An article from CAFOD Southwark volunteer Richard French.

Richard French

Richard French (photo: Felicity French)

I started working in CAFOD’s Dartford Office about 18 months after I had seen a request from CAFOD for volunteers in a parish newsletter and submitted an application. At our first meeting Jim Simmons, the Southwark CAFOD Manager, asked me if I would take on the task of co-ordinating CAFOD’s Schools’ Programme in the Archdiocese and so that is what I now do.

CAFOD places great emphasis on the importance of educating young people in this country on the global issues of poverty, injustice, fair trade, disease, climate change and natural disasters. So, in each of the dioceses of England and Wales, it has trained volunteers to visit schools to speak at assemblies or to hold classroom activities linked to the school curriculum.

In the Archdiocese, there are approximately 135 Catholic Primary Schools and 40 Catholic Secondary Schools with a few of these being both Primary and Secondary. Our objective is to visit as many of these as possible each year. The visits are intended to be educational and not appeals, but we have found the schools to be very generous towards CAFOD and often a lot of money is collected by the pupils for CAFOD, particularly at times of CAFOD Fast Days and when there has been an international disaster.

Each year we train new Schools’ Volunteers and we are always seeking more people to come forward to help with visiting schools. As a result of a strong recruitment drive last year, we now have about 25 active, trained CAFOD Schools’ Volunteers. The training involves attending an Understanding CAFOD Day, two schools training days and a child protection briefing. All our Schools’ Volunteers have Criminal Records Bureau clearance.

We regularly contact all the schools in the Archdiocese to offer visits and over the last 18 months have significantly increased the number of schools visited. Once we have made an initial visit to a school, we are nearly always welcomed back.

The programme is going very well and since September 2009, we have visited over 100 of the 175 schools in the Archdiocese, with a good number of these schools having been visited many times, particularly the secondary schools to cover different year groups. For primary schools, the visits tend to cover the whole school in a single visit for an assembly. I co-ordinate and track the training of all new volunteers. I also keep detailed records of all the schools, communicate with them and allocate volunteers to schools. When a request comes in from a school, I forward it to the volunteer responsible for the school for him or her to make the arrangements for the visit with the school. After the visit the volunteers and schools send in reports of the visits and I add the details to the CAFOD central database.

I believe that the work we do is very important as it educates the next generation in the enormous inequalities there are in the world and that we in this country can do something to help those around the world who are far less fortunate than we are. The pupils and their teachers often respond very well to the visits by agreeing to do something to help the work such as raising money, campaigning or praying for CAFOD causes.

In the Archdiocese, we estimate that our volunteers have spoken either at assemblies or in the class room to about 15,000 pupils in total about the work of CAFOD during the current school year so far and we have plans to visit many more.

Please contact the CAFOD Southwark Office if you are interested in becoming a Schools’ Volunteer

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