Volunteers’ Week is a chance to celebrate and say thank you for the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. It takes place 1-7 June every year and is an opportunity to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity. One of our volunteers Raymond Whitaker shares his experience of volunteering with the World News team at Romero House.
Before I started volunteering for CAFOD, I worked for newspapers in the UK, South Africa and Australia. I began in South Africa, where I grew up, covering events such as the anti-apartheid uprising in Soweto in 1976 and South Africa’s secret wars in Angola. Some 40 years ago, I moved with my wife and young children to the UK. I worked for Reuters and the Financial Times before joining the Independent, where I was Asia Editor and later Foreign Editor of the Independent on Sunday.
Since my retirement, I have volunteered one day a week with CAFOD. I have supported CAFOD financially for years, but now I am able to use my skills and experience to work with the World News team. One aspect is advising on stories intended for the secular press, helping to pitch and frame stories about CAFOD’s work. The aim is to get people who may not be Catholic themselves to think positively about CAFOD, and recognise what CAFOD does. I think one powerful line for that audience is that CAFOD are working with local groups, people who are very embedded in the society. We don’t just assume what help we should give to each community.
As a volunteer, I saw the work CAFOD does with partners in Syria and Lebanon. Lebanon doesn’t allow formal refugee camps for Syrians, so there are many informal camps in the Bekaa Valley, where refugees often pay rent by sending their children to work in the surrounding fields. The men aren’t normally allowed to travel to Beirut, where there is more work. The partners were doing livelihood projects with women’s groups, literacy programmes, women’s shelters, primary and pre-primary education, and supporting young children to meet the requirements of Lebanese schools. They can adapt more easily to what is a very different education system, but at a certain age they often have to drop out and support their family. As a result of what I saw I wrote a piece in The Tablet on education, and one for another magazine on the overall situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
In my career I travelled to many countries, and witnessed much conflict and misery, often leaving me feeling angry and helpless. Volunteering for CAFOD is a remedy for such feelings – I can take satisfaction in using my expertise to help the poorest people in the world. I would encourage anyone to consider volunteering for CAFOD. You can contribute the skills you have towards working to end poverty for our global brothers and sisters.
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