As our second Ramadan of the pandemic approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the last year, and thinking about what lies ahead. Last Ramadan was extremely challenging for many in our community. Above all, it felt lonely: There were no communal iftars. No visiting the masjid. No breaking bread with friends and family. No tarawih. And there was also a huge amount of grief. We knew very little about Covid-19, except that it was claiming many, many lives. Later, official data confirmed what we were seeing on the ground – that people from minority ethnic communities were far more likely to become seriously ill and to lose their lives from the virus.
Sadly, this Ramadan, many families will have empty seats around the iftar table. Many of us are mourning parents, grandparents, cousins and friends– and too often we were not able to attend their funerals, or grieve as a whole community.
As Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, I’m especially concerned about the long-term impact of this loss on children and young people.
But the impact of COVID on our community goes beyond our collective grief. The pandemic has had many other consequences, which could stay with us for many years to come. With parents and carers losing jobs and wages, even more families are struggling to feed their children, heat their homes – and afford the technology and data needed for almost all communication. Then there is the impact on children and parents’ mental health – already at crisis point before the pandemic.
However, amongst all the pain and difficulty – charities across the country have played a vital role. Barnardo’s launched a unique helpline service – Boloh – specifically for children and families from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Our experienced and qualified helpline workers and psychotherapists provide vital support to families who are struggling – from specialist therapeutic support to food vouchers – working closely with grassroots partners.
It’s clear there is a growing need for this work. We’ve even had calls from Muslim single mothers who couldn’t afford to buy their children winter clothes.
People shouldn’t have to suffer in silence; and this holy month we must come together as a community to support one another.
This Ramadan things aren’t yet back to normal. But we are moving in the right direction. The Masjids are open and we can pray together, while maintaining a safe distance. We can meet friends and family in groups of six outside and most importantly, fewer people are getting ill and more of us are being vaccinated, meaning that all being well, next year we can come together once again as a whole community. Inshallah.
By Javed Khan, CEO, Barnardo’s