2021 in focus: An interview with Christine Allen
28 December 2021
Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD takes some of your questions about the year. When COVID affected all our lives and the climate crisis devastated homes around the world, CAFOD’s Director sought comfort in her faith and the inspirational people CAFOD works with.
Q. Name the biggest issue you’ve been working on this last year
A. Of course it has to be COVID! This pandemic has affected how all of us have lived and worked over this year, but we have to remember that as with everything, it’s the poorest who pay the biggest price. We see that writ large in vaccine access for instance.
Q. What has inspired you over the year?
A. So much! It’s difficult to say any one thing so I’m going to say three! I think we’d be nothing without our supporters who give so much: money (of course) but also prayers, time and love. The people and communities we serve overseas continue to inspire me. They work tirelessly in their homes, villages, towns and cities to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Ultimately I’m inspired by the organisations CAFOD works with around the world – the people we refer to as ‘our partners’ – local experts who make the difference.
What a difference. They've brought oxygen to remote communities. They’ve provided food to people who need it. They’ve got PPE to the right people. On top of the existing support they give. It's been absolutely amazing. I remember seeing a picture from DRC, where a workshop that I'd visited, that had been doing tailoring work, had shifted to producing masks and PPE to serve the community.
Q. What positives do you take from the past year?
A. Despite everything there are some positives. Being online has made us connect in different ways: quicker, and more equalising. I have been more engaged with colleagues around the world - in Brazil, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, DRC, Kenya or Cambodia – through Zoom whereas before I might not have seen them unless I travelled. And when we are all on the screen, the little boxes make us all the same!
All CAFOD staff have been flying less, which has been helpful in addressing our carbon footprint. We have adapted our ways of working which we need to build on for the future to be more sustainable.
Q. How did you keep your spirits up over the year?
A. I have been accused of being relentlessly optimistic this year! I am so lucky to see so many instances of solidarity. The Walk for Water during Lent was incredible and so creative: there were pets, singing, dancing, walking in school groups – all brought a smile to my face. This autumn, seeing the artwork from children and young people involved in the Eyes of the World campaign was truly inspiring.
Q. The year ended with the climate change conference in Glasgow. What did you take from that?
A. I’ve mentioned the Eyes of the World campaign which was a great example of young people wanting their voices to be heard. For us, it was vital that the voices of those directly affected by climate change were heard alongside young people in the UK, so it was great to hear from partners.
The ultimate question for me not just in Glasgow, but running through all our work on the climate crisis is: are we travelling far enough; fast enough; and fairly enough? The answer from Glasgow was ‘No’. There were some successes, but in the end it wasn’t enough, but it is not over. We will continue to work with the UK COP President over the coming year to keep the momentum going.
CAFOD seeks to live out the call of Laudato Si and Pope Francis to hear the ‘Cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. That isn’t a project – it’s a way of life.