Being a CAFOD School Volunteer: a Personal Story

Phil at school

Phil leading a Lent Fast Day assembly

A few years ago I volunteered to be a CAFOD Parish Volunteer at the request of my Parish Priest. I had just retired from my teaching career. Early in my career, my wife and I had spent ten years living and working in Zambia, in some of the remotest parts of what was then called Barotseland. The first seven years we had no electricity, and the water supply was not always reliable. The last three years were in the Eastern Province. This was a more developed region with electricity, a water supply, and tarmac roads from Lusaka, the capital to Malawi. These experiences always provided me with the motivation to support CAFOD throughout my working life.

It wasn’t long before I was asked if I would become a CAFOD Schools Volunteer. I was promised that I would receive a lot of support and training. My first thought was that I had spent a lifetime teaching, so why do I need more training? The answers became clear as I underwent an induction to CAFOD, and learned a lot more about CAFOD’s Vision, Mission, and Values. I was really impressed by the professionalism of all the CAFOD staff, both in the Birmingham Diocesan Volunteer Centre and at CAFOD’s Head Office, Romero House.

I also had to undergo a DBS check, as do all CAFOD Schools Volunteers. This is to make sure that we do not have any criminal record or history which would mean we could be a danger to children. I have been asked to update my training in this area which demonstrates that CAFOD does take its safety responsibilities very seriously.

This is my fourth year of schools visiting. To begin with we were asked to visit around the times of the Lent and Harvest Fast Days. We have one day’s training each term where we are presented with the themes and background to the assemblies and workshops for both Primary and Secondary. We then look carefully at how to deliver them. These are always planned and tested carefully, which means we are able to deliver them with confidence.

Because these assemblies and workshops focus on Fast Days there is always an element of fundraising, but they are also excellent tools to educate our children about people living in some of the poorest countries in the world, and how they are being helped to improve and develop their way of life by CAFOD and our partners.

For the last two summer terms we have also offered visits on other themes. Last year, in response to the Year of Mercy, CAFOD developed a pilgrimage inspired by the Lampedusa Cross, focusing on the plight of Refugees and Asylum Seekers. This was, and still is, a very popular activity. It explains reasons why people become refugees, and also the extreme dangers and hardships they face in seeking a place of safety.

Another focus is Laudato Si’. We have developed a Laudato Si’ Challenge for pupils to demonstrate that they have responded to Pope Francis’ call to ‘Live Wisely, Think Deeply, and Love Generously’. This has proved to be very popular. There are also other topics such as Becoming a Fairtrade School, A Rough Guide to CAFOD (for schools where there hasn’t been a visit previously), and of course CAFOD’s Campaigns ‘One Climate, One World’, and the new Campaign ‘Power To Be’.

Schools Volunteers do not have to have any previous experience of working in schools. They can be any age, as long as they have some time that they are willing to give to this important and rewarding role. I visit both Primary and Secondary Schools in my area. We have two other School Volunteers in my area, so all schools are able to receive at least one visit per year. However, there are some parts of the Diocese where there aren’t any School Volunteers currently, or only one to cover a huge area with a large number of schools.

Are you concerned about working to help alleviate poverty in the world?

Do you have some time during the day which you may be willing to use to visit local schools?

Will you consider becoming a CAFOD School Volunteer?

You will receive regular training and resources; all expenses are paid; and the benefits and rewards are priceless.

Find out more here or contact CAFOD’s Birmingham Volunteer Centre on 01922 722944 or email birmingham@cafod.org.uk

Phil Mayland.

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