The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of staying connected and keeping relations with our loved ones. Due to social distancing, connectivity during this period is more essential than ever. This week, for Mental Health Awareness Week, we are all encouraged to think about and connect with those in our communities who are experiencing mental health issues.
Staying connected with family and friends is an important aspect of good mental health, in order to build a support network and keep bonds alive – whether that is sending a simple message or having a quick phone call. Luckily with the rise of globalisation, it has become easier than ever for us all to stay connected with each other regardless of where we are in the world.
Once the JRS UK office decided to close in mid-March, we had to find alternative ways for our friends to receive on-going emotional and practical support in hopes of continuing our mission to advocate and accompany them. With some of our friends having limited access to resources and experiencing financial difficulties or homelessness along with this outbreak, their mental health can suffer significantly. It is now our duty more than ever to help the most vulnerable in society. JRS UK has therefore decided to take our services on the road with our Emergency Response staff and volunteers delivering food and toiletries packages, pre-paid contactless cards as well as providing mobile phone top-ups.
Mobile phone top-ups are a crucial aspect during this outbreak, as many of our friends are experiencing loneliness and feeling more isolated and physically distant from family and friends than ever, this can therefore impact their mental well-being. However, topping up their mobile phones with credit, allows our refugee friends to stay in touch with their relatives – many of whom live abroad – as well as one another, in hopes of keeping ties and as a means to fill their time. This is a vital step in maintaining social connectedness, access to medical and legal advice, and a network of familiar personal support – all key elements that help to take care of mental health.
The process of topping up our refugee friend’s mobile phones starts with our Phone Support Volunteers calling and collecting vital information such as their phone numbers and mobile network. With this information, we are able to provide them with a £10 monthly phone top-up. This top-up offers some of our friends a bundle that includes unlimited text and calls along with data. Although this is something that many of us take for granted, it means a lot to our friends who are now able to speak with a voice they trust on the other end of the phone, or receive a photo of a family member via WhatsApp. Thus far, we have topped up 201 friend’s mobile phones with various network top-ups from 120 top-ups on Lyca, 6 on T-Mobile, 5 on Labera, 18 on Giff Gaff, 1 on Virgin, 19 on EE, 3 on Vodafone, 1 on Tesco, 4 on 02 and 24 on 3G. However, with limited staff members topping up mobile phones, this can be labour intensive and time-consuming. Nonetheless, receiving heart-warming message from our friends in regard to their phone top-up makes the process all the worthwhile. An example of this is a message I received from a friend once I informed him that JRS UK has topped up their phone; “Hello there, thank you so much for the message. Yes, I have just received the £10 credit on my phone. It is fantastic and very helpful…. A massive THANK YOU for your help and support. Please do keep safe and once again THANK YOU!!!.” As simple as a phone top-up is, we have seen how effective it is as it allows our refugee friends to communicate with friends and family who live in different parts of the world via text or a call, in hopes of finding out how they are doing during this pandemic. While our friends may still face many challenges, this communication boosts their mental and emotional health and reminds them that they are not alone.
If you would like to help us continue providing our refugee friends with mobile phone top-ups donate to our Refugee Friends’ Hardship Fund today