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Fun and games to help others

British schoolchildren are playing hard to raise money for their less fortunate counterparts abroad. Reva Klein reports

Most children in Albania will not, even in their wildest dreams, have thought about the hilarious delights of trying to eat jelly with chopsticks. Or being a contestant in a macaroni-eating competition. Or dressing up like animals and monsters.

When food is scarce and the future is uncertain, dreams tend to be about more down-to-earth realities. But there is a connection: those wacky activities - and many more - were thought up by British children on behalf of young Albanians, Bosnians and other children around the world who are living in difficultcircumstances.

The fund-raising ideas were prompted by the charity Children's Aid Direct, formerly known as Feed the Children, an international, child-centred humanitarian aid organisation based in Reading. Its regional workers tour primary and secondary schools around the country, talking to children about how deprivation affects people their own age in different countries, how the charity helps those children and then encourages them to raise money in imaginative ways for Children's Aid Direct projects.

The three money-spinning wheezes were cooked up by pupils at Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls in Kent, who raised pound;1,400 in a single day. The money will go towards equipping schools in Albania, buying shoes and clothing, without which some children would not be able to attend school.

Children's Aid Direct has community support co-ordinators who visit schools, Scouts and Girl Guides groups and church and voluntary organisations, raising awareness of the charity's work and explaining why the money is needed. It is a daunting task, whether in the leafy shires and Home Counties or the inner cities and impoverished rural districts. How do you make another country's problems interesting, let alone relevant, to the well-heeled suburbanite or the urban child whose family is on income support?

The charity is only too aware that it faces stiff competition from other good causes, all vying for a school's goodwill. Some larger schools even have charity committees, where the children decide what charities to support.

Children's Aid Direct finds the most effective way to get its message across is to explain the basics and then concentrate on the fun aspect for the school, giving children ideas for sponsoring events they will enjoy. Some schools, like Tonbridge Girls' Grammar, go at it with all the creative ingenuity they can muster. Others are more sedate, but equally effective. One school gave each child pound;1 and asked them to make it grow over a number of months. They washed cars, cleared gardens, baby-sat, anything.

To make the exercise more meaningful for participating schools, the charity provides information packs and ideas for interactive school assemblies on the work of Children's Aid Direct in countries caught up in wars or natural disasters. The charity developed a "classroom in a box" package for Albania: for every pound;100 raised by a school, Children's Aid Direct puts together a red plastic box full of paper, exercise books, protractors and other basic materials to help equip schools. The boxes are transported on lorries to mountain villages, where some schools have virtually nothing and children learn orally because there is not even a blackboard.

As well as Albania, the charity also operates in Bosnia, Burundi, Liberia, Kosovo, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Haiti, Sierra Leone and North Korea. Much of its funding comes from the European Community Humanitarian Office, the United States Agency for International Development and the Overseas Development Administration, as well as all those three-legged racers and spaghetti slurpers. Children's Aid Direct prides itself on retaining only 4 per cent of its funding for administrative costs. The rest goes to where it is needed.

* Children's Aid Direct, 12 Portland Road,Reading RG30 1EA. Tel: 0118-958 4000. Stand K49

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