Just minutes into my chat on the phone with an elderly Afro-Caribbean man, he asked: ‘Are you British or from somewhere else?’
‘I’m Chinese and from Hong Kong,’ I replied, nervously anticipating his response, and whether I would have to explain why I speak with a British-tinged accent.
‘Wow, that’s wonderful. A nurse who helped me a long time ago was Chinese, and I never forgot her,’ he says, before telling me about his day.
His positive reaction made me become a lot more comfortable sharing more about my heritage over the phone, and he started to talk about his family back in St Lucia. His tone became friendlier and warm – reminiscent of my grandfather’s.
Visit our live blog for the latest updates Coronavirus news live
It was just one of several instances where I felt especially valued as a non-white volunteer in 2020 Britain, as I feel like we were able to have a meaningful discussion because we shared a bond in both being people of colour in the UK.
I was furloughed in March when the pandemic put the country into lockdown for the first time. A study by Legal & General found that 23% of furloughed workers chose to use their free time to give back to their community – and I became one of them, taking a role as a phone volunteer to befriend those self-isolating.
On behalf of the Royal Voluntary Service, which supports those shielding, and BLINDAID, an organisation helping the visually impaired and blind community in London, I’ve mostly been speaking to people who are elderly and of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritage.
I’ve found that these people make up the demographic that has been accessing this service the most and over the past few months, I’ve listened to countless childhood memories and touching stories, which has been incredibly rewarding.
As a minority in the UK, I knew I could relate to lots of the experiences I was hearing. Like many of the people I’ve been speaking to, I have felt like an outsider while in the UK – from not being able to ring in Chinese New Year as a public holiday, to not understanding some childhood and celebrity references made among my British friends.
As much as these conversations have been a benefit to me, I know that this mutual understanding has been especially helpful to the people using the facilities, as I’ve been able to empathise with their perspective in a way that others haven’t.
When I was a child, I often accompanied my parents as they volunteered for local charities, but despite this, whenever I volunteered out of my own accord, it was always to fulfill a requirement, be it a school grade or parental expectations.
But this changed after I became aware of the disparity that people of colour in Britain face when it comes to coronavirus. Though it can affect anyone, non-white people across the board are more likely to be impacted in greater numbers, and with harsher consequences.
The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre says 33.9% of the 10,877 Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care are non-white as of August – disproportionate to the breakdown of the country.
I felt an instant duty to help the BAME community recover from the pandemic.
I’ve always been told I’m easy to talk to, but I never realised it could benefit others. When I saw an opportunity to provide telephone support, I signed up hoping that at the very least I could help one person with my voice.
As part of my role, I ring up individuals on a daily or weekly basis to have a friendly conversation and check whether they need help with food or medicine deliveries.
After making my first few calls, I started to realise that, simply by being Chinese and having experience of being a minority in Britain, I was making a difference by talking to those self-isolating and sympathising with their struggles.
On one call, I checked in on a Caribbean woman in my borough, whose social worker referred her onto the scheme. When I talked about being from Hong Kong, she opened up to me about how she had some close Chinese friends, and we shared our mutual experience of moving to London.
The conversation turned to food, and told me about how when she visited a local food drive earlier in the year, she could only find ingredients and meals from the Western cuisine – culturally unfamiliar, and far from what she was used to.
She was sure that asking for the fried plantain she grew up loving would’ve been too complicated, so she kept quiet and accepted the food provided. In a tough time, comforts like your favourite dishes from home can help – and I can empathise.
It’s incredibly important to me that I continue to cook and eat Cantonese food – it ties me to my heritage and serves as a reminder of my memories of home. Fried rice is a staple in my household because it’s what I grew up eating with my family and no matter the amount of times I cook it, it never ceases to bring me comfort.
However, before our conversation, the woman thought that her requests wouldn’t be understood, and felt that much more alienated. If I hadn’t asked her, she wouldn’t have told anyone about her culturally-specific wants. After knowing this, I arranged for some deliveries for her from a local Caribbean food shop.
Hearing how touched she was by this gesture reminded me how much BAME communities need to talk to each other about our experiences. There is innate solidarity between communities of colour and we’re able to empathise over shared experiences.
When the elderly Afro-Caribbean man whom I still call every week first moved to London from St Lucia, he was struck by lightning and had a life-threatening injury. The Chinese nurse who treated him told him about how she immigrated to London to help provide for her family and made sure that he felt comfortable throughout his entire procedure.
Whenever I call him, he always says that talking to someone else with origins outside of the UK reminds him of happy memories.
According to a survey from Mind, people in Black and minority ethnic communities have felt a greater impact on their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, due to existing structural inequalities.
Almost 30% of BAME respondents said that housing problems have worsened their mental health. With so many stuck at home and isolated from their families, loneliness has become rife and leads to issues with self-esteem and anxiety. Unfortunately, vulnerable people of colour are often neglected when it comes to mental health support.
My experience since starting as a regular volunteer has shown me that telephone support can help alleviate loneliness and brings a ray of sunshine into someone’s day. Spending just 10 minutes connecting with someone has made me an effective vessel to create positive change, and it’s brought me so much joy.
Volunteering has given me a life purpose to continue serving my local community. As people of colour in the UK, many of us can bond over our common experiences as immigrants and as minorities. Because of this, I believe it’s particularly important for people of these demographics to volunteer and look out for one another when it feels as if our experiences don’t get acknowledged by others.
Our communities thrive when we support each other, and in uncertain times, we all need as much support as we can get.
MORE: I want to be infected with Covid-19 on purpose to help find a vaccine faster
MORE: BAME people must be protected after lockdown ends
MORE: Why rural Britain is unwelcoming for people of colour
Source: Read Full Article