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Saturday, Jan 23, 2021

Queen praises ‘wonderful’ work of Commonwealth volunteers in video call

Queen praises ‘wonderful’ work of Commonwealth volunteers in video call

The Queen has been treated to three royal firsts: a virtual performance and tour, and the gift of a face mask. During the call the Queen was introduced to award winners from Trinidad and Tobago, Mozambique and Cyprus, who spoke of the impact of their initiatives in their local communities and beyond.

The Queen has been treated to three royal firsts: a virtual performance and tour, and the gift of a face mask.

They came as she took part in a video call from Windsor with three winners of the Commonwealth Points of Light award, to celebrate their both their achievements and the importance of volunteers across the Commonwealth.

She awards one volunteer from across the Commonwealth each week with a Points of Light award, in recognition of the difference they have made in their local community.

During the call the Queen was introduced to award winners from Trinidad and Tobago, Mozambique and Cyprus, who spoke of the impact of their initiatives in their local communities and beyond.

Her first ever virtual performance saw 45 children from Cyprus perform a piece of music in celebration of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh’s recent 73rd Wedding Anniversary.

The Sistema Cyprus Symphony Orchestra performed a never before heard piece – Modus Cyprius – due to be premiered to the public next week.

Nikoletta Polydorou, a music teacher from Cyprus who received her award in August 2020, founded ‘Sistema Cyprus’ in 2018.

The initiative helps transform the lives of children and young people from vulnerable and marginalised communities by providing free music education and instruments, and runs its own children’s orchestra and choir.

It also collaborates with three Cypriot Universities to provide academic scholarship opportunities, and now have their first student studying music at University.

Miss Polydorou told the Queen: “Good afternoon Your Majesty. I am deeply honoured to have this call with you today and thankful [to you] for recognising my work as a volunteer. I am extremely grateful that you will have this opportunity to see these wonderful children today that changed and brought meaning in my life. ”


The Queen speaks to Commonwealth Points of Light award winners Len Peters (bottom left), Ruy Santos (top left) and Nikoletta Polydorou


She described to the Queen her first experiencing of teaching nine years ago at an international school with children from 20 different countries, many considered at risk.

“I literally feel like I learned life through them," she said.

She said her Sistema Cyprus initiative was designed to transform the lives of children who live in some of the most challenging neighbourhoods of Nicosia and Larnaca, providing them with free instruments and music lessons, as well as orchestra rehearsals.

“Our man aim is to give the children the opportunity to dream, using music as a tool,” she explained.

“As this call is a few days after from your wedding anniversary, please allow the Sistema Cyprus Symphony Orchestra to perform an extract from a piece which was specially composed for us...and will be premiered by us for the public at our next concert. You will be the first to hear [it] and please accept it as our gift for your anniversary. ”

“That’s very kind,” smiled the Queen, as she gazed intently at the screen.

The children played beautifully and ended with a group chant: “Happy Anniversary Your Majesty!”

The monarch, 94, chuckled with evident delight saying: "That’s very nice, isn’t it?

“Were your able to keep the orchestra going during the pandemic?”

She was told they had to stop for a two month lockdown but were able to start again afterwards with small group of children.

“Well, thank you for letting me hear that. That was very nice,” she smiled.


During the video call the Queen was treated to a virtual tour of a collaborative working space in Mozambique

The Queen also spoke to Len Peters from Trinidad and Tobago, who received the first ever Commonwealth Points of Light award in February 2018 in recognition of his community driven conservation organisation – the Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guide Association.

Over 30 years, his educational work in local communities and regular patrols of local beaches has transformed entire communities, with Trinidad and Tobago now home to one of the densest leatherback sea turtle nesting sites in the world.

Talking about his organisation, which was founded in 1990, Mr Peters said: “The organisation was formed to try to convince the residents who live in my community that the leatherback sea turtles, the most ancient of all sea turtles, that come to our island every year to nest, needed protection. My community consists of persons who would eat the leatherback turtle as food. Every leatherback turtle that crawled onto the beach at night would be consumed by the residents. ”

He explained that his own family was one of the largest turtle-eating families in the villager but, despite that, he and a group of friends came together “to try and make a difference”.

“Here you have a young boy from a turtle eating family wanting to make a difference,” he said.

“At night we would walk the beach back and forth protecting the turtles that came up, to try to convince people that it was the right thing to do. What we didn’t know, that 30 years later that effort would see Trinidad being recognised as one of the most important nesting sites for the leatherback seas turtles in the world.”

He said when they started their conservation programme they would have 20 to 30 turtles coming to nest - now they have 500-600.

“This project has transformed the entire community, the lives of the residents. The economic drive of the community now is all about conservation now,” he said.

“So David Attenborough got to know what you were doing?” the Queen enquired.

Mr Peters explained that the celebrated naturalist spend two weeks with them, and “inspired the children to dream”.

“That’s very interesting indeed to hear that,” the Queen said.

Ruy Santos from Mozambique, who received the Commonwealth Points of Light award in July this year, told the Queen about Makobo, a collaborative working space to promote nutrition, education and youth employment, he founded in 2009.

The space includes a Soup Kitchen, which during the pandemic fed 6,000 people daily, including lunchboxes to support local school children.

In response to Covid-19, the organisation also began working with 15 local dressmakers, producing over 6,000 masks - some of which were sold and others went to underprivileged communities, hospitals and charity workers.

Taking the Queen on her first virtual tour, Mr Santos walked around his workspace, showing the monarch some of the food they serve.

Despite her advancing years, the monarch took some technical difficulties in her stride, peering eagerly at the camera when Mr Santos cut out due to technical difficulties.

He said: “Your Majesty, thank you very much for this great big honour to talk to you and be here with you today. [this] is a collaborative working space promoting nutrition, eduction and youth employment in Mozambique. This is our space, our soup kitchen, where we have the capacity to feed 6,000 people daily during the pandemic. We are trying to replicate the lunchbox initiative, which feeds the children in school. all over the country to feed one million children by the end of 2025. ”

The Queen looked particularly impressed, widening her eyes in surprise and nodding her head.

He continued: "But it’s more than only this food, we want to promote more opportunities for young people and especially women to reduce the high rates of malnutrition and illiteracy in Mozambique that effects 80 per cent of our population.

“We have started a campaign with our partners to see if we could also promote employment for women in the community. We knew that during the pandemic most of these women would would suffer from lockdown and social distancing and constraints of movement. ”

Mr Santos introduced The Queen to four of the women who are producing the masks and described how they were being made with a “very fashionable and traditional textile". “That’s why we have been able to sell enough and continue the support we have in our community,” he explained.

He also demonstrated how the masks were wrapped in environmentally-friendly banana fibre paper and presented Her Majesty with one of Makobo’s handmade facemasks, which will be sent to Buckingham Palace.

“Now we have a special offer for you, Ma’am, a mask that we want to offer you as a gift in acknowledging and recognising the prize that you gave to us. Please accept our humble gift to you from Mozambique with love,” he said.

“Oh that is very kind of you indeed,” smiled the monarch, peering in to take a closer look.

“How many volunteers do you need for doing all this work in the kitchen?”

She was told they have 24 collaborators but they were looking for more so they could expand.

“Yes indeed, yes. Well that’s splendid work,” she remarked.

At the end of the call, she smiled broadly and told the award winners: “Thank you all for taking part in this programme. I’m delighted to have heard your stories and I think it’s wonderful work you are all doing, volunteering so much. Thank you very much.”

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