Family Fast Days……How did they all begin??

Gloria Turner has been an office volunteer for CAFOD Brentwood since September 2017. Here she shares her findings on how CAFOD Family Fast Days began and what fasting means to her.

Having been involved in recent weeks with preparations for the approaching Lent Fast Day  I decided to find out more about why we fast and how Fast Days began.  What I discovered about the First Fast Day is an inspirational story.


Mother and Baby clinic in Dominica 1960

I was interested to learn that it all began with 2 women, Jacquie Stuyt and Elspeth Orchard, responding to a request from the people of the Caribbean island of Dominica to help raise funds for a mother-and-baby clinic.

They came together with others from the National Board of Catholic Women, the Catholic Women’s League and the Union of Catholic Mothers to organise the first Family Fast Day in 1960.


Jacqueline Stuyt and Sr Alicia, original volunteers for fundraising for the mother and baby healthcare clinic in Dominica

On Friday 11 March 1960 the group of Catholic women asked everyone in the family to make an act of self-denial. They asked children to give up  sweets and for their parents to make just one main cheap meal for the family and give the money they saved to feed people who were hungry.

Who would have believed that such a simple idea would have such a huge impact around the world as this remains at the heart of CAFOD Family Fast Days today.

The organisers expected to raise just a few hundred pounds, but the Catholic community responded with amazing generosity, donating more than £6,000 – the equivalent of £96,000 today.  Imagine how thrilled these groups of women must have been with that response!

“We weren’t doing anything special, we were just doing what we thought we ought to do, remembering that we are all God’s children.” Elspeth Orchard


The group of women who organised the first Family Fast Day in 1960

As well as funding the new clinic, the project also helped people to survive and make a living for themselves, including providing water and teaching people how to plant vegetable gardens. This determination to tackle the root causes of poverty and help people fulfil their potential is still at the heart of everything CAFOD does.

CAFOD Family Fast Day has always been as much about prayer as about giving. Elspeth Orchard explained:

“We were very keen that we should do it not just as a giving thing, but as a praying thing. We should really make an effort to remember people, not just by giving them food, but by doing what we could do to support them”


Opening of the centre in 1964

So this amazing story has shown me what can be achieved by a small group of people wanting to help others.  CAFOD has grown from just two women, Jacqui and Elspeth, fundraising by encouraging fasting, to the great charity organisation it is today.

My attitude to fasting is very different now compared to the days when I “gave something up for Lent” when I was growing up.

Fasting allows me to:

  • reflect on how fortunate I am in always having sufficient food
  • be more aware of those who don’t have enough food and to symbolise an act of solidarity
  • slow down my pace of life to spend more time in reflection and prayer
  • remember how fast days began with that small group of women in Dominica

We fast not only to donate money saved to those in need but also to set aside time to pray for them.  It is also a time for reflection of our own lives and lifestyles.

 “While the world around us may have changed, our efforts and values remain the same: to act, through our faith, to transform the lives of those most in need. Poverty is not part of God’s plan – we believe a better world is possible.” Chris Bain, CAFOD’s Director


I did not know how Fast Days began before I started volunteering for CAFOD.  For me, from now on, Fast Days will always bring this great story to mind and I will be much more aware of how small sacrifices from me can help other families to live more fulfilled and sustainable lives.






Help us fight hunger and malnutrition in Zimbabwe this Lent Fast Day.

Marjorie Henrie, an office volunteer in Southwark volunteer centre, shares what she has discovered about hunger and malnutrition in Zimbabwe after reading the CAFOD Lent Fast Day briefing. She also describes how it inspired her to want to take part in Fast Day in her parish.   

Photo - Thom Flint Marian stands with other members of Chinyama community veg garden with her twomonthold baby girl Talent

Marian stands proudly with other members of Chinyama community vegetable garden, holding her two-month-old baby girl Talent.

I was so choked to hear that across the world, malnutrition still kills almost three million children every year! I had absolutely no idea about this.  It is so sad to hear that for children who survive malnutrition, the effects can be long-lasting. Lack of the rightfood can stunt growth and even if children have a good diet in later life, the effects of early malnutrition remain. Imagine…. into adulthood, many undernourished children never reach their full height potential.

It was fascinating then to hear that in Zimbabwe the collapse of the economy, combined with changes in the climate have led many in the country struggling to feed themselves over the last few years.  And very sad to know that in Zimbabwe, one in four children under five have stunted growth from not getting enough good food.

Marian's family

(From L to R) Tawanda, Kiniel, Svondo (boy in blue t-shirt, front row), Marian holding baby Talent, Tafara (girl in checked skirt


However our support for CAFOD’s response means we can do something about it. I was touched with Marian’s story about her children.

To think that, when she’d leave her son Tawanda in the morning while she went looking for work, he would still be sitting in the same place hours later, is terrible.


planting veg seeds

CAFOD gave Marian vegetable seeds, nutrition and farming training, and fenced off a community vegetable garden to keep it safe from livestock

And to know that Marian’s youngest son, Svondo, is healthy and growing well compared to when Tawanda was his age because of CAFOD giving Marian vegetable seeds, nutrition and farming training, makes me feel it is worth taking part in Lent Family Fast Day in my parish.

Of course UK-AID’s commitment to match all donations up to 5 million pounds means that all our efforts can be doubled… how moving.

If you want to hear more about Lent Family Fast Day 2018. Zimbabwe and CAFOD’s response:

  1. Join your local Lent Family Fast Day Briefing
  2. Watch our film for more information
  3. Read our resources online

A ‘gapper’ reflects on a forthcoming visit to Sierra Leone

Chris Burkette is a young person who is currently on our Step into the Gap Christopher BurketteProgramme  Here he shares his thoughts as he prepares for his upcoming visit to Sierra Leone:

Journeying, travelling, moving. All words to describe some form of momentum. We all journey: it may be as simple as a commute from A to B or as exciting as travelling away on an exotic family holiday abroad.

There are broader journeys we all walk along; such as the journey of life from birth to death – this being our greatest adventure. And there are other journeys we may experience such as the journey of faith which trickles into other aspects of our lives.

A tropical vista in Sierra Leone

One such journey I shall engage in is a trip overseas to Sierra Leone with CAFOD. I shall walk alongside locals, gain insight into CAFOD’s projects and then share with communities upon arrival back in the UK. CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme (whose participants are sometimes called ‘gappers’) gives a sparkling opportunity to give young volunteers time to get involved and look at life through the eyes of others.

Sierra Leone 1

Villagers and CAFOD’s partners in Sierra Leone

The programme also holds in its hand the rare chance to deepen your faith through being inspired by those you meet and then taking inspiration from stories and personal experiences back to family and friends after the visit.

A central focus of the trip is the experience of an encounter that goes beyond the face-value sharing of personal stories and communication of lifestyle within faith. This is what CAFOD hopes all gappers will experience during the trip.

My personal experience of faith within the context of a journey starts from when I was very young. After Baptism, my parents would encourage me to go to church each week. After I made my First Holy Communion, I wanted to become an altar server which I continue to do at my weekly.

From this time, I was introduced to my local youth service within the Brentwood Diocese where I came to find a multitude of opportunities for young people ranging from not only altar serving to performing music in mass but also serving others around me.

This urge to help those around me grew in my heart for some time, eventually leading me towards Walsingham House and the work of CAFOD in the Step into the Gap programme.

“CAFOD gives a sparkling opportunity to give young volunteers time to get  involved and look at life through the eyes of others.”

Now at the point of the Sierra Leone visit clearly in view with merely days to go, I am filled with anticipation, excitement and wonder while also filled with slight apprehension.  How will people react to my presence there? Will it live up to expectations? Most of all though… how will I communicate the stories of those I meet to people upon my arrival back home?

Chris with the team of 2017-18 ‘gappers’

I ask you to pray not only for me but also for all the other gappers. May we be safe and gain inspiration from all those we encounter. As always – God bless you and continue to spread the Gospel.

CAFOD’s gap year programme is an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit an international CAFOD partner.

Applications for CAFOD’s gap year programme are open. For anyone aged 18 – 30: an opportunity to volunteer in the UK, gain experience, develop leadership skills and visit CAFOD partners overseas. The deadline is 19th February. For all information and how to apply visit or contact Catherine Jones 0207 095 5308