Staying calm on shifting sands: Our response to the global COVID-19 crisis
As an organisation our work is built around genuine partnerships with people working at the heart of care: Since our founding 25 years ago, we have sought to provide caregivers with the skills, resources and support needed, empowering them to create opportunities for vulnerable people to access music as part of their care. Key workers such as teachers and care staff working on the front lines of the sector and often with some of the most vulnerable people in society.
So, when a crisis of this magnitude occurs, a crisis which poses a very real threat to the people it is our aim to help, the first and most natural urge is to do something, often before even knowing what that something is – or should be. Yet we find ourselves in a position where we can’t travel, we can’t enter care settings, we can’t interact with vulnerable people, and many of our Partners are under unprecedented strain at work, not to mention juggling disrupted home lives like the rest of us. Such a seismic change in how we all live inevitably puts much of life into perspective. It can often feel like carrying on as normal is either futile, irrelevant (or both).
This is true for both individuals and organisations. As a charity, we have been reflecting on our role and activities in the face of such an overwhelming challenge. Thankfully, we have a vast amount of experience and history to draw upon in times like these, dating back to the very inception of the charity.
As many of you will already know, our roots lie in the orphanages of Romania during the 1990s, after the fall of the Communist dictator revealed a devastated social care system. The initial response from countries in the West was donations of material aid; volunteers flocked to provide immediate hands-on help. Later came the realisation that securing long-term improvements and creating sustainable change needed a different approach. This was our beginning, and part of a wider shift towards empowering local people through training. The same is also true of our work in Rwanda which started several years after the genocide, when the country was ready to look forward in pursuit of a brighter future. Drawing upon this experience has helped cement our thinking with regard to our role during this phase of the COVID-19 outbreak and our potential role in the future.
A question of timing
In any crisis, the timing and nature of the response is crucial. And as an organisation, we recognise we were not created to go into warzones or humanitarian crises at the point of incident. Embedded into care or education, music can transform experiences, relationships and emotional well-being. But it won’t see nations lay down their arms, or feed the starving, or (in this case) reduce the need for stringent infection control. We have always been proud of our continued ability to respond to need as and when we encounter it, without falling into the trap of being reactive. As we have been careful to do before, we will need to wait until after the ‘war’ is over to play our part in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is not our time.
This notion of responding to need has always been central to how we work as a charity. There have been moments when our powerless to respond in recent weeks has been disheartening. But we are self-aware enough to know that other organisations are better placed to meet the acute needs currently arising from COVID-19. It’s clear this chapter of human history is far from over, and the daily news coming from the care sector is a genuine cause for concern both for now and the future. We need to be patient, to continue listening to our Partners and to respond – not react – to their needs appropriately in the weeks and months to come. Our Partners here in the UK and overseas will need support, so we are redirecting our resources now to make sure we are prepared. When they tell us they want help providing activities for those in their care, when they tell us they would like advice or guidance in how they use music, when they tell us their staff would like training, we will be ready.
How our activities are affected
As our most recent project update illustrates, our worldwide programme of projects and activities has inevitably been affected by the spread of the coronavirus and the subsequent measures taken by various governments in order to protect their populations. Across the nine countries where we work (each of which are at very different stages of the pandemic) lockdowns, school and care setting closures, social distancing, restrictions on international travel and the very real vulnerability of many with whom we work has meant some of our planned activities for this year have either been delayed, postponed or cancelled.
The recognition that now is not our time has also informed our decisions for our global programme. The last thing we want is to add to the burden of care for our Partners who find themselves on the frontline of healthcare efforts. We are resisting any urge to ‘plug the gaps’ with short-term fixes or change what we do in pursuit of ‘relevance’ as a knee-jerk reaction. Moreover, with partnership one of the cornerstones of our approach, if we can’t deliver our activities with our Partners, then to do anything different would go against everything we do and stand for. We may have reduced some aspects of our activities, but our team – together with our partners and project contributors – are also re-shaping and prioritising others in order to strengthen our organisation.
Fortunately, as an organisation which has grown carefully, we are lucky to have diverse income streams and a responsible level of reserves. We are not in immediate jeopardy. But we are nervous that the economic impact of COVID-19 might reduce the potential of our donors and grant-making trusts to be as generous as they have been in the past. And we are aware there will be many frontline causes or charities in immediate financial peril who will be crying out for support. But, when the current crisis eases, the needs of people living with disabilities will still be there, local conflict or hardship won’t have abated, and there will still be people living with dementia for whom providing compassionate care is challenging. So while we work hard to minimise our costs in the interim, we really hope our existing donors will understand we need them to stay alongside us so we can honour our commitment to our partners worldwide, that we will be there for them again.
Despite the global effort to combat this threat, the timescale for this crisis remains unclear, But one thing is for sure: Social distancing measures will relax in time, and people will focus once more on emotional well-being, mental health and relationships. With our continued efforts in the meantime and the loyalty of our supporters, we will then be ready to resume our work. Again, now is not our time, but that time will come.