Reflections on 26 years at CAFOD

This November CAFOD’s legacy information officer, Heather, will be leaving CAFOD after 26 years. Here Heather reflects on some of the milestones and changes she’s witnessed during that time.

Heather Vallely with diocesan colleagues
Heather Vallely with diocesan colleagues

26 years is a long time to spend in one place but, as I approach my retirement, I feel fortunate to have worked for an organisation that makes a difference.

The seeds of my interest in overseas development were sown by the teachers, priests and relatives who encouraged me to care about people in poverty.

Readers of my generation will remember the images of starving children in Biafra during the Nigerian civil war (1967-70). As a teenager I didn’t understand the complex and dangerous circumstances in which agencies like CAFOD were working on the ground; but I knew I wanted to help.

Years later, the call to action for my daughter’s generation was Michael Buerk’s report of the 1984 Ethiopia famine. Sr Colette, a remarkable nun who was running a feeding programme for malnourished children, told our parish how important the support she received from CAFOD was.

Donate to our work responding to emergencies

In 1989 I joined CAFOD as parish promotion secretary; supporting the Friday self-denial groups, volunteers, regional organisers and parishes. There were around 50 staff in our Brixton office then and we’d just opened our first international office in Albania.

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Legacies: giving hope and help for generations to come

CAFOD supporter John van den Bosch visited our projects in Nicaragua to see how gifts in wills, like the one left by his mother, are having a huge impact.

Sister Hermidea Marte is health coordinator at the clinic
CAFOD partner John XXIII Institute is providing healthcare and affordable medicine for rural communities

My mother, Marjorie, was a dedicated CAFOD supporter. When she died, I wasn’t surprised to learn that, as well as providing for her friends and family, she’d also remembered CAFOD in her will. My niece Kate and I were given the opportunity to visit CAFOD projects in Nicaragua to see how legacies like my mother’s are put to use.

Watch our short video of John and Kate’s trip to Nicaragua

As one of my mother’s executors, and a CAFOD supporter myself, I was intrigued.  I suppose you could call me a “curious sceptic”. But the work I saw in Nicaragua and the remarkable people I met there gave me a richer understanding and appreciation of what CAFOD does.

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We can all leave a legacy of faith, hope and love

Beth Brook is part of the legacy and remembrance team. In 2012 she visited several CAFOD-funded projects in Nicaragua and hasn’t stopped talking about it ever since. Here she remembers some of the people she met and the lessons she learnt during her trip.

Members of the community in Cerro Pando, Nicaragua
CAFOD is working with communities in Nicaragua to help them build a brighter future for themselves and their children

In my ten years at CAFOD I’ve met lots of wonderful supporters and volunteers and some of our overseas colleagues and partners. The highlight came three years ago, when I accompanied two lovely supporters on a trip to Nicaragua to make a short film (below) about how legacies left to the charity help families and communities thousands of miles away.

It was an exhausting but exhilarating adventure, and one that has left an indelible impression on me. There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think about the people we met; about their optimism, determination, resourcefulness and sacrifices. They taught me so much.

I’d gone to Nicaragua expecting to see concrete examples of the difference that donations and legacies make, so I could then come back and write a mailing or newsletter about how X amount of money built Y and that benefited Z number of people. That’s how all this works, right? When planning the trip and film I’d made a point of identifying projects that addressed what are often referred to as “basic needs” such as water, housing and healthcare; but I just hadn’t appreciated the far-reaching and complex impact these “basic” projects would have on people’s lives.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPVrQPk4VVc?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

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