A Lewisham-based refugee charity has been honoured with the highest award given to British voluntary groups.
The Queens Award for Voluntary Service has been given to the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, a charity which supports refugees, founded by Afghani refugee Dr. Nooralhaq Nasimi seven years ago.
Dr. Nasimi and his family fled from the Taliban in Afghanistan and settled in Lewisham ten years ago.
His daughter, Rabia Nasimi, is a volunteer development officer at the charity. She explained that more than half of the people who work in the group must be volunteers to qualify for the award.
“Volunteers are involved in almost all aspects of our organisation. Many of them are university students. But we also have volunteers from a refugee background,” she said.
“You might wonder why we have a large volunteer base made up from university students. And I’d respond by saying that if you have a group of volunteers that understand English well and have a good understanding of the British system, they can then go on and support other refugees. It’s sustainable.”
The whole team was pleased to receive the award: “Working within the charity sector and being recognised is an extraordinary feeling. You’re doing so much more than your role description. You’re doing so much for the community and going beyond expectations. Work is continuously on your mind,” she said.
Matt Durkin, strategic development volunteer at ACAA, explained: ”Designing, launching and then running all the services the ACAA offers is a monumental task and we spend hundreds of hours of working to ensure we are helping our beneficiaries as much as possible.
“It was really incredible to hear that we had won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This work is hardly ever recognised and never seen by beneficiaries or donors but it is this work that allows the charity to operate and determines how effective it will be.
“That is why the Queen’s Award means so much, it is not only praising all our volunteers for doing a great job but is also recognising the forgotten work…”
Announcing the award, Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, said: “Everyone who has received this award should be incredibly proud. Their service, commitment and care has a profoundly positive impact on communities throughout the country…”
The ACAA’s services reach from educational programmes to free legal advice sessions. The charity provides English language classes, organises homework clubs and weekend supplementary school programmes.
Nasimi believes the main barrier for refugees is language. The ACAA differs from other charities in offering holistic services for the Afghan and the wider refugee community.
“We provide language classes in a mixed, but also in a gender-specific setting. That’s really important because some of the women we’re working with… are not used to mixing with men.
“We found that if we don’t offer these tailored services for them, we’re not serving the community in an inclusive way.”
ACAA’s main objective is to help refugees with their integration: “We want people to continue to celebrate things within their culture and community. We want them to have things to be happy about. British society celebrates difference and diversity and we want them to know that.”
Nasimi studied sociology at Goldsmiths in Lewisham, before taking a Masters at the London School of Economics and is currently completing a PhD in sociology at Cambridge. She said: “Part of my personal success is the work that I’ve been doing because of my involvement in the charity. I am not the only one who has benefitted this way, we can see the progression for many of our volunteers and the difference it makes to their lives too.”
The full list of recipients can be found here.