Big day for red noses

7th February 2003 at 00:00
Stick on your nose and mess up your hair as March 14 is the ninth Red Nose Day. This year's theme is "The Big Hair Do"... and Tom Deveson finds out more

Since Comic Relief was launched in 1985, its Red Nose Day has become the most successful fundraising event in the UK with pound;250 million in total raised to support young people in the UK and Africa.

Raising money with a smile on your face is the key to the event and celebrities including Graham Norton, Davina McCall, Richard Blackwood, Jade Goddy, Gareth Gates, Gordan Ramsay and June Sarpong will be trying to whip the nation into a fundraising frenzy.

In 2001, 20,000 schools were involved in fundraising events. To help schools get in the spirit, the organisers have created an education pack and a school's fund-raising kit to help schools to raise awareness and well as money.

It may only be an unassuming A4 package of drab recycled cardboard, but the contents of Everybody Inc are bright and varied enough to promote hours of fun, help raise thousands of pounds and steer children towards rich accumulations of learning.

The pack is organised around a set of "virtual visitors" - nine young people from Britain and Africa whose lives and aspirations have at times been thwarted by poverty or prejudice, but who have been able to benefit from provision made possible by Comic Relief funding. We meet them first in a superb set of large wall-posters, where their smiles are instantly attractive and free from sentimentality. Interviews on cards expand our understanding of how obstacles can be turned into opportunities.

Gethyn and Rhodri help run their father's Welsh hill-farm, but he is now suffering from multiple sclerosis. They not only have to do their schoolwork, but work as carers at home, take on responsibilities for lambs, and cope with the aftermath of foot-and-mouth disease.

Rijayatu lives on a co-operative farm in Ghana where she gets out of bed at 4am to sweep the yard and fetch water. Her aim of becoming a scientist isn't easy to pursue. Further education requires scholarships and girls of her age are usually expected to start having babies.

The suggestion that these "visitors" should be temporarily added to the class register is imaginatively sound. So too is the advice on bringing representatives from community and volunteer groups to school to complement the understanding offered in the pack.

Further insight is provided by ice-breaking games that last 10 minutes but can instigate hours of discussion. There's a version of "pass-the-parcel" where some children only receive empty sweet wrappers, an effective metaphor for the inequities of global trade relations.

Some activities call on subtle ingenuity, such as discovering how - according to the teacher's secret instructions - one team is being treated unfairly. Others, such as creating a laughter machine or improvising a clapping pattern, are infectiously enjoyable but also contain timeless messages about the need for collaboration in successful enterprises.

There are cards that sketch the detail of hour-long workshops that produce serious reflection within a context of happy pleasure. One involves pupils teaching skills to one another and then analysing how the process worked and what it felt like. Some are concerned with recognising how "exclusion" happens within school groups or making chocolate cakes and thinking about distributing them fairly before eating them.

These activities, like all the pack's contents, are for KS2 or KS3, but there are differing emphases within them. Older children look more directly at HIVAids and its transmission, whereas younger children plan a successful party for friendly animals, rather than a night's clubbing.

A set of "toolkit" cards show how to organise a successful campaign for Comic Relief. This goes well beyond the stereotypical custard baths. Pupils are seriously urged to use their skills of enquiry and reflection to make planned activities deal with a real world in which injustice flourishes but can also be fought. Issues of power, communication and effectiveness are seen as more significant than pelting authority figures with wet sponges.

A 20-minute video shows all this in action. The virtual visitors are seen at home, talking about their hopes and fears. Secondary school students in East London test the games and enterprises, and their teacher comments on what they gained from using the pack. They all had a lot of fun and raised a lot of money, but they also learned through direct participation that people like Rhodri, Gethyn and Rijayatu aren't issues but individuals like themselves.

This year's Red Nose day takes place on Friday, March 14 and after fundraising at school, you can sit back and watch familiar faces on BBC1 (from 7pm) aiming to beat last year's record-breaking total of pound;361 million.

Teachers can order a free primary or secondary copy of the Everybody Inc pack and video online at www.rednoseday.comschools or by post at Red Nose Day Schools Stuff, PO Box 56, Jarrow NE32 3YW

Red Nose Day fundraising

1988: pound;15 million

1989: pound;27 million

1991: pound;21 million

1993: pound;18 million

1995: pound;22 million

1997: pound;27 million

1999: pound;35 million

2001: pound;61 million

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