OYUNA in conversation with Mikkel Juel Iversen
Mikkel Juel Iversen, the founder of Under One Sky – a collective of volunteers bound together by a shared desire to support marginalised and vulnerable communities.
On 2 April 2020, they started an emergency food initiative for homeless people left out on London’s streets during the lock down. Every night since then, teams of volunteers have walked the streets to deliver more than 5000 meals to rough sleepers lying on the deserted streets of London.
Under One Sky volunteers. London, 29 June 2020.
How did the name Under One Sky come to be? Our favourite mantra is “the sky is always blue”, so I really love this name.
It came completely out of accident. We started this back in 2012, and it was actually coming out of a production company called Dignity Entertainment which makes films to inspire positive social change. Then my business partner and I just said, let's just go out and do something that sort of embraces the values that we have. Suddenly a lot of people wanted to get involved and I say, we need to have witnessed our name. I did a crowdsourcing campaign to get some t-shirts done. And one of the designers made a logo that said: “under one sky”. I thought that was a perfect name for this. At the end of the day, we're all in the same world breathing the same air.
Such a nice thought. I also read about how you meditate a lot. Once you start meditating properly, you start connecting to people.
I think that's the thing. It's just about being awake and having your ears and your eyes open because you'll constantly be sent messages or given opportunities.
How did you start meditating?
I heard a ”voice” saying "you are passionate people". Then what happened to me was that I started pursuing that path and after a little while, people that needed help started coming into my life. It was actually more helping from the heart, just being a messenger. I have been lucky in my life because I have a lot of love to give. My heart doesn't get exhausted. So, what I can always say to people is, you know, I'm always there. It's just like there is an anchor in your life that you can go back to that you can call home.
What's your opinion of the main root problem causing homelessness and what is the prevention of it in society?
Well, I would say that the root cause is always some type of trauma. There's always the question, do drugs lead to homelessness? Or does homelessness lead to drug use? And I think it's a bit of both. There's also, of course, a whole mental health piece, and I would say probably about 90% of the people out there have some level of mental health issue. And, you know, it's always a domino effect of one thing leading to another. One of the things that I'm quite passionate about is that about 30% of people who leave foster care end up homeless in some shape or form. I mean there's always some type of trauma. And that's also why, in my experience, it's quite easy to get people off the street. As in, you know, get them into some housing.
Even though I do believe evil will always exist within human nature, how could we prevent traumas?
One of the key pieces on the Under One Sky community is that it's about creating a place where people are accepted for who they are. I want Under One Sky to inspire others to set up their own small communities. I firmly believe that what's missing in society is community. If we had community, you wouldn't have people feeling lonely at home. The whole spirit and ethos of Under One Sky is that everyone's always welcome, and the beauty of this is that so many friendships have been created through the process. So many friendships have been made with people who, if you listed their demographics and education etc. you would never match.
I think this is a very good point. I read that somewhere in Japan, in one of the villages where they have the highest longevity, they've noticed there is an amazing sense of community. So, if someone was struggling a little bit with finances, the whole community would chip in to help out. So, it's quite amazing how communities are so important right now. In Golborne Road, where we have our studio, there is such an amazing community too. Everyone is so friendly and ready to help.
It's one of those things where it's what everyone wants, but no one wants to take the first step. You go to a bar, everyone wants to dance, but no one's going to be the first. So what I've experienced with Under One Sky is that, if you give people a vehicle for participating, they will do it.
Could you please share a positive story with us about a homeless person? I think it's so important for people to have more positive connotations and more understanding about this.
Yes, I do have a lot of positive examples because we live these moments every day. For example, there was this guy who was homeless and his guitar was just stolen, so he was pretty down on his luck. The team comes back for the night reports, and we just did a call out on Facebook saying that we need a guitar for a homeless man. Half an hour later, we received three guitars, an offer, and bikes. The next day, he was jumping in the air. He was so happy. I like the fact that we just share stories on Facebook or whatever, so it's very quick to get things donated. And that's again thanks to that community thing.
What do homeless people need the most?
I would say open hearts and open minds. If you ask the guys from the streets that we meet every day, would you prefer to get a meal or have a conversation, they'll say the conversation. It is compassion meets courage because it's having the compassion to actually want to have that conversation, but it's also having the courage to do it. The most frequent question I get is how do I approach a homeless person. And for me, I’d say “Hey dude, how are you doing?”. It is so easy.
I can imagine. Most people are a bit standoffish, right?
That is where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say: have I not grown more in my life that I feel so awkward to speak to a person who has nothing? Well, you know, you might drive a Porsche and you might have X number in your bank account, but if you can figure that out then as a human being, how evolved are you then?
So, what is your take on collective positive thoughts? Because I feel like now, you know, post-pandemic people already start talking about negative news.
From that perspective, I very much believe that you know what you emit is what you receive. It's kind of like we're a radio. If you accept this sad song frequency in the radio, that's what the radio is going to play. It is actually just a choice. And I think that's one of the things, you know, when we speak about the universe and cosmos and everything else. And we spoke about the simplicity, it's like, just choose what you want and that's what you're going to get. It's so easy.
Mikkel Juel Iversen and Oyuna Tserendorj, June 2020.
I think this collective positivity is so needed because the media is full of negativity. It's just so important right now to share positivity.
I think that's what helped a lot of our volunteers to find their own positivity. Otherwise, people just sit at home, especially those who live on their own. This has been such a positive experience.
If you had to say only one thing that you learned from the whole pandemic period, what would that be?
The crisis has mixed strangers to become friends. It has created a community. And it's not just here, but I can also see it on our road - people that didn't speak together before at least say hi to each other. The issue is that we needed a crisis in order to do that.