When I was working at the Primary School, each year we did something at Christmas to help people less well off than ourselves. For the first few years, the pupils made up shoe boxes full of gifts to be sent to families living in poverty in Eastern Europe. Last year, we supported the Radio Oxford Christmas Appeal, and collected new socks which were given out to homeless people around the city.
Each time we had a collection, we spent some time in the classroom talking with the children about the people we were trying to help, and the struggles they face. We linked education very closely with charity, so that the pupils could make a heartfelt and informed response.
These projects in the Primary School have had a lasting impact on our pupils, helping to instil in them both an appreciation of our own prosperity, and a willingness to share with the poor and underprivileged.
This year’s project
At our subject meeting in November, I raised with RME colleagues the possibility of making a similar collection in the secondary school. They all agreed that it would be a good idea and they all offered straight away to do some lessons on homelessness with their classes during November.
We agreed to support the Gatehouse Project, which provides soup and sandwiches each evening for homeless people in the centre of Oxford. We planned to collect items for the café – like coffee and sugar, as well as things that could be used as Christmas presents, like soap, shampoo and chocolate.
The RME staff shared teaching resources about homelessness and some classes put their work up around school, both on the screen near the staff room and as posters on notice boards. (I was very appreciative of James Powell’s technical support). Certainly, I had a great response from my classes, and I have added at the end one of my favourite pieces of work from a boy in FS2.
In order to spread the word among the student body, I worked with the pupils’ Interact fundraising group. Charlie Sayers and Lydia Wright wrote a letter about the project which was sent to all parents and pupils by Maeve. The group also made posters and advertised the project widely around school.
I contacted Sandra Santarello, the RE coordinator at Europa to ask if she would like to join in and she was very enthusiastic. I know that she gave an assembly on homelessness and visited classes to talk about it. As a result, there was a very generous response to the appeal from the Europa parents and pupils.
The last week of November was our collection week and pupils were encouraged to bring their gifts to reception, where Susi and Sophie were able to oversee that they were properly boxed up. On the 2nd December, Charlie helped me to load up my car with 10 big boxes full of gifts from both schools. I took them to the Gatehouse that evening, where the volunteers were delighted to receive them.
So as you can see it was a real team effort! On Friday evening at the Gatehouse, it felt like a very worthwhile thing to have done. Every time I go into Oxford I see people sleeping on the streets and begging on the pavements. It is a real crisis and a shame on our city. But I feel heartened that our pupils took time to understand some of the reasons why people find themselves on the streets and, most importantly, that they wanted to help them.
“Homeless people: ignored, trying to get attention with an old guitar with two strings or by selling good pieces of art that people looking straight forward don’t want to admire. Or waiting in the cold for someone to care, waiting with only a pot with 10 pence in it and a ripped blanket.”
(Anthony O’Sullivan FS2)