Here at Enthuse, we work with a number of fantastic causes, all looking to better the world in their own way and all deserving of attention and deeper understanding. Black History Month is a moment in time that encourages reflection, celebration and learning. But as we cover in this blog, Black History Month alone isn’t going to help solve all the challenges the Black community faces at the pace required.
We sat down with Aderonke Apata, founder of African Rainbow Family, as well as two of the charity’s volunteers, to better understand the purpose of the charity and highlight the excellent service it provides to those who rely on it and get their thoughts on Black History Month.
What is African Rainbow Family?
African Rainbow Family is a charity that supports LGBTIQ people of African heritage and the wider BAME groups. The organisation was founded by activist Aderonke Apata, a lesbian from Nigeria, in the wake of multiple Commonwealth countries in Africa adopting draconian anti-gay laws in 2014. These laws sought to criminalise LGBTIQs simply based on who they love. Aderonke herself fled Nigeria after being sentenced to death by stoning for being a lesbian.
The charity is created, run and led by people affected by the issues they are trying to address. This experience creates a mutual understanding and a collective purpose that drives the charity forward to make social change.
The charity’s mission is to build a supportive community for LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum while building towards a world without prejudice.
African Rainbow Family does this by offering support during the asylum process, providing a social community, campaigning against hate crimes, and helping to provide funds for food, therapy and travel, among other things.
“Our goal is to reach every LGBTIQ person seeking asylum in the UK and look after the mental health of all our service users.”Vanessa Nwosu, volunteer and trustee
The human impact
Vanessa Nwosu is a volunteer and trustee at African Rainbow Family, a charity she first joined as a service user in 2019. Vanessa’s story is one that is familiar to many of the people African Rainbow Family helps today. Vanessa initially came to the UK to study for a Master’s at university. And when she met her partner, pictures of the couple from social media were shared with her family back home, who did not approve of the relationship. This left Vanessa without a home to go back to and in need of asylum in the UK.
The asylum process that Vanessa faced is typically a lengthy one that can last several years and the amount of support offered by the state during this time, both financially and emotionally, is often found lacking.
The charity’s founder, Aderonke did not see her experience reflected in the process when she herself was seeking asylum in 2014 either. There were causes that offered support for asylum or causes that offered support to LGBTIQ people – but not one that brought the two together and was specific to her culture or others in Africa. Aderonke wanted to change this for people like herself and Vanessa.
“They don’t prescribe the actual medication for our ailment. They may provide me with the standard painkiller they do to everyone else, but I might need something stronger.”Aderonke Apata, Founder
While seeking asylum, Aderonke made it her mission to campaign to highlight the injustice towards LGBTIQ people in Nigeria and many other African countries, and bring attention to the unique circumstances this had created for people. LGBTIQ people from Africa were fleeing their countries to find tolerance and safety – and she wanted to create a community that supported this journey. This is how African Rainbow Family came to be founded in 2014.
“I thought it was ok to say ‘we’re LGBTIQ, we’re black and we’re human’. I wanted to spread that message and show people what we’re going through.”Aderonke Apata, Founder
How African Rainbow Family is helping
African Rainbow Family has grown significantly since its formation in 2014. The charity now supports over 500 people through the asylum process across 5 centres in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Cardiff.
The Home Office provides those seeking asylum with just £39 a week and some won’t even be allowed to claim for that if it’s deemed that they do not meet the criteria. This means that the ability to afford to socialise, purchase food, travel, top up mobile phone data, get therapy or seek clerical advice on an asylum application is practically impossible. This can make for a very isolating experience, particularly during a global pandemic.
This is why African Rainbow Family works hard to provide a like-minded community with practical and emotional support for those seeking asylum in the UK from Africa. African Rainbow Family holds many talks and meetings so that people can connect, socialise and share experiences. Travel to and from these meetings is paid for and a hot meal is always provided, too – for many, that will be their only hot meal of the week.
“It can be very isolating when seeking asylum, as the Government subsidy provided does not stretch far. When I came to the UK in 2019 I needed a supportive community and something to keep me busy. This feeling of isolation has been particularly difficult through the pandemic – so we want to ensure people can afford to socialise with others who may have a similar shared experience.”Vanessa Nwosu, volunteer and trustee
Another way to provide support for those who need it is to offer counselling from trained professionals. Private counselling can be expensive and many therapists will not be versed in issues relating specifically to those seeking asylum or those in the LGBTIQ community from Africa. The charity uses funding or donations to cover reduced fees for specialist therapists at £35 an hour so its service users can have access to expert support free of charge.
Filling out bureaucratic forms such as those required in the asylum or refugee process can be tricky, especially when it’s not your home nation. African Rainbow Family’s volunteers take the time to help fill out these forms accurately, so its service users get a fair shot at asylum. They also go that step further during the appeals process by paying for transport to court and having a friendly face in attendance.
“It can be a daunting experience to attend a court hearing in a different country for an asylum appeal. Having travel paid for and the support of a friend can help put people at ease and lets them know they’re not alone.”Vanessa Nwosu, volunteer and trustee
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month means something different to everyone. For an intersectional charity like African Rainbow Family, this is particularly true. It’s important that we’re telling stories about sexuality and not just race.
“Black History Month is needed in the same way we need the Pride events. We all know the history of racism and subsequent disadvantages for Black people but we need to celebrate our achievements, too.
We need to commend the many fantastic accomplishments of Black people and bring light to the brilliant things we have done that people are unaware of. The stories of Black Queer people should be included in this discourse.”Aderonke Apata, Founder
It’s clear that education is also needed around homophobia in Africa and the idea that attitudes and legislations have always been that way.
“The notion that homosexuality is un-African is something we kick against – what’s un-African is homophobia!
Nigeria, for example, inherited laws against homosexuals from its colonial masters. It’s things like these we can use Black History Month to educate on. We need to learn more about people’s past experiences and compare them with our own to figure out how we got to where we are.”Aderonke Apata, Founder
There is also the feeling that while Black History Month has its benefits, the fact that it is confined to just one month is something that needs to be talked about.
“The types of activities that take place during Black History Month should be happening all year round. People need support and acknowledgement every day of the year.”Vanessa Nwosu, volunteer and trustee
“There’s a lack of education on Black history through schools and keeping Black History Month to just one month a year is an extension of that. This kind of exceptionalism prevents us from deeper understanding. We should be educating ourselves all year round and we should be supporting Black causes every day as well.”Unnamed volunteer
How can you help support?
First of all, being an ally for the causes the charity champions is a good place to start. This means educating yourself on Black and LGBTIQ history and learning more about the experiences of people seeking asylum in the UK.
Offer your time and expertise to people and charities who need it; whether that’s filling out forms, joining activist campaigns or just taking the time to listen and be compassionate.
“It’s important not to take up more space than needed. Charities like African Rainbow Family should be led by people with lived experience. If that doesn’t apply to you, then offer your support if they need extra resources and be prepared to listen and to learn.”Unnamed volunteer
Support in the form of donations is always valued and goes towards providing vital services where it’s most needed. You can donate to African Rainbow Family to help fund the work they do providing mental health and clerical support as well as travel expenses and food.
We’d like to thank the people of African Rainbow Family for taking the time to share their stories and opinions with us. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the charity’s website here.