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Meera, medium and message – MRG’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal

30 May 2013

MRG’s Fundraiser, Lali Foster, reflects on our collaboration with UK actress Meera Syal and BBC Radio 4 to raise awareness and funds for MRG’s work to end slavery in Mauritania.

Now that the last cheques have floated in and our thank you notes are travelling all over the country, I can well and truly say that MRG’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal is over. BBC listeners were generous; our brief, two minute spot on Radio 4 last month, raised the very impressive figure of £7071. 59. This will directly support our work defending the rights of enslaved people in Mauritania – the focus of our Appeal.

On my desk is a pile of now empty envelopes which – apart from precious pounds – also contained heartfelt words of support and requests for more information from the British public. These showed that our Appeal stirred up feelings – curiosity, compassion, shock – among listeners. My colleagues in our Media and Communications department also tell me MRG saw a spike in followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook last month. This is, of course, half the reason for appeals such as this: the pounds being every bit as important as the publicity gained for our cause.

And what a cause it is! As a Fundraiser new to MRG I was initially super excited to be involved in such a high profile appeal. Yet when it came to brainstorming how we would articulate the cause of ‘minority rights’ to the general public, I realised the difficulties my colleagues must have faced over the course of MRG’s 40 year existence: how to articulate the diversity of the minority and indigenous groups we work with and make a coherent case for their rights as a whole? How to explain succinctly the complex causes of minority disadvantage or the dire consequences of ignoring intergroup tensions? Oh yeah, and how to do all this in 2 minutes?

All the groups we work with desperately need support, and yet it was our work with the Haratine community of Mauritania which eventually became the focus of our Radio 4 Appeal. The systematic denial of the rights of the Haratine is so shocking, that a moving and very real script pretty much wrote itself. No drama, no hyperbole, just the tragic story and the potential that we – MRG and our supporters and our partner organisation in Mauritania – have to bring it to an end.

Credit: MRG
Credit: MRG

Coming back to the minorities’ message: did our radio script describing the situation of a formerly enslaved woman in far away Mauritania speak beyond one specific case? Sure – people responded to the Appeal and we’ve now gained further support for our Mauritania work. But from a campaigning perspective, does our audience have any greater sense of the cause for minority rights? I believe they do, and this is where Meera Syal, who brilliantly presented our Appeal, comes in.

Actor, writer, comedian and all round legend, Meera Syal is also no stranger to minority issues. Meera’s personal experience of growing up as a British Asian in a small English village in the 1960s informs much of her work and, as I learnt when we met, her way of seeing the world. As an Anglo-Asian teenager in my hometown in Australia, I read and watched Meera’s work so I was more than a little bit star-struck at Broadcasting House last month. Meera lives the minority message: representing Britain’s diversity by her public persona and exploring the dimensions of a multicultural society through her work.

Is it such a massive conceptual leap from a Mauritanian former slave to a well-loved British-Asian actor? Sure it is: but this is precisely the leap Minority Rights Group makes every day. Our work is all about advocating for the full participation of minorities at every level of society – in families and communities, in law and public life. History has shown that when the voices of ethnic, linguistic or religious groups go unheard, injustice and oppression follows. Full participation means being able to speak out for your rights, stand up for your identity and express yourself. That’s why for the BBC Radio 4 Appeal, Meera Syal, our medium, was also – crucially – our message.

This article reflects the opinion of its author only and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.