Spare change making a huge change
Colourful boxes start appearing at the beginning of Lent in parishes and schools. Last year, I even saw one in the local pub in the regional town where I was teaching, placed strategically in front of the cash register so patrons could pop their spare change in after purchasing a refreshing bevvy.
The Project Compassion Box has become an iconic feature of Australian Catholics’ celebration of Lent over more than 50 years.
But what do these little boxes mean?
For many, perhaps not much thought goes into them – you grab one at a parish or get given one at school and then it stays in your bag, unmade and forgotten.
Some people pop their 5c pieces into the box, spare change, and don’t give it another thought. Many of the boxes never make it back to the parish at Easter.
This is understandable, and let’s be frank, at the end of the day, it’s the stories that matter.
Every year, the Catholic Church’s international aid and development agency Caritas Australia launches Project Compassion, its major annual fundraiser, at the beginning of Lent, usually on Shrove Tuesday or Ash Wednesday.
This year, the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn will do a digital launch due to COVID-19 with a video featuring Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Africa Programs coordinator Lulu Mitshabu and students from St John Paul II College in Nicholls. The video will be available over the coming week.
The design of these boxes hasn’t changed much since Project Compassion began in the 1960s. Easily folded and with a hole at the top to pop your coins, the box’s simplicity belies its impact.
Most years, around $10 million is raised through Project Compassion for programs around the world, and the way in which Caritas works in partnership with these communities is its legacy and unique contribution.
The faces on the boxes are where the real stories come into play.
Caritas is specific about working with communities, in partnership, for sustainable development, operating with the principle of subsidiarity and allowing the people who are most affected by decisions to become ‘architects of their own progress’.
Caritas’ people also recognise that we connect better when we can put a face to the issue. Who doesn’t feel moved by a photo of a person who has overcome adversity as a result of our support?
While each year there is a face of Project Compassion, not all funds raised from Project Compassion go to that one person or community. It’s not a child sponsorship organisation, and PC isn’t a ‘face on the milk carton’ situation.
While it could be transformative to know that a young woman in Sub-Saharan Africa has ended up with $10 million through Project Compassion, the knowledge that possibly millions of people are impacted by a large collection of programs is far more reassuring.
This year, the stories of Project Compassion take place in Indigenous Australia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Solomon Islands, India and Mozambique. The issues are different in each of those places, but the common link is the transformative stories of real-time sustainable development in these communities, often as a direct result of Caritas’ support.
“When you give someone a fish you feed them for a day, when you teach them how to fish, you feed them for a lifetime”. It’s a cliché, but it is powerful.
If you are interested in finding out more about Caritas, running a fundraiser, or having a presentation at your parish or school, contact Beth Doherty.
Elisabeth_doherty@hotmail.com / 0432 608 310
- Beth Doherty is the Diocesan Director for Caritas Australia in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn