At a strange but necessary moment in times of pandemic, an organisation has emerged that targets Latin Americans, those who are invisible and neglected by British society. It makes a difference through its own particular way of working.
It all started when the pandemic began. But a year before, ideas were put on the table.
Carlos Corredor, a Colombian who has been working with social enterprises and charities in London for more than 20 years, met Jose Trueba while working together in an organisation that provides support to vulnerable communities in London.
Jose, with more than 15 years of experience as a business administrator in Latin America in the private sector and also with non-governmental organisations in London, turned out to be the person he sat down with to discuss the gaps in service delivery to vulnerable groups.
They spent long hours discussing the best and most effective way to reach out to these communities so that they could have a greater impact on their lives. And so, in March 2020 they launched an organisation that by the end of the year was registered with Companies House with a sonorous and evocative name: Aymara.
As a term Aymara refers to an indigenous people (and their language) living near Lake Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia, in South America. As an Aymara organisation it is a response to a need to offer a better and more wide-ranging service to Latin Americans migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, those most fragile in the face of the current pandemic.
They are aware that there are many organisations working with such communities, but they also know that there is still a need for greater outreach and effectiveness in the provision of services so that no one is excluded.
At the moment only Jose and Carlos Aymara are at the forefront of offering the services they currently provide. They do this virtually although their ‘official office’ is at Latin American House.
But they have plans to grow and to hire as their workload increases. The location? They know that they will be located in Lewisham, Southwark or Lambeth, as these London boroughs have the highest concentration of Latin American immigrants, most of them living in deprived conditions.
What services and/or support do you offer?
At the moment we are working on a couple of projects related to sexual health, but with the prospect of working in other fields related to health in general, and on issues of settlement for immigrants, training and employment. The services are absolutely free for all users.
You say that Aymara was created to reduce inequalities in ethnic communities. So, it is presumed that you have done some study, or based your work on one, to be sure that ethnic communities live in conditions of inequality.
It is estimated that there are 250,000 Latin Americans living in the UK, and half of them live in London. 1 in 5 Latin Americans have never been to a primary care doctor. 1 in 5 Latin Americans have claimed some form of social welfare benefit, a figure well below average. One third of Latin Americans live in overcrowded housing shared with others. One third of Latin Americans have experienced abuse and exploitation in the workplace. Two-thirds of Latin Americans perceive discrimination as a major barrier to improving their quality of life.
Which communities does Aymara benefit?
We are focused on Latin Americans now and will be for some time, but we do not rule out offering our services to other ethnic minorities in the future, be they African, Asian, or any other nationality.
When you talk about marginalised, stigmatised and socially excluded groups, which minorities are you referring to?
Precisely those people who do not have easy access to traditional government services, health or otherwise. These groups are often immigrants living in the city of London.
In your story, you say that you “agreed to develop Carlos’ methodology to design a new theory of change”. What is this methodology?
It is based on maintaining and expanding our network of vulnerable individuals, so that no one is excluded. We have found that the failure of many organisations is that they do not identify these individuals, but expect them to contact the organisations themselves. This is not the way it works. Very few individuals ask for help on their own initiative, you have to go and find them and offer them services.
There are now many organisations in the UK, in London in particular, offering services to communities. They all seem to do similar work. What is different in Aymara?
There are two factors that differentiate us from other organisations. One is the network of contacts that allows us to reach all vulnerable individuals who need our services. And the other is that we provide evidence of the help we provide, so that the organisations that fund us know that they are investing their money properly.
Has being born in the middle of the pandemic made things easier or harder?
Neither. We decided to create Aymara in the middle of this pandemic and, so far, we are getting support from organisations that want to fund us.
What are you doing about Covid?
We are encouraging all vulnerable people we know or work with to register with their GP and take their coronavirus vaccination. We are also trying to work with the NHS on these campaigns, as we have the same objective.
Are you going to do studies or just offer services?
In addition to the projects we are designing to provide our services, we are offering studies through consultations with vulnerable groups to identify the major problems they face. Our idea is to work with universities for the development of such studies.