Pound a Week Group 25th Anniversary September 2021
To mark this wonderful anniversary of the Group, I thought I should record a brief history, some major projects and my personal recollections of what we have achieved.
How did it all start, I am often asked. And why Pokot? Here is the story in brief.
At the AGM of the old Bramley Parish on 17 June 1996 and with the active support and encouragement of Nick Waight and Peter Loveder, both sadly no longer with us, I suggested we should set up a Pound A Week Group to raise funds to relieve poverty and disease in the Third World alongside the spread of Christ’s Gospel. The hope was that we could get 20 families to join the scheme so that we would raise some £3,000 over three years and donate the funds to CAFOD in the hope that they would nominate a small project which we could adopt. The meeting supported the idea and the scheme got underway that September. Bonny D’Urso (RIP) donated the small brown “wages envelopes” in which donations were made and put in the collection basket at Sunday Mass. At the end of 12 months a total of £1,011 was sent to CAFOD asking them to nominate a small project of the kind we had in mind, but sadly at that time all CAFOD donations went into their general development fund and as that was not what the Parish wanted, it was back to the drawing board.
Fr Pat Leddy was our Parish Priest at the time, a Holy Ghost Father and former missionary in Africa. He told me “There’s a story here in our Order’s magazine of a brother priest doing something with camels in a remote part of Kenya. Maybe the Pound a Week Group would consider sponsoring his camel project.” That project was designed to improve the milk yield of the local Pokot animal by crossbreeding with Pakistani bull camels which he imported. The Group would be able to help buy camels which would be given free to the poorest families and sold at well below market prices to those who could afford to buy them. I consulted the Parish and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I wrote to Fr Sean McGovern, the priest in question, on 30 October 1997 telling him about the Pound a Week Group and our intention to raise funds for his camel project of up to £3,000 over the next three years but, added “This might however be a little ambitious and I would be cautious about building the full amount into your spending plans”. Oh, me of little faith. We sent the full £3,000 over the next 18 months and a further £4,300 over the following three year,for both his camel and medical projects.
The donations continued to grow substantially, particularly with the creation of our merged Cranleigh and Bramley Parish in 2006, reaching the unbelievable yearly record of £66,800 in 2019. When Fr Sean left front line missionary work in Kositei to become Superior of the Order in Kenya in the year 2000, he recommended that we should switch our support to Fr David Conway at the Mission in Barpello, East Pokot to which he had entrusted his camel project which of course we did, After eight years as Superior, Fr Sean could not wait to get back to front line work and, after a
spell in Mombasa, opened a new Mission at Rotu, a very remote and impoverished part of East Pokot where there was total illiteracy. It was a great pleasure to share our Group support with him again.
What have we achieved over those 25 years?
By 1st September 2021, we had raised the truly incredible sum of £494,415 for the two Missions and that initial gift to CAFOD. With the £1,000 on hand, I believe we could well be on the way to the magical figure of £ HALF A MILLION by the end of December. Almost all of that came from donations by members of the Pound a Week Group, but with the help of a member of the Group, we were very fortunate to receive some generous funding for our Pokot projects from a Christian charitable trust. More on this below. I smile every time I recall my advice to Fr Sean that our target of £3,000 over three years might be a little ambitious!
But even that figure of nearly £ half a million on its own doesn’t tell the full story. We funded too many projects over those 25 years to describe them fully in this short history. However, in brief, here are a few of them. In addition to our support for the camel and various medical projects, we helped build new classrooms at the Mission schools and repaired others. We funded new accommodation for resident medics at the Rotu Mission plus a new kitchen and dining room at the school there. We paid for various clean water projects and provided funds during a severe cholera epidemic which enabled Fr David at the Barpello Mission to play an early role in setting up, with others, a remote Cholera Medical Camp to find, isolate and treat patients. We regularly sent discretionary funds which the Missions used to purchase emergency food and water, particularly during the worst drought in Pokot memory. And of course, our major and continuing commitment has been the sponsoring of poor students at the Barpello Mission secondary school and, in many cases, on to university and college. How wonderful it has been to see those graduates return to Barpello to teach in the schools there, supporting their community and lifting themselves and their families out of extreme poverty.
Grants from the charitable trust.
Over the two years 2015 and 2016 we received the following three very generous grants for Mission projects.
The demand for places at Fr Sean McGovern’s primary school at Rotu was such that he decided he needed to build a new classroom if he could raise the £8,000 to fund the project. We submitted a detailed application to the trust and on 10 April that year they sent us a cheque for the full amount.
The following year, Fr David asked if we could help raise funds for the creation of a Sahiwal Dairy Herd and food security project. He was concerned about the time and money being spent in buying and transporting powdered milk for the school. On taking veterinary and nutritional advice, he decided he would buy a Sahiwal bull and three cows whose breed are highly valued for their high yield of rich nutritional milk.
The objective was to build up the herd and provide fresh milk daily not just for students at the Barpello Mission school, but also for the primary and nursery schools around Barpello. Some 1,200 pupils were set to benefit. Again, the member of the Group associated with the Trust thought they might be interested in helping with the project and with Fr David’s help we submitted a detailed application and costings covering the purchase, transport, housing, feeding and care for the animals.
On 16 May, a cheque arrived form the Trust in the sum of £9,600 to fund the full cost of the project.
In that same year a number of mixed sex schools in the Barpello region either closed or became single sex, boys only. This left many vulnerable girls seeking secondary education and Fr David decided to create a new Fourth Form to meet the need. Money was needed for desks and other schoolroom furniture, equipment, bunk beds and blankets, a total of £8,120 in all. On this occasion, the Trust said it would support the project but on the basis of new matching funding by the Pound a Week Group. I put a note round the Group by email and withing a few hours £4,120 was promised. A few days later the Trust’s cheque for the balance of £4,000 was received.
Some personal recollections
Many of you have told me about the projects and stories you liked best about our support for the Pokot Mission projects. Here are just two amongst the many which made a deep impression on me.
Tough decisions and cows
Fr David told me that the one thing he disliked above all others in his role as founder and Director of the Barpello Mission school was the necessity to send some students home who were badly in arrears with their fees. The school is a boarding school as there is no public transport in this remote part of Kenya, so in addition to the need to pay teachers and meet other running costs, the school has also to fund board and lodgings for the students. He was only too aware that the reason for the build-up of arrears was invariably the poverty in which families were living and it was little consolation when he had to make these decisions, to know that in some cases the wider family would step in and at least pay something towards the fees. One of his students was in arrears of almost two years fees and he reluctantly decided that he would have to send him home the following day until at least some of the fees were paid. As he was walking back to his house, he saw a lady approaching the Mission. She was walking with the aid of a stick but was still very unsteady on her feet. Behind her she led a cow on a rope. She approached him, introduced herself as the boy’s mother and begged Fr David to let her son continue at school and join the Fourth Form where he would take his national exams at the year end. She offered the cow in payment of the arrears and told him it was the last of her herd as the rest had died in the terrible drought. With a heavy heart Fr David accepted the cow knowing it was nowhere near enough to pay the outstanding fees and those for the
coming Fourth Form. The lady made her way home, but not before she had persuaded Fr David to part with a large gift of Kenyan Shillings to feed her family for the next few weeks!
When I circulated this story to the Group donations poured in. Not only did we pay a year of the arrears (Fr David wrote off the other year) but we also paid the boy’s fees and all his extras for the Fourth Form. So Fr David was able to return the family cow to an overjoyed mother. And that’s not the end of the story. I had the pleasure of asking Father to buy another cow for the lady, the cost of which was donated by a member of our Group in memory of his father.
Darkness into light
“When the sun goes down the lights go out all over Rotu except for the house fires and the occasional torch.” That was Fr Sean’s response when, at the suggestion of my granddaughter, I asked him if he had ever considered trying to persuade his community to switch from the dangerous and highly polluting kerosene lamps to solar lighting. He added that his was the only kerosene lamp in the Rotu region as his people were too poor to buy the oil. In October 2018 we sent him £1,500 to buy 110 lamps initially (and later another 160) which were distributed after Sunday Mass. Fr Sean said that the people’s joy was unrestrained. The ladies danced and sang a prayer of thanksgiving with one mother telling Fr Sean “Only God could have thought of this kindness.” Here is the song they sang.
Thank you Jesus because you are always good to your people. We receive your blessings through good people despite of not knowing them neither for them knowing us. We are grateful for the solar lamps. God bless that person who decided to open his hand and bought these gifts for unknown people. Give him more so that he can continue with this charity work. We pray again that may he have good health till we meet if not in this world, then in the heaven. Thanks again and again.”
Such was the demand that some 90 more lamps were purchased over the following months. You can read Fr Sean’s further thoughts on the project below.
Greetings from Fr Paul Kamau
On behalf of Barpello Catholic Mission that incorporates Barpello High School, I want to record that we highly appreciate and acknowledge the immense support of Pound A Week Group to the mission in East Pokot. Pound A Week has over twenty years supported Barpello mission in humanitarian relief interventions, livelihood projects and large education scholarships to very needy Pokot children who would have otherwise been wasted away after struggling through Primary School. In education for the past 20 years, Pound A Week Group has sponsored over 500 students in Barpello High School and further to University Education and Vocational Training. These students have in-turn come back to the community and are influentia
teachers, farmers, civil engineers, accountants, businessmen and women and who are on the fore-front to help their own Pokot Community. Pound A Week has helped the missionaries in East Pokot achieve transformative education for a once marginalised community, opening to a modern society through education.
The Director of Barpello High School in 2019 initiated a tailoring course for women in Barpello Community. Pound A Week Group funded the project that included the purchase of 3 sewing machines, setting-up of the tailoring room, employment of a tailoring tutor and facilitating Sylvia (a local Pokot lady) to a professional school of tailoring so as to help her fellow women with her formal expertise. The objective of this course was to enable women groups in Barpello to make assorted school uniforms for both Primary and Secondary Schools in Barpello Location and thereby giving them an income generating project and skills-empowerment. This project is up and running despite the challenges of the pandemic. Forty-six women and two men are currently enrolled in the training.
Thank-you Pound A Week for opening opportunities that bring light to Pokot Community. Your outreach and generosity to Barpello is a blessing of a future to generations in Barpello; a future that was once dark and hollow but now glows with hope to make it in life.
God bless you all.
From: Fr. Paul
Director – Barpello High School and Barpello Catholic Mission
Greetings from Fr San McGovern at the Rotu Mission.
Fr. Gerry Foley and I began the Mission to the Pastoral Pokot in 1980. We started on the proverbial shoestring and a prayer. By 1996 a few things had been achieved but the budget was always tight.
Enter £ a Week and Fr. Pat Leddy and a letter from Eugene McGivern to know if I had a project that needed help? Are you serious?
Immediately the Camel and Medical projects were proposed and accepted. This morning, reflecting on the many projects I’ve been involved in with £ a Week over the past 25 years, I said I’d jot down quickly a few that came quickly to mind. In a few minutes the list reached 13 and I’m sure several are missing.
We started with Camels and medical. Followed in no special order by: Shoes, Solar lamps, Dining Room, Breakfasts, School fees, Borehole repair, animal water trough, Classroom, Store, Church Bell tower, Tractor/ Pickup repairs and Food Relief. £a Week responded to all these projects with what has always been amazing generosity.
The original donation of £550 now seems small compared to the amazing total of £Half a million over 25 years. But it wasn’t small in 1998. To us it was a fortune and did so much good. Kala Asar( Leichmaniasis), the second biggest killer in the world after Malaria, was treated in our clinic, when treatment for it was difficult to get. It started with one young, very ill and emaciated boy whose parents had carried him
through the night to the Mission. Can you imagine their joy when after two weeks treatment and recovery, we handed him back to Mum and Dad fully recovered?
Now looking back over the years at all the projects I’ve been involved in and received funding from £a Week, what would I consider the most satisfying from the prospective of the poor of this parish.? I think the Winner is and has been for many years Breakfast for the children. Millet porridge pressed down and flowing over with Camel 🐪 milk and a generous dollop of sugar. As my father would say “you wouldn’t get it in the Gresham”, the best hotel in Dublin. Without exaggeration that project has saved many a child’s life and continues to this day to do so.
Perhaps Food Relief would come a good second when lives saved are counted. And for quality of life – Solar Lamps. When you’ve lived in 12 hours of darkness except for a fire of sticks, all your life and you get a small lamp to help cook and eat your supper, that’s a whole new world.
All the other projects have had amazing consequences for the people. But these three: Breakfast, Lamps and Food Relief are for me the jewel in the crown of £a Week.
Could I end with a little reflection?
I wrote to Eugene recently asking for school fees for a girl from Rotu who got a place in secondary school. I got the reply that I was too late, which I knew I was, as the person who previously would have helped had sponsored another deserving student in the meantime. And then a day later another reply from Eugene saying amazingly another member had said they’d like to sponsor a pupil. Eugene thought what an extraordinary coincidence and bit of luck. But then he thought “or is there another power at work here?” I replied that I had no doubt whatsoever that another power was at work here and that the good luck factor had been long since exhausted. But on further reflection and having had some dealings with that Power over my 55 years in Africa, it seems very likely that the Power has been incorporated into a quite astonishing back-up group of very generous people led by an equally amazing captain. And so it has been with £a week and Pokot over the past 25 years You are absolutely unique.!! God bless and May I wish you all many more years of “good luck”.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to thank you all most sincerely for your truly incredible support for Pokot over so many years. It is a great privilege and a special joy to be the administrator for such a wonderful Parish Group.
Eugene McGivern 27 September 2021.
The project currently supports two Missions run by the Holy Ghost Fathers in East Pokot, a remote and impoverished region of Kenya. The predominant tribe there is the Pokot people, hence the name of the region and our project. The area is subject to frequent droughts and food shortages, at times approaching famine proportions.
You can find out about the Barpello Mission and Rotu Mission on these pages, along with the Camel Project. You can also read the POKOT diary of the development on these areas through the generosity of the Pound a Week Group amongst others.