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Cornwall Hill College throws out a challenge: should we still talk about ‘charity’?

| June 12, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Barrett

My excitement and sense of honour at being appointed coordinator of social responsibility in 2011 at Cornwall Hill College in Gauteng left me little time to consider some of the issues with which I would soon be faced.

Managing portfolios such as Round Square,1 The President’s Award,2 service projects, the values programme of the school and charity collections was overwhelming, and it wasn’t until I had settled into my position that I was forced to face the important question: Should schools run charity programmes or should we rather encourage pupils to give of their time and talents in service?

Cornwall Hill College is an independent coeducational school based on four pillars: academics, sport, culture and social responsibility. It opened its doors in 1998 and the founding members made a decision to ensure that the pupils who passed through the school would have the opportunity to get a sound values-based education, as well as opportunities to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. This resulted in our school being committed to weekly charity collections, in order to fill 100 bags of food per month to feed indigent people from the Klipgat informal settlement. To achieve this target, pupils were regularly encouraged to each bring R5 to pay for the groceries.

Serious social work

In addition to these charity collections, Cornwall Hill College runs a very robust social responsibility programme that is led by the Round Square committee and includes voluntary projects such as renovating buildings, planting vegetable gardens, working with young children in crèches and a cultural exchange programme. We also run a Debutante and Squires programme, focused on Grade 10 pupils, who have to work for and collect money for a non-profit organisation. Our pupils have embraced these programmes wholeheartedly and we have never had any problem with finding volunteers willing to give of both their time and their talents in the service of others.

Don’t choose ‘charity’?

The first time I had to really think about the charity issue was at a Round Square conference, when I discussed our programmes with a governor from another school. She was horrified that we still called it ‘charity’. “You have to change the name,” she said. “The word ‘charity’ is so demeaning!” I was quite taken aback, as I had not even given it a thought.

I then asked myself the question: Are people offended by receiving charity? As I battled for an answer, I realised that I was in the fortunate position of not ever having needed to receive charity. This prompted me to do some research to find out whether we were educating our pupils correctly and whether there is, indeed, a place in schools for charity collections.

In discussing the issue with educators from other schools, I discovered that a number of schools do not collect money on behalf of others and do not donate money to organisations. This was a surprise, as I have never taught at a school where no money was collected.

Money matters

I clearly remember early 2005, when we returned to school in January, just after a tsunami had devastated a number of countries including Thailand,3 and hearing at an assembly that one of our families was holidaying in Phuket at the time and was miraculously saved. Our principal at the time, Leon Kunneke, was particularly touched by this story and appealed to the community to donate money to send to the people of Phuket to rebuild some of their schools that had been destroyed. In only one day, more than R60 000 was collected, and delivered to the people of Phuket as an expression of our gratitude that one of the school’s families had been saved. This ‘charity’ was vitally needed and gave hundreds of Thai children the opportunity to continue with their education, despite the traumatic events they had experienced.

Giving the gift of social justice?

Continuing with my research, I came across Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”4 I view this as a challenge from the great man. It is my duty to ensure that we do as much as possible to help those who live in poverty. I strive to try and set communities or individuals on their feet so that they can meet their basic needs, and I shall do whatever I can to encourage my pupils to do so, too. I prefer to take the advice of a fictional little girl named Pollyanna, who said: “Don’t think of it as charity, but rather a gift from one friend to another.”5 Her ‘attitude of gratitude’ enabled her to change a town full of bitter and sad people to make it the ‘Glad Town’.

Whilst I do understand the anecdotal saying, “give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach him to fish and feed him for life”, I still firmly believe that there is a place in schools for charity collections, but that it has to be done in a spirit of humility and gratitude, rather than one of arrogance. I am sure that the recipients of the many pairs of shoes and the hundreds of Bibles we have donated appreciated each and every one. I shall, therefore, continue to collect and distribute ‘charity’ and trust that we as a school can meet Mandela’s challenge and play our part in the quest to eradicate poverty, and pledge that this will be done by cultivating the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes our way, and to give thanks every day.

Please join in

My research, however, is not complete, and I do not have all the answers. In 2015, as global poverty threatens to engulf more people,6 I challenge other ISASA schools to share their views on the topic: should we or shouldn’t we have charity collections in schools?

1. See, for example:
2. See, for example,
3. See, for example,
4. See, for example,
5. Porter, E.H. (2009 Reprint) Pollyanna. New York: CreateSpaceIndependent Publishing Platform.
6. See, for example:

Category: Winter 2015

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