A celebration of gift-giving of a different kind

A celebration of gift-giving of a different kind

As the Autumn Term concludes and as we approach the third Sunday of Advent and edge ever closer to Christmas, I can assume that most people, like me, are still running around in a panic trying to sort out Christmas presents! Whilst I uphold giving generously to our family and friends at Christmas, I wanted to write this final blog to conclude 2017 as a celebration of gift-giving of a different kind.

As a school we are very keen indeed to encourage the young people under our care to think about the ‘greater good’; about the privileges that they enjoy and about the wider world and its needs – whether locally, nationally or internationally. We do try as part of our students’ social and political education to keep them informed about and mindful of situations facing different communities around the world, and the girls are an absolute credit because they are superb at doing this, year-round. I also wanted to recognise the generosity of our wider school community – incorporating our students’ parents and staff, as well as our network of supporters, from alumnae to the CJ sisters, and many more friends from other walks of life, from Cambridge to Australia.

At the Junior School the Faith Council and Eco Council decided to team up to fundraise for the CAFOD World Gifts project this year. On Tuesday the council representatives were selling Christmas cards made from recycled materials, homemade cookies and conducting a competition to name and win a chocolate snowman and a cuddly elf. Pupils were able to buy cards and cookies and take part in activities to help raise money for the project, and the members of the councils will be invited to choose what to purchase from the catalogue. Earlier this week I received a note from Mrs Julia Hutchison about her wonderful Year 8 Geography class. She explained that the group has been studying international development this term, talking about aid, and thinking about what can be done to help in different situations. The students approached Mrs Hutchison out of the blue last week, all grinning, clutching an enormous bag of money that they had collected of their own accord. The girls were so excited that they had gathered together enough money to ‘buy a goat’ (courtesy of Oxfam) to donate to a village in Africa. Mrs Hutchison said she became a little emotional because:

“they are applying their learning to the real world, which is what you dream of in Geography!”.

Other examples of student-led activities are the Year 9 form groups who organise the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Appeal donations each year on behalf of the school; a group of Sixth Form students who climbed Snowdon for the charity Amantani, raising £2,000 between them; and the student-run café in the Art Centre, with all proceeds being donated to the Arthur Rank Hospice. Also on Tuesday, the Senior School held a Christmas Jumper Day joining with other schools and workplaces across the country this week in supporting the work of Save the Children. As we prepare for Christmas we are particularly mindful of the work of this great charity for children, including refugees, who are facing a very desolate prospect while many of the rest of us look forward with great joy to Christmas. It may not seem much, paying £1 to wear a Christmas jumper to school, but it is in regular, small acts such as this that we are able to keep a concern for others in less fortunate situations at the forefront of the girls’ minds, even during the excitement of the last week of school before Christmas.

With similar motivations I was heartened to read about a four year old who has asked for gift donations to take to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on Christmas Day; Lily, who is from Norwich, was born with a hole in her heart which affected her immunity and meant she was often ill in the winter, and although she will be at home for Christmas this year, she wants to hand out gifts to sick children. I was also moved this week to hear reports that two people were spotted during this particularly cold bout of weather, dragging a cart full of sandwiches and hot soup around Cambridge, offering some small comfort to homeless people facing a night outside in freezing conditions. What a fantastic thing to decide to do – and a selfless gift to give to others. 

I received another email recently which made me incredibly proud, this time from an alumna, and it is a timely example of another way that we can ‘give back’. Alice is currently working with Sunday Times journalist and activist Scarlett Curtis on the #FREEPERIODS project – urging the government to make a statutory pledge to end period poverty by providing free sanitary products to all girls in the UK who receive free school meals. Alice made the point that period poverty (perhaps not attending school because of not being able to afford sanitary products, or having to choose to purchase them in place of food) was happily never something she was aware of as a teenager and is not something that is an issue for girls at independent schools. Sadly, however, one in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford to buy sanitary items. Alice says:

“the more people who encourage teenage girls to raise awareness, the better. And the more teenage girls who campaign for other teenage girls, the better”. 

I took an assembly with the Sixth Form about this last week and the girls feel equally strongly about this matter, which is most encouraging. I would urge everyone to join us in supporting the project by signing the petition too, via the link above.

People are so often inspired to ‘give back’ in these sorts of ways and in our own school community this is in large part thanks to our teachers and staff members who also certainly contribute a great deal in this respect. We need only take one of many examples into account here. Not only has Year 5 teacher, Miss Agata Wygnanska, supported the Junior School pupils in this week’s fundraising for CAFOD, but she has also encouraged the Junior School pupils to support Another Hope charity in recent months. Having visited Uganda two years ago with the charity, Miss Wygnanska worked with last year’s Year 5 pupils (current Year 6 pupils) to raise money for water tanks to be built for families in the region. The construction of one water tank costs £500 so, having raised £900, almost enough for two tanks, the girls wrote a letter to the Junior School PTA asking for a £100 contribution so that two tanks could be built – please click here to read more about the two tanks that were delivered to two families in Uganda and about Miss Wygnanska’s visit during the summer.

Another update that I received in the last week of term came from Mr Daniel Bennett, our Head of Religious Studies who also oversees the school’s corporate fundraising ventures each year, with the excellent news that our annual Fun Run, which takes place on the last day before the October half term, has raised £6,763 so far, with more donations still arriving. In previous years these funds have been distributed to support organisations ranging from Plan UK to EACH, the Fairtrade Foundation to the NSPCC, Mines Advisory Group to Save the Children, the Poppy Appeal to the Teenage Cancer Trust, Friends of the Earth to CAFOD, and our CJ Communities in Zimbabwe and Nepal. In addition to conducting fundraising the girls are also happy to advocate for causes they care about, which sees further support granted. For instance, local businesses kindly matched our own donation of £900 for the Phoenix Trust, to take the total we were able to donate up to an impressive £1,800.

I am grateful to everyone within our community for all they contribute, as students, parents, staff, alumnae and friends of the school, for fundraising and awareness-raising for the greater good. May I wish everyone continued discernment over Advent and a very happy and joyful Christmas when it comes!