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'Poor people are just like us, but they're just going through a hard time' Tearfund marks 50 years of fighting poverty

by Tola Mbakwe

It all started in 1968, when it became normal for every household to have a television.

"This was the first time ever people had been able to see through mass media the immense suffering and pain of the people in Africa who were starving to death," said Virginia Luckett, head of UK churches for Tearfund.

"There was a series of famines in the mid-60s that caused such a massive shock around the world. The Christians in the UK, particularly the Evangelical Church in the UK, said 'this is wrong'."

She told Premier that financial donations started flowing into the Evangelical Alliance to address the injustice happening and that's when Tearfund was born.

It began with a passionate preacher named George Hoffman travelling around the country leading the call for Christians to show empathy to those suffering.

"They were involved in quite a lot of hospital-led work. Nurses were helping in famine situations," Luckett said.

Year by year, as the need grew, so did Tearfund.

Tearfund Twitter

The group supports marginalised people, promotes education, advocates for clean water and feeds the hungry, and these are only a few of its responsibilities.

The one that's probably the most widely-known is disaster response. It's something Donald Mavunduse, head of the south and Eastern Africa team for Tearfund knows very well.

"No one disaster is ever the same even if it affects the same community. What it means for us is going out there as quickly as we can, [to] understand what the needs are, understand who else is providing need, [identify] where the gaps are and trying to provide assistance as quick as we can."

For Tearfund, disaster response and climate change advocacy go hand in hand.

Paul Cook, head of advocacy at Tearfund said Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 is the perfect example.

"I met this lady called Gloria who had been up in the hills in her village when the storm had hit and she was in her room with her husband and her children and grandchildren. This storm literally ripped the walls and roof off their home. She and her husband were clinging to the floor with the children pinned under them to stop being swept away by this terrible storm.

Tearfund Twitter

"Communities there always faced tropical storms but this was more intense than ever before. They also told me they [the storms] used to come up one time of year but now they come up all times of the year. They used to only come from one direction, now they come from all directions of the country. That's just one example. There are many more poor communities who don't have the rains they used to have, that's seen the desert growing, that's seen the seasons become more erratic.

"Climate change is very real for those who are very poor and it's really important that we see governments taking steps to address this."

There are stories upon stories of how Tearfund's work has made a difference in people's lives. Tearfund ambassador and chocolatier Will Torrent said his favourite is about a cacao farmer from the Ivory Coast named Richard.

Will Torrent Twitter

"He's been given this agriculture training which means he can grow more cacao, which means he can sell more beans. By being able to sell more beans he's getting more money in to support his family and community. It can really be the difference from being able to send his children to school and not. They're getting a better education. Their health is better because they're eating better, they're being shown how to grow different crops," Torrent explained.

Will Torrent Twitter

The aid charity said it's been able to remain strong all these years by partnering with local churches.

Mavunduse told Premier why this strategy has worked for them.

"Churches exist in remote hard-to-reach places where sometimes there are no government services, there are no hospitals, there are no schools and those communities in those places rely on churches. When we are thinking about following Jesus where the need is greatest, it's also where the needs are farthest, and it helps us reach people that are far away."

Tearfund Twitter

He added that Tearfund isn't just about providing physical help, but spiritual help - the Good News of Jesus Christ - and that's where working through churches has helped their mission thrive.

While 50 years has come with many reasons to celebrate, working for an anti-poverty charity also comes with its lows, as Luckett described.

"Always, the lows are hearing the stories of the most atrocious situations. In our day-to-day work, we hear those stories frequently because that is the front edge of our work."

But Mavunduse said it's the memories of people he's met that make him push through the tough days.

Tearfund Twitter

"Poor people are just like us, but they're just going through a hard time," he said.

"They want to take care of their families, they want their children to grow well, but find themselves in situations where it's not possible."

In 50 years, Tearfund has helped tens of millions of people devastated by disasters, it partners with over 154,000 churches and has seen hundreds of policies changed for the better.

Luckett said the key to the success is prayer.

"We believe that the root cause of poverty is broken relationships and the only person I know who can fix those broken relationships is the Lord Jesus Christ. It's a heart and minds thing."

Tearfund's 50th birthday was on the 29th May but the charity is taking the whole year to celebrate. A special celebration service was held in Coventry Cathedral with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.


BBC's Songs of Praise even joined in on Tearfund's jubilee year festivities by dedicating an episode the group's work.

Listen to the full report here:

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