By Dr. Ginie Servant-Miklos, Chair of the Board
The 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic has upended our plans, cancelled our impact visits and stalled some of our projects, but instead of mothballing our activities and waiting for the storm to pass, we strengthened our foundations, found new ways to operate, put our projects in the hands of the local communities, and built a resilient organisation ready for the next five years. A new book celebrates our journey up to this point.
A test of strength
Resilience was the leitmotiv at FairFight even before the pandemic hit. In January of this year, we were already dealing with the closure of the Disha House and the worsening economic crisis in Zimbabwe. During the General Assembly of 2019, we unanimously decided that despite the negative impact of the economic hardships on our programme, we would support our people in Zimbabwe come what may, cost what may. 2020 put our resolve to the test, and I am so incredibly proud of our board, our coordinators, our volunteers and our supporters for rising to the occasion. Far from scaling back, we intensified our community support with five food distributions, three new scholarships, an a new round of re-usable sanitary pads distribution. When Nagle House closed its doors, first because of the lock down, and then because of the ensuing teacher’s strikes, we rented a community space so our girls could keep training and studying. When our teachers lost their jobs, we provided them with a stipend to keep them and their families going. When our lines of communication were disrupted, we branched out, providing phones to all of our Ambassadors of Change so that we would always know in real time when, where and how help was needed. The support for our efforts from our followers in Europe was so overwhelming that we were able to provide food assistance to our sister community in Ruwa, and to the Musha Wevana orphanage in Marondera.
Moving forward in the face of adversity
But my team was not content to simply maintain a lifeline to our projects. As the last few days of 2020 roll by, we have two new projects in the starting blocks: a new partnership with the Red Brigade Trust, an NGO founded in Lucknow (UP, India) in 2011 with a mission to empower women through self-defence education; and a partnership with the Mbare Community Dojo in Zimbabwe. Both of these projects bring together local knowledge and network and the expertise built within FairFight over the years.
Mary Stevens, our India Project Coordinator, is leading our collaboration with the Red Brigade trust project. You can follow her progress more in details on her blog, but this project brings together her expertise as a newly-qualified self-protection instructor, the local knowledge of our on-site team with Dheer and Moyee providing logistical and translation support on the India-side, and the network and experience of the Red Brigade volunteers. For now, as travel India remains difficult, the project is moving forward with coaching sessions on Zoom.
In Zimbabwe, our newest volunteer Elsabe Nel is on the ground with Gerald and Madeline Muusha to kick off a trial self-defence class for women at the Mbare Dojo, with the logistical support of Myrthe Minnaert, our Zimbabwe Project Coordinator, and the technical support of Sensei Gonzalo Villarrubia.
And we have not merely witnessed progress within the projects. This year, it felt we were adding a constant stream of new volunteers to the team - indeed whereas there were fifteen people involved in 2019, we are now 24-strong, including our new board of advisors! Our volunteers training programme, now moved online, continues apace, with a mentoring skills training provided by EUC student counsellor Katie Kachmarchyk in November, and a training on processing trauma in the pipeline for 2021.
The arrival of the HDKI association in our network of partners at such a critical time has felt to us a bit like the arrival of the Rohirim Army at the gates of besieged Gondor. Not only has the HDKI provided us with three fantastic new volunteers, namely Alexander Best, Maryse Degbegni and Chrissie Howard, but they have also boosted our fundraising efforts in ways that allow us to dream of providing university scholarships for 2021.
A year to celebrate, after all (with a book launch!)
In the first few months of 2020, I held my breath, wondering how it would be possible to celebrate our Lustrum year (fifth anniversary) under such dire circumstances. Now, in the last month of 2020, I raise a glass to this incredible organisation, more confident than I have ever been about our impact, our possibilities, and our potential. Celebrate we shall! And to do so, I am incredibly proud to present FairFight: since 2015, our Lustrum Anniversary book. This book was the product of months of hard work with the whole team. A special thanks goes to Elsie Cheung, who devised the book structure and wrote the first draft of the text, to Katie Alexander, who provided us with all of the illustrations, and to Yannick Servant, my brother, who poured countless hours into the design of the book. A special mention to all the volunteers who contributed photographs and memorable quotes. This really was a team effort, and I could not think of a more fitting tribute to our journey.