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Blackfriars Overseas Aid Trust (BOAT) – AGM 2014

Wednesday, May 07, 2014
The Christian gospel is not just something which affects our personal and family lives. It also sends us out into the world to bring healing and hope. Charitable giving should be a central plank in our spiritual lives as a 'corporal work of mercy' (along with prayer and fasting). As Pope Francis never ceases to remind us, we are in solidarity with the poor; we cannot stand aloof and think that another person's suffering is not our problem. Of course, we cannot help everyone all the time, but we must do what we can.

Last Sunday, 4th May, we held the 2014 AGM of the Blackfriars Overseas Aid Trust – or BOAT, as everyone calls it. BOAT is the charity run by the 9:30 Family Mass congregation at Blackfriars, Oxford, and supports nearly 20 projects around the world. These projects cover many areas of need, including (a) healthcare, especially primary healthcare and preventive medicine; (b) welfare, especially for children, people with disabilities, refugees, and victims of war or poverty; and (c) education, with special attention given to practical skills, women's education, and basic education for children.
Some of the BOAT committee and 9:30 Family Mass congregation at the 2014 AGM

Our principles of giving require that we find projects where our small donations will go a long way, where the injection of financial support will lead to sustainable development, and where we have very good communication links. I think this emphasis on good communication is one of the best distinctive attributes of BOAT. The South African Dominican, Albert Nolan OP, once described four stages of development in our service of the poor. (These stages need not follow sequentially; they may strike us all at once!) We begin with compassion. We are then motivated to effect structural change, without indulging in our anger against 'the system'. Thirdly, we proceed with humility when we discover the poor are often more aware and more capable of the solutions than us, though we must avoid romanticising poverty. Finally, there is true solidarity, no longer seeing the poor and the oppressed as a separate class, but identifying with their problems, struggles, weaknesses and hopes. "Real solidarity", says Fr Nolan, "begins when it is no longer a matter of we and they."

At BOAT, we keep regular communication with our projects to ensure the money is spent wisely and productively. We receive reports and photographs, which we feed back to the congregation (see especially the display at the back of the church), and sometimes a BOAT member is even able to visit a project in person. A few projects happen to be run by Dominicans in their respective countries (Grenada, East Timor, etc.), but this is not a requirement. The BOAT committee are all volunteers and we keep costs to a minimum (just bank transfer fees and the printing of the annual report), so that a full 99% of our income goes straight to the people who are in need.

This recent AGM saw some changes in the composition of the committee. We are sad to see some members move on, but warmly welcome the new members, who bring their own distinctive talents and energy.
You can read more about BOAT here: http://www.bfriars.ox.ac.uk/priory/groups/boat/

Matthew Jarvis OP


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