Broadening Horizons: Part 4

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‘Broadening Horizons’ is an English and abridged version of the original Welsh publication, Ehangu Gorwelion, by the Revd Wynn Vittle, in which the history of Christian Aid in Wales is told through personal impressions and reminiscences.  Cambria Nostra will publish the version in instalments.

Part 3 – https://cambrianostra.com/2015/06/04/broadening-horizons-part-3/

 

By Wynn Vittle

Chapter 13: World Development Education

From the outset Christian Aid as an overseas fund-raising agency, is registered as such with the Charity Commissioners. Fund-raising, although most important has only been one aspect of Christian Aid’s commitment to the poor. It has emphasised the role of education too, telling the people of the developing world what things are really like in the Third World. Publications appropriate for junior schools secondary schools, colleges, church members as well as the general public are prepared.

Apart from written material, films were widely in demand, as the agency sought to educate Christian Aid supporters about the ways Church Councils and other groups try to improve the living conditions of their communities in many countries. By concentrating on development education, Christian Aid sought to carry out the wishes of its partners. It also organised campaigns appealing for justice for those denied the standard of life enjoyed by the majority of people in western society.

As Christian Aid was the ‘service arm’ of the mainstream Churches in the United Kingdom, we as staff believed that ministers and clergy and theological students should be well informed of conditions of people in Third World countries. In 1973 two conferences were held for theological students; one at Bangor, North Wales, under the leadership of the Revd. Dr. R. Tudur Jones, Principal of the Union of Independents College and the other at St. Michael’s College Llandaff, Cardiff with the college Warden, the Revd. Geoffrey Rees leading the discussions. Speakers from Christian Aid’s Education Department addressed both conferences. Day sessions were also held in various parts of the country at Ministers’ Fraternals, focusing on development programmes in Third World countries in the hope that the clergy would inform their church members of the wide gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world and of the call for a more just society for those living in so many deprived communities.

Another aspect of communicating development education was in association with the World Development Movement, when a number of conferences were convened for young people and church members on topics relating to world development. The feed-back from these gatherings was most encouraging and the input was much appreciated by participants.

Following discussions with other overseas agencies, Christian Aid financially contributed and supported the launch of One World Week, an educational development week, to be observed throughout Britain and Ireland every October. Numerous and varied development educational events were arranged by local committees and this particular Week has continued over the years and became an annual event.

Rallies and petitions were also arranged to bring pressure on the government of the day to increase its support to developing countries. It was most encouraging that such events were gradually influencing M.P.s of all parties in Britain as other western world countries’ governments also were being pressurised to respond positively for the sake of humanity. At last there were encouraging signs that rallies, campaigns and petitions had eventually produced a positive response.

Chapter 14: Responding to The Brandt Report

With the gap between rich and poor countries widening even more, in 1977 Robert
MacNamara, the Head of the World Bank, called for action from world governments. Following his exhortations, a Commission was set up under the Chairmanship of Willy Brandt, the former Chancellor of the German government. Eighteen members were appointed, representing countries from five continents and Britain sent the former Prime Minister, Edward Heath. The Commission met on a number of occasions to discuss in depth the situation and how best to tackle the problems and make recommendations for governments to consider and hopefully to implement proposals.

In 1980 the Commission published The Brandt Report. The leading article in The Times on February 17th stated, “… that publishing the Report was the most important event of the year.” The Report’s sub-title, “ A Programme for survival” would challenge everyone with a deep concern for the needy to work on their behalf.

A number of important issues were raised in the Report, especially the emphasises on the amount spent on militarism, stating that the total expenditure on military weapons and the arms trade in 1978 was 450 American dollars, whilst the official figure contributed towards development programmes was 5% less than this figure. The Report listed four examples of the type of militarism spent by countries. It demonstrates the level of development funding that could be achieved if governments had the will to do so.

Unfortunately the British government at the time felt it could not respond positively to the Report’s recommendations. Nevertheless, Christian Aid encouraged local churches throughout the United Kingdom to form groups to discuss the Report, make recommendations and petition the government, and seek to influence M.P.s to increase the government’s financial support towards overseas development. Similarly, other agencies organised local groups and invited them to respond.

In Wales, the Council of Churches formed a Development Committee urging local groups to convene meetings to discuss the Report and to persuade churches and the general public to participate actively in pressurising the government on the key issues. The Development Committee was fortunate to have the Revd. D. R. Thomas, a lecturer at the University College, Aberystwyth as a member of the committee. He expounded the significance of the Report in a bilingual booklet on the subject from a Christian perspective. The booklet was widely distributed for discussion and to initiate its recommendations. Along with other eminent speakers, the Revd. D. R. Thomas addressed many well-attended meetings throughout Wales and a number of committed Welsh M.P.’s, College Lecturers, a few ministers and clergy also spoke at meetings.

One Special meeting was held at The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. It was a dual purpose meeting – celebrating 25 years of Christian Aid Week and to present The Brandt Report. The British representative on the Commission, The Rt. Hon. Edward Heath addressed the meeting to a packed audience. Everyone present appreciated the opportunity to hear the former Prime Minister speak with conviction in support of the Report.

Regrettably, most of the recommendations were ignored by governments. However, The Brandt Report succeeded in creating a greater awareness of the injustice in the world and more desire among church members and the general public to improve life for people in Third World countries.

In the 1980’s there was a call for yet more emphasis on development education on all levels
and to arrange petitions and political campaigns calling for action by the British government. In this respect the Christian Aid staff in Wales duly obliged together with our colleagues throughout United Kingdom and Ireland.

Chapter 15: Responding to Disasters

It was Christian Aid’s prime responsibility from its inception to assist the poor and support its partners’ development programmes in their respective communities. Unfortunately when disasters occur, immediate financial response is required and Christian Aid and other overseas agencies contribute to those in desperate need. As Christian Aid had partners in Third World countries it had numerous contacts and therefore able to channel aid quickly to disasters-hit areas most efficiently.

As a percentage of income from the agency’s Christian Aid Week is ear-marked for disasters, it enables the agency to contribute a substantial sum immediately. If Christian Aid does not have an efficient partner in the country affected, the contribution is sent to a partner in a neighbouring country, so that the sum donated will be wisely spent on the essentials required.

A number of disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, drought, severe famine or wars occur all too often. In 1963 the overseas agencies in Britain formed a committee in order to launch a united appeal immediately to the general public. On hearing of a disaster requiring financial support, a meeting of this Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) is convened and an agreement is agreed with the TV authorities to arrange for a well-known personality to present an appeal on television, informing viewers with the situation and inviting the public to contribute through local Banks or Post Offices.

Apart from individual donations, many organisation, churches, schools and local groups arrange fund-raising events in support of those suffering as a result of the particular disaster. It is heartening to hear of these and the large sums they raise.

On many occasions television crews visit the country involved and show their films on news bulletins, which are most helpful in underlining the need for greater support. Christian Aid, like other agencies emphasise the need for financial support rather than material gifts, such as clothes and medical equipment, which are not always the first priority.

The horrendous famine which struck Ethiopia and Eritrea in the early eighties had an outstanding response from many countries with Britain and Ireland raising millions and the musical world contributed huge sums through ‘Band Aid’ and ‘Live Aid’. In Wales, a choir of
Artistes was formed when a Welsh song, “Dwylo dros y môr” was recorded with the proceeds
from its sale raising magnificent sums.

Aa the Ethiopian crisis raised more awareness those suffering devastating poverty, many wished to forge closer links with these countries suffering hardship and deprivation. As it is not Christian Aid policy to operate sponsorship schemes, in response to requests, the agency agreed to support a scheme in Wales to foster closer ties with a particular country. Anorganisation, Dolen Cymru/Lesotho was formed choosing to twin with the African country, Lesotho as both countries were geographically similar in size and also both were bilingual countries. Christian Aid wa invited to become a member of the organization’s committee, with one of our staff representing the agency, presenting a report annually to the National Committee.

Chapter 16: Input from Organisations

As Christian Aid, an agency created originally by the British churches, representing a number of different denominations, it was also linked with Christian organisations, such as the Student Christian Movement, and the Christian Education Movement. Over the years Christian Aid in Wales worked closely with other bodies too, including Urdd Gobaith Cymru, (Welsh League of Youth) and the Young Farmers Clubs

Christian Aid convened conferences with many of these, especially the Urdd and frequent meetings were held locally with Young Farmers clubs. Apart from arranging courses and meetings, these and similar organisations planned fund-raising events, earmarking their contributions towards particular projects suggested by Christian Aid.

Apart from fund-raising, Christian Aid staff in Wales played a prominent role in supporting other organisations. During the seventies and eighties, Christian Aid staff addressed meetings and attended Anti-Apartheid campaign marches and also supported CND, as such organisations were in keeping with Christian Aid principles and supporting their cause in accordance with the function and purpose of the agency – seeking to bring justice and freedom to mankind, irrespective of a person’s creed, colour or culture.

Chapter 17: New Challenges

Having spent nearly eighteen years as National Christian Aid Secretary in Wales my horizons had been broadened in many respects and although much had been achieved by many, much more was required in order to enable people to live in decent surroundings and to enjoy the benefits of life which we in the western world take for granted.

A new period was opening and new opportunities brought new challenges to individuals and Christian Aid itself. New approaches were required, with greater emphasis on political campaigning as only through and by means of political decisions could change happen for individuals and communities in Third World countries.

Towards the end of the eighties through the inspirational leadership of Christian Aid’s Director, the Rev. Michael Elliott, the agency was to take bold steps. In a major speech delivered at a meeting of the National Committee for Wales at the Trinity College, Carmarthen he emphasising that fund-raising and the spending of money does not solve the plight of the poor and questions should be asked regarding the best use of such contributions.

According to the Director, over-spending by overseas agencies can be detrimental to our partners and undermine their self-respect. The word “Aid” in the name of the organisation can cause problems to some people as financial contributions don’t solve any problem on their own, merely relieving it. It is essential to find the cause of poverty and injustice.

It was clear what the Director had in mind: the situation will not change until we in western society change our life style. It’s futile to talk about abolishing poverty without a revolution in the way people think. In order to succeed in that direction, Christian Aid must consider the propriety of campaigning politically as any changes and improvement in the lives of the poor have to be political decisions.

He also stressed the need for Area Secretaries to convince churches of all denominations that
their Christian Aid activities should occupy their centre ground, as it is an essential part of the Church’s theology. The Director concluded his address, saying, “Christian theology is all important whilst dealing with the poorest of the poor, faith should effect actions and actions also on faith.” His recommendations were included in a document he himself initiated, ‘To Strengthen the Poor’, outlining the agency’s objectives and basing its activities on a firm theological footing to be implemented through its future activities. Such recommendations brought new challenges to Christian Aid staff and supporters within church circles.

Alongside these initiatives, the Traidcraft organisation was gaining ground in Wales as in the rest of the United Kingdom, as purchasing goods and material produced in Third World countries through Traidcraft enabled the poor peasant farmers and those with small industries to receive fair payment. Eventually with the support of Christian Aid and other agencies, the organisation succeeded in opening a number of shops in many towns and cities and even supermarkets became involved with the selling of goods directly from Third World countries through the organisation’s new name, Fairtrade. Christian Aid responded to its new challenges and Fairtrade flourished and enabling the poor to have fairer opportunities.

Internally, a new structure for member churches of the British Council of Churches and likewise, in Wales, the Welsh Council of Churches emerged. After much consultation, the new structure began in 1990.

In future, Christian Aid would be an overseas agency of the Council of Churches of Britain and Ireland and in Wales it would be an agency of CYTUN, (formerly the Council of Churches of Wales). A new Christian Aid constitution would be formed in Wales, with the new National Committee operating like its predecessor with the Director of Christian Aid inviting each denomination to appoint one person to represent each denomination on the committee.

As I look back over the early period of Christian Aid in Wales prior to 1964, when it was given its official name, I acknowledge with gratitude the pioneering achievements of those involved with Inter-Church Aid, as they sought to broaden the horizons of church members and the horizons of those suffering deprivation and injustice in many countries too. It was a personal privilege to have played a small part as a member of a staff committed to be of service.

May Christian Aid continue, as in the past, to fulfil its commitment to alleviate poverty so that people everywhere will live a life of quality on equal terms. By continuing to support the Church’s own United Kingdom overseas agency, Christian Aid will continue to broaden people’s horizons, both in this country and overseas, as well as those privileged to be members of its staff.

Wynn is a Welsh speaking ”Pembrokeshire boy” but adopted by Carmarthenshire having lived most of his working life in different parts of the county as a Baptist minister, apart from an eighteen year period in Cardiff when he was Christian Aid’s  National Secretary for Wales. Sadly, his wife, Nia, passed away in 2008, but he is fortunate in having a daughter and a son and their families, and a variety of projects to keep him occupied.  

“Ehangu Gorwelion” (original Welsh publications available)
Price: £11.50 (inc.postage) from UK – cheques payable to ‘Christian Aid’
For overseas delivery please add £2.50 (total £14)
Swyddfa Cymorth Cristnogol/ Christian Aid Office
75 Heol Dŵr
Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen
SA31 1PZ
Rhif ffon/telephone no: 01267 237257
e-bost/email: tdefis@cymorth-cristnogol.org

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