Imece Initiative is one of the recipients of the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund, which was created as a response to the foundation’s renewed 2020 grant strategy to support the survival of civil society organisations in the short term.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made the refugees and especially Syrian Dom communities more vulnerable who are already living in poverty with no regular income and problems in accessing healthcare services. Due to the measures taken regarding COVID-19 outbreak, these groups could no longer work on their daily jobs. In this context, it has become more important for İmece to ensure that these groups have access to their basic needs such as food and hygiene materials. Within the scope of the grant, Imece will employ a coordinator who will be responsible from the purchasing, logistics and distribution of food and hygiene materials to Dom communities, refugees and migrants who live in the camps of Torbalı, İzmir.
In our previous interview back in August 2020, you talked about the living conditions of refugees in the tent areas especially during the COVID-19 outbreak and the work you do to support them. Have there been any significant changes in the living conditions of refugees since August?
As we always say, the lives of refugees in the tent areas were already difficult before the outbreak. COVID-19 made the situation even worse. For example, we know the importance of hygiene and strengthening our immune systems. However, people living in these tents face serious problems due to infrastructure deficiencies which directly affect the hygiene in the tents. In fact, if they were to try and maintain higher hygiene standards, they would need to spend more than their daily income. With the existing conditions, it is almost impossible to access clean water in some tent areas. This has become a very serious problem with the outbreak. There have always been infrastructure problems in the tent areas but now with the outbreak and the winter season, daily life has become much more difficult.
Following the earthquake in Izmir on 30 October 2020, you actively worked at the earthquake coordination centre. Can you tell us about the needs you identified in the field and the scope of the work you did throughout this time?
While working at the earthquake coordination centre, the most important need we identified in the field was reaching more volunteers. Following the earthquake, huge amount of aid (clothing, food, hygiene materials etc.) reached the centre. However, the number of volunteers to sort, compile and distribute this incoming aid was very limited. There was a need for volunteers for all kinds of work in post-disaster relief such as the sorting out and packaging of incoming aids, determining and announcing the most urgent needs etc. We tried to support the coordination centre in all of these areas. As the Imece Initiative, we have been delivering large quantities of food and non-food aid to those in need in the field for years. It has always been an important part of our work and we are very experienced in this area. Together with our volunteers, we buy materials, pack them, take them to the distribution area and deliver them to the tents. This is exactly what we also did in the coordination centre.
You also organised activities in the tent areas to provide psychosocial support to children affected by the earthquake. Can you tell us about the scope of these activities and their impact on the children?
In the first few days, we were in the disaster area, we organised psychosocial support activities for children. However, as soon as we determined the need for volunteers at the coordination centre, we immediately decided to fill this gap. To talk about our experience with children, even if it was for a short period, the most important thing we can say is that we have supported their socialization needs. We went around the tents one by one to record the locations of each child so that when the event is over, we could deliver the children to their relatives safely. First of all, the children here were not used to tent life, unlike the beneficiary groups we usually work with. There was a fear of the earthquake and the aftershocks were still continuing. Everyone was very anxious and naturally so were the children. Thanks to these activities, the children got to know their peers from the surrounding tents and made friends. They had a chance to forget about their fear for a moment while playing games together. As an association, we always organise workshops with children whose living conditions are very difficult, such as the children of agricultural worker families. Therefore, from experience, we know how happy children get when they participate in these activities. The same happened here.
What kind of work have you carried out with the core grant we provided with the financing of the Turkey Mozaik Foundation under our COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund? How did this grant contribute to your ongoing work?
Imece Initiative is an association that has carried out all of its work together with its volunteers. However, we sometimes cannot find enough voluntary support. This makes it difficult for us to survive as an association. For example, a procurement process must be carried out in order to distribute food supplies to refugees and seasonal agricultural workers living in agricultural lands and temporary tent areas. However, because we do not have enough volunteers or volunteers who are especially knowledgeable in procurement processes, we cannot always take the right steps. Therefore, with the grant, we have received from the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund we wanted to focus on improving our procurement procedures and strengthening our financial infrastructure. We reviewed and started to improve all our processes such as preparing tenders and financial declarations, working with suppliers and documentations. Of course, this is a long road but this fund has given us the opportunity to take the necessary first steps. We started by reviewing all our current and past documents and we identified our errors and deficiencies. We learned how to fix these errors by getting support from a consulting company working in this field. While redefining our procurement principles and methods, we also had the chance to reconsider our organisational structure. We examined our roles and responsibilities and determined our most pressing needs. In line with our findings, we will work to attract more people to the association. In other words, with the COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund, we have restructured not only the procurement and finance issues, but several other organisational issues that concern Imece Initiative.
Can you tell us about your priorities and plans for 2021?
We will continue the distribution of hygiene, food and other basic necessities for refugees living in the tent areas whose economic conditions have worsened with the outbreak, without interruption in order to improve their conditions. This issue has always been and will continue to be our priority.
The land of Imece Village, where we planned all our activities and implemented our Solar Age / EFEproject, has been sold and so we have to leave this area. However, the experience we gained here is very precious. Learning by experiment has provided us with the motivation to work better and more sustainably. We will start working on establishing a new centre soon.