Last Thursday, my son Joel asked me if we could create a web page for his fundraising initiative. I say fundraising initiative; it was really just a junk-modelled cardboard collecting carton which he had called his ‘poor box’. He had found out about poverty, particularly in the developing world, and had decided that he was going to do something about it, by raising money. He was asking us and others to sponsor him to do various things: tidy his room, wash the car, and so on. He figured about ‘a trillion pounds’ would be enough to end poverty for good, so that was his target.
So, as a half-term-project, Joel asked if we could put a version of his ‘poor box’ on the Internet, so that other people could put money into it. So we did. Joel dictated a message for this blog (which you can read here), we organised a little sponsored run for Joel to do with his mum, and then we set up a Virgin Money Giving page so that members of our family could sponsor him. We chose to give the money to the relief and development charity Tearfund, since their video ‘What is Poverty?’ had originally inspired Joel. We set the target at £60.
We agonised over that number. My wife and I worried it was too high; that we were expecting too much of our friends and family. And that’s one of the most wonderful things about what happened next – that genuinely, it was completely unexpected. He was trying to raise £60.
He raised a bit more than £60. After I posted the blog, I went off to put Joel, his brother and sister to bed, and returned to the computer a few hours later. When I did so, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Joel had raised over £400. And it didn’t stop there – every couple of minutes, a new email would inform me that someone else had generously donated to what had somehow become a campaign. And then, just before we hit the £1,000 mark, it all went a bit nuts. James Corden, the Gavin and Stacey actor, found out about Joel’s message and sent the link to his 2.4 million twitter followers.
In the morning, I had to gently explain to Joel that he had raised nearly £2,500 for charity. He was completely overwhelmed (even if the number didn’t quite make sense, the wonderful messages of support that people had sent, did), and dictated another message – this time of thanks (read that one here). His first reaction – honestly (because it sounds too awesome to be true) was ‘But I’m only six.’ He could not believe that so many grown ups had listened to him, and responded. That was probably my favourite moment in the whole journey.
The donations kept coming in – as I write this, the ‘Poor Box’ contains over £5,000 and that number is still rising.
There are an awful lot of lessons to take from this experience. I’ve had some criticism from those who believe Joel was only supported because of my moderately large Social Media circle, but anyone who knows me will know how many times I’ve tried and failed to initiate worthy things online. Rather, I think what happened was that Joel’s own words melted through people’s compassion fatigue, and they remembered how they had felt when they first realised that there was injustice in the world. They gave, and then they shared the story with their friends. It really wasn’t down to me.
The big lesson – and the one that I hope Joel will learn from this – is that anyone can make a difference; that just because you’re a child, it doesn’t mean you can’t have influence. Just because you’re a child, it doesn’t mean you can’t change the world for the better. One of the most wonderful aspects of all of this has been receiving messages from people all over the UK who are retelling Joel’s story in schools and churches. One Sunday school group in York made ‘poor boxes’ for all their children to take away. At least two preachers used Joel’s story in last Sunday’s sermon. The ripples continue to be extraordinary.
Joel is now in training for a two-mile run – a long distance for a six-year-old. He’s determined to do it, because he already realises how big an impact the money he’s raised will have. Jo and I are pretty much the proudest parents in the world, and we’ll be cheering him on, every step of the way (Jo by running alongside him, me by waving a donut from the finish line).
Six year olds can change the world. I’m not sure I really believed that a week ago; I do now.
Support Joel’s fundraising quest by clicking here.
Read Tearfund’s article about Joel here.