Here you will find occassional articles written by members of the church community about events and issues in church life, the community and the wider world.
Welcome to our first ever blog post. This week, Phil Lane from Oasis Belgium, which seeks to help marginalised people find community and is supported by St Paul’s, tells us how the organisation is overcoming the challenges posed by the corona pandemic and finding a greater sense of community.
The lockdown has been tough for everyone in different ways but imagine you are one of the most marginalised members of society: a trafficked woman forced to repay your travel debt in prostitution services, a child living in a squat with school being the only place where you get decent food but now there is no school, or you are elderly and frail and living alone.
In normal times, helping excluded people is already difficult but the corona crisis has brought fresh challenges for those who are already excluded from community to reach out and get the help they so desperately need. And for those whose mission it is to help them.
Oasis Belgium, whose chief activities include helping trafficked women escape desperate situations where they are abused; getting children whose parents are without papers well fed, into school and into decent housing; and assisting the elderly, has had to shut down certain activities but has been finding other ways to assist society’s most vulnerable.
The Welcome project is mainly helping Thai women who have been trafficked by organised crime, which lends them money and then demands that they pay it back by working in erotic massage parlours (essentially brothels). The crisis and consequent lockdown has made it harder for these women to reach out.
“The massage parlours were meant to have closed during the lockdown but what we have seen is that people are operating out of their homes. These women very often experience domestic abuse and violence,” says Lane.
“Our Thai language helpline, that’s been really well used during the lockdown. We have also been translating the government’s advice on corona into Thai and delivering masks.”
For some women this still has not been enough. “Women who are threatened will call and we meet them somewhere public where nobody is in danger,” explains Lane adding that the problem for some of these women to make initial contact is that “often the abuser is in the room” while meeting in public, has been complicated due to the lockdown.
But the crisis has brought one positive at least. “What we have found is that social services have been working together well. By the grace of God, we have been getting people to asylum centres and to court hearings and also getting these women into rooms with wifi where we can talk to them online.”
Finding greater cooperation with social services and government has been also been a huge benefit in Oasis’s work in the commune of Saint Josse where the organisation had been offering assistance to a squat where 270 people live, helping to get the children into school.
“We have had some positive meetings with the mayor. In Saint Josse, we are now looking at developing a project to have a centre where young people can learn to cook, access ingredients and have a more positive experience than they get from just going to the food bank.”
In Limburg, where Oasis operated the Buurtbar (a bar on wheels offering coffee and a chance for elderly people to find community) deeper cooperation with other services has also been key to getting back into business. “We have tentatively been doing social distancing events. It’s a huge benefit to these people who were vulnerable before the lockdown but even more so now.”
Since the lockdown has eased, the workload for Oasis has increased dramatically. Notably, it has seen a flood of new cases of trafficked women who were not able to get online and get help. Lane asks us for three things: Volunteers (for a range of activities, including sitting on the board, finances, visiting women in the parlours), funding, and, not least, prayer.
For daily prayers, please visit Oasis Belgium’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/oasisbelgium
To find out more about how you can volunteer or donate, please see here: https://oasisbe.com/
Emma Portier Davis