Notes from the COFA Annual General Meeting, 14 August 2020

Annual general meetings are commonly thought to be routine and boring, but not this one, following such an extraordinary year.

Monica O’Wheel, Chair, and Bruce Whyatt, Treasurer, in their annual reports, focused on the pandemic, its impact on refugees and asylum seekers, and the response of COFA and its circles.

When COVID-19 hit Adelaide, the reaction was fast and generous, with Circles stepping up to support asylum seekers and refugees without income after they lost their jobs. They contacted people on Bridging Visas, raised money, distributed food and paid rent.” – Monica, COFA Committee Chair

With the advent of the Corona virus, many refugees have lost their jobs and are not receiving any government support. Their situation has become dire and, for many, their only means of survival is from charities such as COFA. When there is a desperate need on the part of people in our community, others respond with amazing generosity. Donations and grants rose from $91,000 in 2018 increasing to $204,000 in 2019, to $324,000 in FY 2020. This was also highlighted in the recent ABC radio and TV exposure. COFA received $23,000 in donations through the website in the following two weeks.” – Bruce, COFA Committee Treasurer

So how can a charity, operated purely by volunteers, and without money up its sleeve, respond so strongly and quickly? Two reasons stand out. First, COFA’s structure of affiliated member Circles have a flexibility that gives our organisation the agility to respond quickly when there is a new situation, and to meet the diverse range of needs asylum seekers and refugees. We have 200 active volunteers and the number of active circles has increased to 25, with 6 new ones being formed over the last few months to meet new needs arising from impacts of the pandemic. Over 400 individuals and 120 families were supported by circles over the last year. Second, the members of our Circles show again and again, and especially through the achievements of the last few months, extraordinary compassion, commitment, resourcefulness, skills and energy, in service of the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees. – Remarks of Monica and Bruce regarding the work of the circles

COVID-19 and its effects are in the front of our minds, yet the heartlessness and cruelty of present policies remain unchanged. So actions by COFA to alleviate the hardship and suffering of asylum seekers and refugees continue to be needed. There are many wonderful ways each active Circle has worked to meet the needs of the people they assist and these could fill a book. In upcoming news posts we will highlight just two of these: the largest project that the Circles of Friends Australia has ever embarked upon, the Food Box Project; and the project to support refugee student scholarship holders at the University of Adelaide. Stay tuned.