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A note from our CEO: Reasons To Be Cheerful

There is no doubt that the rampage of COVID-19 around the world is daunting for everyone. Millions of people around the world are holding their breath, hoping this virus will pass by and leave them safe.

Recently, I was in conversation with Alexander McLean, the founder of the Justice Defenders (formerly African Prisons Project). Alexander and his organisation was one of the first projects that we supported here at QCT, from the summer of 2017. Alexander has been a great source of advice and encouragement for me and I have had the privilege of meeting the Justice Defenders and seeing them in action.

The Justice Defenders themselves are young serving prisoners and prison wardens in Ugandan and Kenyan prisons. They are trained paralegals and lawyers. They help those wrongly incarcerated, in prison only because they could not afford legal representation. The Justice Defenders work to build their case for freedom. Against the odds, they succeed in securing rightful release for their peers every day. They are, without doubt, remarkable human beings.

Alexander and I talked about these lean fundraising days. While the Justice Defenders organisation will survive, many of the Justice Defenders themselves are at serious risk, given the problem of overcrowding in their prisons. Soap and hand sanitiser is in very short supply. Distancing is impossible. I know the Prison Service in these countries will do all they can to prevent disaster. Alexander and his team has been asked to help – but the risks are very real. We are talking about what we might do together to send a signal that we are with them.

In the face of all this, we all have to keep going about our business, whatever that is, while watching, waiting and hoping.

I am lucky. In going about my business, I encounter the leadership and skill of young people like Alexander who are running organisations with a strong social purpose. They are providing help, support, encouragement, opportunities, jobs and more within their communities. Many are changing what they are doing to support the relief efforts. They are shouldering problems they can see – stepping up and making a difference. They do it in their hundreds of thousands. And they do it every day.

We recently shared the story of Midia Shikh Hassan. Midia is the co-founder of Dextra Innovation – a charity that makes prosthetics for refugees and those living in poverty. In light of the current crisis, Midia has joined with a team at The University of Ottowa, to refocus the skills she and her team have honed at Dextra to instead create life-saving personal protective equipment for those working on the frontline, as well as urgent medical equipment for those currently suffering from COVID-19. This is brilliant and the response we have had to this inspirational story has been really positive.

These are the stories the world really needs at the moment. In the days and weeks to come, The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust will continue to share more stories like these, showing the whole world that there are young people around us, bringing hope, help and support to others. There are young people leading through the difficult times, facing enormous challenges but cracking on, because for them, not trying is not an option. To quote Spencer West, the Canadian motivational speaker and WE Movement Ambassador, for these young people “there is no can’t, there is no won’t – there is only how”.

In sharing their stories, their advice and their guidance, we will share some of the optimism and hope that we at QCT see every day. It drives us on – knowing that around the world, at the grass roots, there are people working tirelessly to help others have a shot at a better future, strengthening their communities and local economies alike.

When this is over, let’s work together to support these young people. Funders, let’s all offer them the support, unrestricted funding and respect they deserve. For not only is the collect impact of their work substantial and important, they are the ones whose purpose and sense of fairness will help determine our future. We hope we will emerge in to a world where, with the support of young people, no-one is ever this vulnerable again.

by Nicola Brentnall, CEO of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust

Originally posted on Thursday, 30th April 2020

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