is that all humans are researchers: we are all experimenting “due to the systemic forays beyond..current knowledge horizons” (Appadurai, 2006). Another important part of PAR, as I understand it, is that the research is motivated by anti-oppression. I like the idea of working like this, disrupting the status quo which claims that research should be carried out by those holding high levels of education to the exclusion of those in communities who are most impacted by oppression.

With this in mind, I have been questioning which area of research or community effort would make sense for me to work towards, given my identity and the privileges I hold. As I mentioned, some of the principles that Appadurai writes about resonate with the consulting work that we do at RISE, but I do not necessarily consider our work anti-oppression-focused. Therefore, I would like to put some of my resources towards anti-oppression, but I do not know the best way to go about it. 

There are so many things out there that need people to get behind them and I would like to be able to contribute, albeit in some small way. But I don’t really know where to begin. Is there a way I could use my position at the consulting firm I work in to mobilise our consultants around this within the organisations we work in? Or am I then only focusing on the already-privileged-few? Do I really need to focus on learning more about this field and then a project (for example) might reveal itself? This would link to Appadurai’s suggestion “It [knowledge] is the capacity to systematically increase the horizons of one’s current knowledge, in relation to some task, goal or aspiration.” 

In doing this, it is important for me to acknowledge my own privileges and life experiences, in fact, question whether I am really the most suitable person to assist a particular community, especially one I have no connection to. I might be able to empathise with them; however, that doesn’t mean I am necessarily the most qualified person to help/support/work in their pursuit of equity. In fact, I might make it even worse. So how can we use our privilege to support those who need it?

How have you found ways to contribute, in your community? Or, where else do you contribute?

If you’re up for talking to me about this, drop me a line here.

Appadurai, A (2006). The right to research. Globalisation, Societies and Education. Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 167-177

Thanks very much to Sebastian for your reading and very useful suggestions.