Build a better world each day

21st January 2005 at 00:00
A campaign to stamp out global poverty can help children in Britain engage with issues of justice and political activism

The year 2005 is a time for making history. We began this year with the crisis in Asia serving as a stark reminder that we share a planet with others who sometimes need our help. And throughout each of its 365 days, a child will die of poverty every three seconds.

In July, we will mark the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, an event and a time when this country was prompted to act in response to an horrific famine. In the same month, Britain will also host the annual G8 meeting of the world's rich nations and take on the presidency of the European Union.

In addition, Tony Blair's Commission for Africa will report on the future of the continent in February. In September, a special summit will review progress made towards the UN's millennium development goals, aimed at halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

This historic coming together of events has led to a coalition of aid organisations, faith communities and trade unions banding together in a campaign to Make Poverty History. The coalition currently involves groups such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod), Christian Aid, Oxfam, Unison and Comic Relief in a campaign to influence the richest governments of the world to make greater efforts to end the poverty of the poorest nations.

It has already been picked up in the media and sparked the imagination of politicians. The BBC comedy series The Vicar of Dibley devoted a striking New Year's episode to highlighting Make Poverty History.

It is a high-profile campaign, with exciting possibilities for involving schools. The educational benefits are clear. This campaign isn't just about fundraising - it goes beyond aid to the bigger issues of justice for the poor.

While fundraising for relief is a vital source of help for those in poverty, the real need is for a lifting of the burden of debt from countries that are often spending more on repayments than on meeting the health and education needs of their own people.

The campaign will also call for fairer trade rules to enable poorer nations to build their economies. One piece of involvement for schools is to engage children in cultivating an awareness of why poverty happens.

Some children may be able to tackle issues such as the difference in trade rules and how debt can burden a nation. Organisations such as Cafod and Christian Aid provide a range of excellent resources to communicate such topics in child-friendly ways, moving children beyond the simplistic notions that "Africa is full of starving babies" to a fuller understanding of the origins and nature of poverty and what can be done to tackle it.

One relevant strand of campaigning from Cafod involves children in issuing "send my friend to school" requests.

With 100 million children lacking access to education - a scandal often highlighted by this paper - these activities prompt our children to call on world leaders to increase access to education, a key step in the eradication of poverty.

Then there is Global White Band Day on July 1, calling on people around the world to wear a white band to show their support for making poverty history. This will be big - expect to see white bands in some interesting places.

With other activities suggested, ranging from campaigning to tree planting and even pop singing, it promises to be an opportunity for children to develop their understanding and influence.

I'm mindful of the potential for children to make that drop in the water that ripples out to the wider community. Frank Sudlow of Cafod's schools team recalls one primary that had been looking at the issue of world debt.

Pupils were told that they could sign a debt campaign petition if their parents gave permission. The challenge for these children was to know enough about the issue to be able to explain it to their parents so that they could obtain permission. That strikes me as citizenship in action.

Anyone interested in engaging their school with the campaign can find an excellent starting point provided by the Cafod resource pack, full of activities, stickers, posters, assembly ideas and materials for action.

Such action will make it a historic year for all our children, everywhere.

Huw Thomas is head of St John's (Park) C of E primary and nursery school, Sheffield.Cafod Make Poverty History materials can be ordered from


* Try researching a subject such as the debt crisis and writing an explanation of it.

* Follow the campaign and download snippets and quotes to turn into newspaper articles.

* Home in on specific campaign themes and produce posters or video advertisements to promote their message.

* Aim for a phenomenal number of members of the school community to all be wearing white bands on July 1 - and understanding why they are wearing them.

* Find out contact details for your MP and email a request to "send my friend to school".

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