This story somehow managed to get entangled with CAFOD and our Lent Fast Day. This year’s Lenten appeal has focused on water and the Government’s agreement to match what CAFOD raises, pound for pound, through the UK Aid Match funding scheme. But, in 1996, the world famous boy-band helped CAFOD cause a splash we didn’t want.
At that time, the main focus of activity for young people was the 24-hour fast. School children across the country would give something up in a particular 24-hour period and donate what they had saved to CAFOD.
My first task as press officer was to publicise Lent Fast Day. I contacted our regional offices to find any schools that might be involved. I found one in the Southwark diocese, just outside London. The local paper agreed to send a photographer and a reporter. The photographer snapped the Head Teacher and some children with CAFOD stickers on empty plates, while the reporter spoke to other children and staff. The day was a great success and everyone went home happy – especially me.
The next day, the phone in the Press Office rang off the hook. The story had made the paper, but under the headline: “SCHOOLGIRLS REFUSE TO EAT UNTIL TAKE THAT REFORM”. While the rest of the school said they were fasting for CAFOD, two girls told the reporter they were going on hunger strike until the band agreed to get back together.
Fortunately no harm was done. The school saw the funny side – the girls were only winding the reporter up – and Take That are now reformed. Although the girls had to wait until their late 20s to see all five members back on stage together.
Sixteen years on, I’m ringing schools in the northern half of England and Wales to find out what they have been doing for CAFOD’s ‘Give it Up!’ Lenten Appeal. This year’s clean water and sanitation focus has provided a wealth of original fundraising ideas.
Seven schools from the Leeds area walked six miles from Granary Wharf to Kirkstall Abbey carrying water containers. They were raising not only funds but also awareness, illustrating how young girls in the poorest countries spend up to eight hours each day walking to collect water, which robs them of the opportunities that children in England and Wales can enjoy.
Meanwhile, around 60 pupils from St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School created a ‘River for Change’ on World Water Day at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield. Pupils from St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School in Milton Keynes also made a river – but this time of silver – and signed messages to the Prime Minister asking him to call on world leaders at the G8 summit in May to turn the tide on water poverty.
I’ve been astonished at how creative this year’s activity has been. Children at Our Lady Primary School in Bangor, North Wales, devised a paper ‘pipeline’ where pupils bought sections of a pipeline to link a well to a pump. Pupils at Our Lady Primary School in Wellingborough were challenged to fit 40 or more items into a matchbox – a slightly different take on the phrase ‘match funding’.
Casey Jackson, a pupil at St Peter’s College, Middleborough, is to carry the Olympic torch and the school has organised its own ‘Olympic Opening Ceremony’ to raise funds and awareness for Give it Up! Sixth former Louise Horne, of St Mary’s College, Hull, organised an art exhibition at Middleton Hall Art Café, Hull University, with more than 45 exhibits for sale – some of them worth up to £1,000.
After 16 years, I’m still amazed by the lengths so many of our young people go to on behalf of people they have never met, and probably never will. It’s not only their enthusiasm and creativity, and it’s not just their willingness to give time and money, but what has really floored me is their generosity of spirit and the sense of responsibility they have to make change happen.
This is already on course to be a record-breaking Lenten appeal for CAFOD, and whatever final total we reach will be doubled thanks to UK Aid Match Funding. However, it’s not only funds that have been raised.
You have also been working to raise awareness of the 783 million people around the world without access to clean water. On 20 April, the Government responded by announcing that it will double its support for water and sanitation projects designed to help 60 million more people gain access to clean water and sanitation by 2015.
There has never been a more exciting year to be involved in CAFOD’s Lenten appeal.
About the author: Gerard Naughton is Diocesan Officer at CAFOD Hexham & Newcastle