Lucinda Sowerbutts shares her experience working with her local community to fundraise for OSCAR in The Stroud News & Journal
I’m a working mother of four striving to keep both my home and work life in harmony. In the summer of 2015, stuck in heavy traffic en route to the office in London I decided I needed a new sound, a new rhythm. I wanted to challenge myself, realise some aspirations. I immediately started applications for voluntary work abroad.
Months later I was volunteering for an NGO, (Non-Governmental Organisation) in Mumbai, India, where I was struck by the altruism of the community in the Ambedkar Nagar slums. A densely populated, over crowded, crumbling neighbourhood with a population of over 60,000 and a mere 100 toilets. A ‘spaghetti junction’ inspired arrangement of electric cables, no running water, no showers; none of the amenities we accept as the norm in the West.
The ‘slums’ present a powerful and uncomfortable visual image. However, spending time within the narrow, claustrophobic alleyways, this image of awfulness blurs and is replaced by beautiful colours and friendly smiles, all wrapped up in a cacophony of sounds and remarkable smells. What a welcome relief it was to discover this community is vibrant and happy, a community where ‘less’ really means ‘nothing’.
Many slum dwellers never leave the community, which creates a very robust co dependency. To ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ is essential; it’s possible they are only a matter of inches away. Helping one another and sharing the joy of a neighbour’s good fortune are normal in Ambedkar Nagar. I left heart warmed by the community spirit, the pulling together, the self-sacrifice and abundant generosity but above all I was awe inspired by the amazing work a poor, young slum dweller was doing to support hundreds of children.
So how would it be when I returned to my beautiful home in the Cotswolds? Would I be able to find the same community spirit and benevolence in my own neighbourhood?
The Oscar Foundation is a charity that through football instils the value of an education and empowers under privileged children with life skills to take responsibility for their community’s development. Ashok Rathod set up the organisation ten years ago when he was only 18. An energetic, focussed and inspiring role model, he now has over 3,000 boys and girls in the Oscar family, playing football and going to school.
The plan to bring 14 children from Ambedkar Nagar to the United Kingdom for a two-week education, culture and football tour was proposed. The ethos of Oscar is leadership; the tour will inspire and educate 14 Oscar children who in turn will inspire and lead thousands more.
To get the ball rolling I rang Beaudesert Park School in Minchinhampton, my four children had flourished at this school and I was confident the staff would be enthusiastic. It was immediately apparent this tour was going to happen. Deputy Headmaster, Colin Macintosh recruited three schools in other counties to commit to raising funds and to provide an unforgettable itinerary, for both the Oscar and home teams.
So far so good, a local school is involved but how philanthropic are local businesses? Have our domestic measures of austerity chastened our charitable giving? Have we lost the ‘lets work as a community’ sense in the West or is it still widespread? Indian businesses reaching a certain turnover are required by law to donate 2% of net profit to charity, known as CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility. Its effectiveness is open to debate, with two very diverse sides to this charitable coin. With no such laws in the UK, how would Gloucestershire business respond when approached for donations?
Within weeks two companies in Cheltenham, Mitchell’s Chartered Accountants and The Renewable Design Company, got the tour started by paying for the passports and visas. Weeks later, ‘ethical bank’ Triodos agreed to support the tour. The Calcot Manor Group was soon to follow. Steppes Travel in Cirencester sourced 17 return flights with favourable terms and conditions and pledged to provide tour transport. Jolly Nice Farm Shop will host the team for breakfasts and snacks. Players from Forests Green Rovers Football Club gave up their time to attend a Beaudesert fundraising event. Local football legend, Tony Adams has lent his support, recruiting fellow Arsenal and England goalkeeper, David Seaman.
The list of people, both young and old who are motivated to give is awe-inspiring, from cake sales and jumble sales in Nailsworth, to a Cheltenham Ladies’ College charity Global Cook Book, Cheltenham College holding a ‘World Cup’ event, cycle rides, fun runs, swim a thons, Stroud DJ, Robbie Duncan hosting a Bollywood disco and a young volunteer from Nailsworth, Max Cooke, flying out to spend 3 months in the slums teaching English… and all this support is boosted by philanthropic individuals who don’t want to bake, run or swim but just to give.
The Oscar UK School Tour 2017 fundraising continues a pace with the additional target to collect 16 laptops for the kids to take home for the Oscar IT centre.
In 2016 the Charities Aid Foundation announced the United Kingdom as the most generous country in Europe. Ashok would say “Shabas UK Shabas”, which roughly translates to “Bravo UK Bravo” and suggests we should give ourselves a pat on the back.
If you would like to make a donation to the tour please click here: