The story of “our village” actually starts in another Church. Whilst Suzannah Goode, our Parish Secretary, was thumbing through CAFOD’s World Gifts Catalogue last year, she noted the article about a virtual village created by the parish of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew in Hitchin. After Christmas, she cajoled a small group to brainstorm answers to “why” and “how” questions. The group thought that the virtual village should, within our parish, encourage fundraising, increase awareness of CAFOD’s work, use the gifts and talents of parishioners and excite all generations. What a tall order!
Parishioner, Sarah Wilson, used her considerable talent to provide the art work to build an eye-catching 3-d display to attract everyone’s attention on entering or leaving the church or its hall. A tube to hold water and a bag for rice were to represent the money raised towards a community water supply and a rice bank respectively. It was considered that clean water was most essential and the rice bank represented growths of crops, so these were the items on which we would first concentrate. We were encouraged to ask for World Gifts for special occasions such as birthdays, Easter, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Confirmation, First Communion or as a memorial to a loved one. The display went on the wall just before Lent 2011 and, from then onwards, the gifts just flowed in.
Every Friday during Lent, we held a soup lunch and asked for donations of money, rather than charge a set amount. The delicious home-made soups made the lunches such popular events that, within a few weeks, we were able to raise the £750 needed to buy the water supply. The rest of the Lenten Lunch money went towards training a farmer as we wanted our food to help the growth of the villagers’ food. The profits from the parish Easter draws bought in a selection of gifts.
Early on in the life of our virtual village, we bought the training of a village vet and then realised that we had not bought any animals to be looked after. So you can imagine what people were encouraged to buy over the next few weeks!
Jackie Brown, a parishioner who has been a staunch supporter of CAFOD since its early days, invited those who shared her 90th birthday meal in a local restaurant to donate to CAFOD, rather than give her a present. The resulting £1,000 bought the village a second rice bank.
Two non-parishioners, who parked their cars in the church car park, were persuaded by Sister Winifred to show their appreciation by buying gifts for our village. A bicycle was bought in memory of my mother-in-law, all the more significant because she never rode a bike in her life. A World Gift given as a birthday present to Canon Anthony Griffiths helped “to make a child smile”.
After Sunday Masses, children were sometimes heard discussing what World Gifts they would like for forthcoming birthdays and that is how the village acquired its footballs, music and reading gifts. The money raised from the Parish Walk in June went towards providing more animals. The proceeds from Harvest Fast Day funded the training of a Community Health Worker which complemented the “Mother and baby care” gifts already given. Other gifts, such as “Tools for an apprentice” and “Business start-up” encouraged employment in the village. We have tried to avoid a famine being brought on by a lack of water through buying “Drought-resistant crops”.
This experience has taught us, in a very practical and exciting way, how our money can be spent in making a world of difference to those living in poverty in developing countries. It’s been a whole new shopping experience for people of all ages!
Through our prayers and efforts, we have learnt plenty while the village has gained so much. Our virtual village is thriving and packed with essential items and, in our eyes, has now been converted into a very real place.