In July 1997 Chancellor Gordon Brown launched the first Labour budget for 20 years, the IRA declared a ceasefire, – and the UK had won the Eurovision song contest (Katrina and the Waves with ‘Love Shine a light’, in case you’re struggling to remember). A very remarkable year indeed!
For me it was significant for another reason. I started work at CAFOD. I came from a previous career as a Librarian and having had a break to have my two children. (My youngest had just started school and they are now 30 and 26 years old!). The local diocesan office was then called CAFOD West Midlands and my job title was Regional Assistant. I worked with Theresa Codd, the Regional Manager and job-shared with Mai Williams. If I’m honest I knew very little about CAFOD when I started, other than they held two collections a year, at Lent and Harvest, so it was a surprise to discover how much more CAFOD did, particularly campaigning.
In 1997 CAFOD was part of an international coalition called Jubilee 2000, calling for the cancellation of third world debt by the year 2000. One of the first campaign events I was involved with was in 1998 when the leaders of the G8 countries met in Birmingham. 70,000 campaigners descended on the city, chanting ‘Drop the Debt’ and forming a massive human chain, which snaked its way through the city centre. It was a remarkable day and one that I will never forget. I realised that when we come together we can make a difference. It didn’t happen overnight, but it brought the issue of debt to the attention of politicians and in 1999 $100Bn of debt relief was announced by the G8 at their meeting in Cologne.
Debt was also one of the targets of 2005’s ‘Make Poverty History’ Campaign, of which CAFOD was also a member. The three demands of the campaign were: Trade Justice, Drop the Debt and More and Better Aid. The symbol of the campaign was a white wristband, which was the essential accessory throughout 2005!
2005 was significant because Britain assumed presidency of the G8 on 1 January and the G8 summit was held at Gleneagles, Scotland on July 6. There were many Make Poverty History events held throughout the year and on 2 July over 225,000 protesters demonstrated in Edinburgh to promote the campaign’s demands. I was there with my family and many colleagues and CAFOD supporters. I remember realising just how many people were there when it took us over an hour standing in a queue to actually set off on the march! The G8 responded by promising $48bn (£31bn) of aid and debt cancellation for many of the poorest countries, an amazing achievement that has made a huge difference. Since 2005, 35 million more children have been able to go to school.
We’ve still got some way to go before we do make poverty history and so CAFOD’s campaigning continues. Currently we’re focusing on refugees and migrants with Share the Journey, responding to Pope Francis’s call to respond with compassion and call on governments to protect the human dignity of people on the move.
I’ve been able to see for myself the difference the fundraising and campaigning of our supporters makes. In 2011 I visited Ethiopia to see projects supported by an emergency appeal following a severe drought in East Africa. I visited communities in the south of country – pastoralist communities that rely on their precious livestock for survival. Much of the livestock had perished leaving communities in a perilous position. With CAFOD’s support they were being helped to improve their access to water and to establish alternative sources of income to make them more resilient in the future. Everyone I met asked me to thank CAFOD’s supporters. One man told me ‘Thank you to everyone. We need assistance because of our conditions. At this time we don’t have many options. Please continue to support us.’
CAFOD’s work is only possible thanks to our wonderful supporters and our dedicated team of volunteers. When I started at CAFOD in 1997 there was a small but very active group of volunteers working with us and I’m pleased to say that many of them are still volunteering with us today. They’ve been joined by an increasing number over the years and we are always pleased to welcome new volunteers to our CAFOD Birmingham team.
In 2015 there was a refocusing of how we work in dioceses in England and Wales. Our local diocesan offices are now called Volunteer Centres and our role as Community Participation Coordinators is to recruit and support volunteers in a variety of roles with the aim of encouraging as many people as possible to get involved in our work. We have volunteers supporting us in their parishes, by visiting schools to talk to children and young people, by writing to their MP, by supporting other volunteers as volunteer coordinators and by helping us in our Volunteer Centre. They make a huge difference to our work and I feel very privileged to be able to work alongside them and very much look forward to continuing to do so. Here’s to the next 21 years!
Julia Hood, CPC Birmingham Archdiocese