By Leona Thomas
In 2004, I was a volunteer for Oxfam and I was not satisfied with a choice that was in front of me. So I made a decision that was to impact the lives of many people, most of whom I would never meet.
Oxfam had created a Christmas catalogue with a difference. You could buy things for your loved ones but all they would receive was a card telling them that something had been sent to poor people in another country, on their behalf. I thought it was a genius idea and was very excited.
There was just one problem.
I could only afford to buy 10 chickens.
Most of my money was being spent on receiving treatment for Chronic Fatigue at a private clinic in Market Harborough. I didn't want to buy just 10 chickens because they were the cheapest thing in the Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue so I knew lots of people would choose to buy them.
I wanted to do more than that. So I chose again. And something spectacular was put into motion.
I told my husband that if I got together with some friends we could combine our money and buy something more than 10 chickens. He then suggested we create some kind of sponsored event. He told me that his employer, The Co-op, would match any sponsorship money we raised up to a maximum of £160. That was exciting news! We might be able to raise £320 and that would buy a lot more than 10 chickens.
He decided that we could drive for 12 hours to as many Co-op shops as we could manage and I should take a photo of him with each store manager. He planned our route and set the date for 4 January 2005. We created sponsorship forms and he told his company of our plan. They were very excited. They owned a company called Sterling Motors and decided to give us one of their cars for our 12 hour drive!
And then something changed.
On 26 December 2004 a huge tsunami hit Asia. All the big charities changed focus and opened up a Tsunami Appeal. Prior to that, Oxfam had been collecting for Darfur but little money was arriving. Now there was a Tsunami Appeal and donations were flooding in. The Oxfam Unwrapped online catalogue was changed to only provide for the Tsunami relief.
Some people asked if we would change our event to support the Tsunami Appeal but I decided against that. I knew that when it ended there would still be people in 72 countries needing help.
On 4 January 2005 our event went ahead as planned. The local press came to interview us and take photos and then we were on our way.
Eventually the Tsunami Appeal was closed as Oxfam had received all the money it needed and the full Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue was reinstated online. Finally we were able to spend the money we had raised. We bought boats and camels. We trained teachers and midwives in remote villages. We bought medicines and school equipment. I am proud to say that we didn't buy any chickens, although we did buy some goats!
On 4 January 2005 we gave 12 hours of our time and raised almost £2500 for people in need around the world. We would never know who they were and we would not get a thank you. But we did have the satisfaction of knowing that a huge group of people had sponsored us and helped us to truly make a difference in the world.
And it all started because I wanted to spend more than £10 in that Christmas catalogue...