Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

When a little charity can go a long way for those less fortunate

Good cause: Alf McCreary on a recent visit to Africa
Alf McCreary on a recent visit to Africa

Last Friday I went to a gala dinner in the Castlereagh area to mark the 20th anniversary of Fields Of Life, the charity which has been carrying out impressive work in Uganda, Rwanda and other parts of East Africa.

More than 500 people attended the dinner, at £50 a head, and with ballots, auctions and other initiatives, they raised the grand total of £73,000.

This was just £17,000 short of the target of £90,000 they were seeking to build a new school in Rwanda, a country which I visited earlier this year with another charity Tearfund.

I know how harsh conditions are in Rwanda, especially in the rural areas, and funding for a new school from Fields of Life, or anyone else, is literally a God-send.

Last week's dinner was attended by a wide range of people, including First Minister Peter Robinson and UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and their wives, as well as several MLAs and other political figures.

They included Jim Wells of the DUP and Conall McDevitt of the SDLP who are part of a Stormont all-party group which is drawing attention to the needs of the developing world.

This in itself is good news. Our MLAs are frequently criticised, and often rightly so, but they deserve credit in looking outwards to try to help those in need.

However, I was equally impressed by the number of ordinary people at the dinner who had paid £100 a couple just to be there, and also those who also gave generously to the other fund-raising initiatives to help build the school in Rwanda.

I was delighted by the response but not surprised. During the past decades, when I have been involved in similar work with Christian Aid and Tearfund, I have always been impressed by the big-heartedness of the people of Northern Ireland on all sides.

On many occasions when I reported directly from a developing country I received donations from readers, which I passed on.

Recently a local businessman sent a significant sum to Tearfund after my Belfast Telegraph report on my latest visit to Rwanda. In the past the many donations from others have included £200 in cash from a pensioner which I sent to an orphanage I had visited in Vietnam.

This sum helped to feed the children for several months, and I was delighted to receive a warm letter of thanks from one of the staff. I am sure that this brought even more delight to the person who had put forward the money in the first place.

This kind of generosity in Northern Ireland continues all the time, and most often it goes unreported. It is most apparent, however, in the annual donations to the Black Santa, the Presbyterian Church's World Development Appeal, the Church of Ireland Bishops' Appeal, the Roman Catholic Trocaire Appeal, and to many other good causes.

Most of those who give to such charities are not looking for thanks. All they want is to bring help to people who are desperately in need of food, shelter, medicines and education.

I know from my experience of 30 years' reporting from the Third World that a little can go a long way. I have always been proud of the generosity of my fellow Ulstermen and women, and I have seen the good results of this at first hand.

Of course we have our own setbacks and quarrels at home, but at heart we are an inherently decent people, who really do care about others in need. Long may that remain.

Forgiveness so central to Christianity

It was sad to hear Archdeacon Leslie Stevenson withdrew from his appointment as Bishop of Meath and Kildare, just two days before his consecration.

This is thought to be partly due to the media revelations about a past relationship with a former parishioner. The lady concerned, apparently, went on to become a minister herself. This was all some time ago. Christianity is not just aiming for high standards, but accepting the repentance and forgiveness of others and leaving the past where it belongs.

You must respect others' views

I was not surprised by the disappointment of the liberals who bemoaned this week's Stormont vote against same-sex marriage.

The outcome was predictable but so, too, was the intolerance of the liberals who castigated others with a different view.

Sometimes liberals can be worse than the hardliners they scorn.

I am a liberal myself, but I also try to respect the views of others.

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