21 September meeting: The ups and downs of ‘doing good’ – lessons from Bwindi, Uganda

The story of Omushana, Sunshine for Children – a small charity based in Shrewsbury and helping children in southwest Uganda. This illustrated talk will include observations and anecdotes (serious and amusing) on the pluses and minuses of charity and Fair Trade projects in the area. The talk will be given by Gillian Castle, who is a Shrewsbury resident and runs the charity.

Thursday 21 September at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ.

Volunteers required at Shrewsbury Dial-a-Ride

One of our members who does voluntary work for the charity Shrewsbury Dial-a-Ride has drawn our attention to the need for voluntary drivers and passenger assistants.

Dial-a-Ride is a service operating within a ten mile radius of Shrewsbury. It is for the use of people who find it difficult or impossible to use public transport for any reason. There are several hundred users in the area, who include young people with learning disabilities, the blind and elderly, and those living in inaccessible spots with no public transport.

For an annual fee of £15 passengers can arrange any number of trips throughout the year at a cost of £1 per ride. Volunteer drivers collect and deliver door to door. Priority is given to medical appointments, but any trip is catered for within the area, and many use the service to do their shopping or to visit friends.

Dial-a-Ride is short both of drivers and of passenger assistants (many clients cannot travel without aid). Volunteers with current driving licences are given appropriate training. Volunteers are welcome for one or more days a week, or to help out on an ad hoc basis. Please contact the Dial-a-Ride office on 01743 450270 for more information.

If you don’t live in the Shrewsbury area, then it is likely there is a similar service near you that also needs volunteers!

National Secular Society on churches, charity and the conferring of privilege

There are many ways to do good, including campaigning for human rights and equality over discrimination and prejudice, but charitable work is not a bargaining chip for special privileges, argues Alistair McBay.
Recently some Christian leaders in Scotland angered at secularists challenging their privileges have responded by pointing out the National Secular Society and other secular groups don’t run care homes, or operate food banks, or run adoption agencies. Secularists have been the target of this ill-informed sniping from both the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland, and Anglican and Catholic leaders have made similar attacks in the past. So here is an attempt to set the record straight on a few points.
First, let’s deal with the obvious. The NSS is not a registered charity, it is a not-for-profit campaigning organisation. It would be more accurate for the churches to compare us not with themselves, but to the Christian not-for-profit think-tank Ekklesia, which is also a campaigning group, not a registered charity, and doesn’t run care homes or food banks. Perhaps the Christian Institute might be another more appropriate comparator – it is a registered charity but which spends its funds on campaigning for ‘Christian influence in a secular world’, and not on food banks.
So while it is true that the NSS runs no care homes or food banks, the religious leaders who condemn us for failing the vulnerable can be accused of the very same. For example, they have never campaigned for equality for the LGBTi community. In fact, they continue to campaign for LGBTi rights to be restricted and for Christians to be able to practise discrimination and prejudice against them through exemptions from the Equality Act. They also campaign to retain the legal right to exclude children and teachers on the grounds of their parents being of the ‘wrong’ religion or no religion. There is not much charity in evidence here – just the demand that Christian belief be seen to confer a right to discriminate against, segregate and exclude vulnerable groups.
I know of no secular charity that prostitutes its charitable works as justification for retaining special privilege in society – that seems to be the sole prerogative of some religious groups. All over the UK, every day of the year, people of all religious beliefs and none perform selfless works and activities to raise funds for those worse off in some way, or give up their valuable personal time as volunteers to make better the lives of others less fortunate. Yet the only people who consistently brag (sorry, bear witness) about what they do in this regard are church leaders looking to leverage this work in exchange for power and privilege, and to champion their allegedly superior belief system.

Continue reading here.

Impressions of the Humanist schools in Uganda, from an SHG member

 SHG Chris SmithChris Smith is a retired maths teacher and former VSO Uganda volunteer. She is also a Shropshire Humanist Group member and has been Secretary of the group. 

Chris recently revisited Uganda and wrote the following informal update from her visit to the Humanist Schools in Uganda. For more information please visit the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, a charity that SHG supports

My recent visit to Uganda came 6 years after my first arrival.  I had already known about the Humanist Schools; by the end of my placement I knew Isaac Newton, Masaka, quite well; it was only a 3½ hour drive and I had my own vehicle.  In 2012 I joined the Friendship visit and managed to get to Mustard Seed, Kamuli, for the first time.  But I still hadn’t really been to any of the schools as a Maths teacher and that niggled.

I visited independently in February this year, at the start of the academic year, spending a week each at Isaac Newton (Masaka campus) and Mustard Seed.

I found that Primary Leaving Exam results were out late so S1 were only just starting to register.  “O” level results were very overdue, so S5 (lower sixth) hadn’t started.

I observed lessons. Venn diagrams loom large on the Ugandan curriculum, tedious and artificial, but other topics were more lively.  When “supplementing” lessons I asked why and how questions.  Rote learning is at the heart of Ugandan teaching, there are large classes and few resources; this can work well for Maths but there is a loss of independent thinking and flexibility.

S6 students (the A level year) sought me out when I was not in other classes. At INHS I was amazed by the standard already achieved by some of the students; they asked me about exam questions which they found difficult, I counted the years since I last taught at that level and consulted text books.  Students at Mustard Seed were not as advanced, but I team taught with one of their teachers and found him to be highly professional both in the content of the lessons and the non-dogmatic way he communicated with the students.

So far so ordinary.  I introduced experimental probability, coins were spun, dice rolled.  Initially students were very hesitant, out of their comfort zone.  I presented some of the questions I have used with my U3A “Numbers and Stuff” group; these led them to think in different ways.  I spoke to teachers about positive discipline, giving praise, quick ways to assess the progress of whole classes.

SHG Chris Smith Uganda 2At Mustard Seed the director asked me to speak to the boarders, boys and girls separately, about Humanism but emphasising the importance of females staying in school, avoiding early sex and pregnancy.  I told them about my life so far, emphasising my humble origins, being the first person in my family to be able to stay on at school after 14 and the difference that had made to my opportunities; that I have only two children so we could do our best for them and so I could work at my chosen profession.  I asked what they thought education could give them.  I explained that Humanists don’t have a rule book or leader, consider they can use reason to decide how to live well, can be friends to people of any religious belief or none, did not fear hell or try to act well just to reach heaven.  I emphasised that the Humanist Schools welcome staff and students who followed any religion, or no religion, equally.

Buildings, equipment and infrastructure have improved and numbers of students have increased; the purposeful atmosphere is just the same and what I most enjoy about my visits.

Uganda has very many places of worship. Some explicitly offer cures and wealth, it is the churches themselves that benefit.  Religious belief is often used as the excuse for persecution of “the other”, homosexuals the most extreme example at present, and it often overlays superstition, acceptance of witchcraft, inappropriate treatments from local healers.

Can the Humanist Schools make a difference?  Emphatically, yes.  Anything we can do to demonstrate atheists being generous and trying to lead good lives, and to encourage the use of reason rather than dogma is worth the effort.

Resolution Revolution

The BHA is launching “Resolution Revolution” over the new year period, a major new project from which aims to transform the way we make and carry out New Year resolutions. In response to last year’s group survey some group members indicated that they wanted to do more by way of social action, and Resolution Revolution can form a focal point for charitable and socially-minded group activity.

Resolution Revolution is a twist on the traditional New Year resolutions and instead of doing less of one thing and doing more of another, people will be encouraged to make a resolution to do something for others; ‘mentoring students or young entrepreneurs’ ‘sweep a neighbour’s icy path’, ‘volunteer with a local charity’. Resolution Revolution aims to get more people volunteering and doing things to help others and support a more cohesive society with the emphasis very much on things people can do rather than things they pay for or donate to.

Local Groups join the revolution!

Members of local groups can sign up either together or individually to make a resolution for 2011. The Resolution Revolution website is the place where people can get ideas, find out more about making effective resolutions, see what others are doing, make pledges and then tell the world how it worked out. There will be regular updates for participants so that they can see what has happened so far and ensure the momentum is maintained.

Local humanist groups can set up their own pages so they can work collectively on a project. Contact groups@humanism.org.uk to request your own affiliated groups page when the site goes live next week.

This is an opportunity for groups to raise their profile both by talking about Resolution Revolution and their group resolution or individual resolutions to their local press in the new year. We can supply you with a list of local media contacts, supported by an outline press release from BHA which you can amend to suit your story. Posters are also available from the website for your local library, community centre, doctor’s surgery and other public notice boards.

For schools we are running a pilot scheme, packs including lesson plans, posters, pledge charts, certificates and badges are available and we are looking for as many schools as possible to take part. There is a flyer attached for teachers, please feel free to pass it on to anyone who might be interested.

www.humanism.org.uk/resolution-revolution

Why is the BHA doing it?

One of the main perspectives of the humanist approach is that individual responsibility, social cooperation and mutual respect are vital. By taking positive action, people can solve the problems of society by actively engaging with each other and basing their actions on shared human values. Human beings helping other human beings is the only help we can receive.

Additionally, the BHA sees the benefit in strong local communities where people are engaged and empowered to take action on issues that affect them. This project is one way to help build such a society.

The website is designed to be separate from the BHA’s online presence and, although run by the BHA, the materials and resources produced will be accessible to all regardless of religion or belief. In future years we will be looking to expand the reach of the project by involving many more organisations.

For more information, schools packs, posters, please contact joanne@humanism.org.uk.

For local press data or to create a group at resolution-revolution.org.uk contact groups@humanism.org.uk.

Personal stories

We’re also looking for individuals to profile. If someone in your group has a good idea for a socially-minded New Year resolution and would like to feature on the site with a photograph and description of their pledge then please contact bob@humanism.org.uk.

Bob Churchill

Head of Membership and Promotion

British Humanist Association (BHA)

Charity single

The Great Divide is a Liverpool based guitar band who are planning to release a single to coincide with the Pope’s visit to the UK. The song is a comment on religion in the 21st century and all profits from UK sales will be donated to a secular based charity that works with victims of child abuse (for example, NAPAC).

You can listen to a rough mix of the song at http://www.soundcloud.com/thegreatdivide. The song will be released in a downloadable format on 13 September. In order to maximise publicity and enable the track to chart as high as possible, the band is encouraging people to download the track on a specific date.

The band feel the song has the ability to cross over in to the mainstream of popular music and is an ideal platform to promote the secular message, stimulate debate and engage young people.

(The band is not associated with Shropshire Humanist Group – for further information contact Chris Jones.)

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