In an open letter, the presidents and chief executives of the four masonic charities explain how combining their efforts under a single entity will enable better support for masons, their families and the wider community
‘The future of the charities is fundamental to the existence and success of Freemasonry,’ commented then Assistant Grand Master Lord Cornwallis following the 1973 Bagnall Report into the work of masonic charity.
Cornwallis’ statement remains as true today as it did then, and it has been firmly in the minds of the presidents, trustees and chief executives of the four central masonic charities as they have undertaken a further major review.
The charities each offer a specific area of support to Freemasons and their families. The Freemasons’ Grand Charity supports Freemasons and their dependants in financial need; the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys helps children and young people from masonic families in distress; the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution provides residential care; and the Masonic Samaritan Fund offers access to a range of health-related services.
Change and cooperation
Throughout their long history, the charities have supported hundreds of thousands of Freemasons and their families. They have also demonstrated their willingness to embrace change as both society and Freemasonry have evolved.
Since co-locating to Freemasons’ Hall, the divisions between the four charities have lessened. However, the presidents remain focused on considering a more effective way of providing the best possible support to the Craft.
Following an extensive review, the presidents are proposing that all charitable activities should be consolidated to form a new, single charity to support Freemasons, their families and the wider community.
The charities have a positive record of working closely together. They have already aligned some of their charitable support activities, and created a unified advice and support team to assist those seeking help. The amalgamation of many administrative functions has also reduced duplication, creating a more streamlined service for beneficiaries and donors without compromising their full range of support.
Despite increased cooperation and cross-charity initiatives such as Freemasonry Cares, the continuing existence of four separate organisations – each with its own distinct processes for providing support – has hindered the development of a truly joined-up and consistent approach. This causes problems for those who need to apply to more than one charity, as they may be required to meet differing criteria and receive separate payments for each type of support.
The presidents’ recommendation for a single charity will further reduce duplication and move towards the provision of a ‘whole-family, cradle-to-grave’ approach. Freemasons and their families will continue to benefit from the current full range of assistance through a simpler and more readily accessible process.
The presidents and trustees are committed to maintaining the valuable contribution that the charities make to the wider community. Collectively, millions of pounds are awarded each year to a huge range of local, national and international causes, yet masonic generosity remains a largely untold story. Combining the non-masonic activities of the charities would enable a more effective way of demonstrating that Freemasons care about the wider world.
The presidents also considered the impact that a single charity would have on fundraising. Through successive generations, support has been received from masonic donors, Festival Appeals and in many other ways, such as legacies. The charities continue to rely on the generosity of Freemasons for the majority of their income and are extremely grateful for every donation.
Maintaining four separate charities, however, means that funds are ring-fenced for individual charitable purposes. For example, funds raised for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys can only be used to support children and young people. A single charity with a combined, wider remit could channel support to where it is most needed.
The recommendations confirm that Festival Appeals will continue to be the principal mechanism for raising funds. Appeals concluding up to and including 2021 will continue to benefit the existing charities. Festivals concluding from 2022 onwards will benefit the new single charity and its wider remit.
As Festival Appeals are typically held for five years, a period of transition will be necessary with appeals for the existing charities and the new charity running simultaneously. Donors can be reassured that all donations to the existing charities will continue to be used solely for the purpose for which they were originally given.
As reported by the Pro Grand Master at the Quarterly Communication in December 2014, the Grand Master and Provincial Grand Masters have received a comprehensive briefing on the review. The Grand Master and all those who have been briefed have given their full support to the proposal. The next step is for each charity to invite their members to consider the proposals.
Over the coming months, each of the charities will make its own plans to ensure that its members are fully consulted on the proposals. The presidents and trustees hope that members of their charities will share the enthusiasm for the proposed way forward.
The presidents are determined to retain the involvement of members of the Craft in governance arrangements. The final membership structure is yet to be confirmed, but the vision includes an effective means for the Craft to play a part in the future of the charity.
Should the proposals be approved, it is envisaged that the new charity will become operational during 2016, beginning a new chapter in the long and proud history of masonic charity.
The proposals: a singular vision
· The presidents of the central masonic charities have recommended that the charities be consolidated into a new, single organisation.
· The new charity will provide the full range of support currently available to Freemasons and their families.
· A new name (yet to be determined) will be given to the consolidated charity, which will support both masonic and non-masonic giving.
· The new charity will become operational in 2016.
· All Festivals concluding in 2022 and beyond will support the new charity, with existing Festival Appeals continuing as planned.
· A single president, trustee board, chief executive and staff will administer the new charity, with members of the Craft included in its governance.
‘Throughout their long history, the charities have demonstrated their willingness to embrace change as both society and Freemasonry have evolved.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015
I found the initiative [the proposal of a single masonic charity] of the presidents and chief executives of our four charities very encouraging. As a fumbling almoner, I have struggled from time to time deciding as to where I should be directing my enquiries. I have always found the staff very helpful, but I am sure that an efficient single enquiry channel must be of benefit, not only to us, but to the cause of efficiency within the organisation.
We all love our charities and will, I am sure, continue to support them in whatever form they eventually finish up, but times change and we have to change with them.
I wish the charities a happy and successful outcome to their deliberations.
Peter Dodd, Old Epsomian Lodge, No. 3561, London
Forward with focus
As the Membership Focus Group gathers opinions about the future of Freemasonry and proposals circulate about the combination of the four masonic charities, Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes looks ahead
Over the past forty-odd years we have fought hard to ensure that our public image is continually improving. It would be ridiculous to claim that we have won all these battles or that we have convincingly won the war, but we have undoubtedly made significant progress in many areas. We will not be giving up on any of these battles, but in addition we are very much concentrating our efforts on knowing as much as possible about our membership, and what we can do to stabilise numbers and increasingly attract high-quality members.
The Membership Focus Group (MFG) has made great strides in gathering essential information and assessing membership trends. We are presently considering governance, leadership, image and branding needs, as well as recruitment and retrieval – all vital to the success of any organisation.
The MFG is keen to have the views of members on a number of subjects essential to the future of the Craft and is setting up a series of surveys to be conducted over the coming months that will allow all members to express their views. So far, I understand that more than 7,400 members have signed up and I encourage more to do so.
Some ideas put forward may appear trivial, but it is so often something apparently trivial that introduces a debate that widens and becomes a cornerstone. One such idea came from a chance comment from a Deputy Provincial Grand Master about the word ‘recruitment’ having connotations of press-ganging into the services. Rather than talking about recruiting new members, why not think about ‘attracting’ them? This may appear to be just semantics, but I believe it is rather more than that and could be very relevant.
The point I am making is that nobody should consider any idea too small to put forward. The worst that can happen is that it is not implemented – you won’t be demoted! A word of warning on this: I will be hugely unpopular with the Grand Secretary if his department is flooded with emails, so please express your ideas by using the free text boxes that will be incorporated into future surveys.
Modernising the Charities
Another area in which there has been much activity is the organisation of our four main charities. In 2008 several PGMs made representations to the Rulers about how they would like to see the charities modernised. A Grand Master’s Council Charity Committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Deputy Grand Master, at that time myself but soon to be Jonathan Spence, who has overseen the vast majority of the Committee’s work. The charities themselves had already made an important start by agreeing to come together under one roof and they are, of course, now all in Freemasons’ Hall in London.
The Committee has been working extremely hard, together with the charity presidents and their chief executives, to come forward with a formula that will suit the charities for many years to come.
I am pleased to announce that the Grand Master has now received a comprehensive briefing on the review that has taken place, as have the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters. This is the first major review to have taken place since the Bagnall Report of forty-one years ago.
The Grand Master and all those who have been briefed have given their full support to the proposal to consolidate the four existing main charities into a new overarching charity, managed by a single board of trustees under a single chief executive officer, with a single team of staff. Further details will be made available via the individual charities, Provincial and District Grand Masters, and through future editions of Freemasonry Today.
At the Annual General Meeting of the Grand Charity, to be held in conjunction with the September 2015 Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, members, after a period of consultation, will be invited to endorse the proposals in respect of the changes required to the constitution of the Grand Charity. Similar activity will be required at appropriately convened members’ meetings for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
The review sets out to ensure that the provision of charitable support remains central to the future of Freemasonry, but is enhanced by moving to a demand-led, whole-family, cradle-to-grave model, which will be more appropriate for the twenty-first century.
‘Some ideas may appear trivial, but it is often something apparently trivial that introduces a debate that widens and becomes a cornerstone.’
Reversing the irreversible
In support of the 2.5 million people worldwide living with the consequences of a spinal cord injury (SCI) – 50,000 of whom are in the UK and Ireland – the Grand Charity and Masonic Samaritan Fund have donated £41,977 towards groundbreaking medical research by the UK’s leading spinal cord repair charity, Spinal Research.
Currently there is no reliable treatment for paralysis caused by an SCI. This paralysis is due to damage to the spinal cord, which links the brain with the rest of the body and contains bundles of nerve fibres belonging to neurons. While broken vertebrae can heal, damaged neurons and fibres cannot.
However, leading researchers at Cambridge University have identified a protein that may be responsible for blocking neuron regrowth. If they can find a way to stop this protein from working, then it may lead to a treatment that enables the nervous systems of paralysed SCI patients to self-repair.
Cliff Hotel comes to the rescue
It was a crisis situation when, the night before the installation meeting of Teifi Lodge, No. 4648, in Cardigan, the masonic hall was struck by lightning, requiring structural repairs. Moreover, it was the lodge’s 90th anniversary, West Wales Provincial Grand Master Stephen Hookey was attending, and Master Elect David Elliot was to be installed by his father Graham.
The Cliff Hotel in Gwbert, already scheduled to host the Festive Board, came to the rescue and the meeting was held there. Stephen Hookey presented a Grand Charity cheque for £4,000 to Tony Key OBE, Pembrokeshire Coordinator for Wales Air Ambulance, and received a cheque for £10,000 from Teifi Lodge towards the West Wales 2015 Festival for the Grand Charity.
Health equipment in the community
The Province of Dorset has completed its programme of installing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on the outside of masonic buildings across the county, as part of a series of presentations to the local community to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Units have been fitted to 17 masonic halls and are available to any member of the public in an emergency. The funding came from Dorset Masonic Care (DMC) and The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, providing £32,500 and £5,000 respectively.
The units are located in locked, vandal-proof metal cabinets, which can be opened by calling 999 to obtain the access code. The control centre is then able to record when and where a unit has been used.
The Midlands Air Ambulance charity invited officers of the Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association and their ladies to view the new helicopter and crew centre at Cosford Airfield
The Air Ambulance has received very generous support in recent years from the nearby Provinces, from The Freemasons' Grand Charity and from the Mark Province of Staffordshire and Shropshire.
Luckily, the aircraft had not been called away on duty and the twelve visitors were able to benefit from a very informative session presented by a paramedic, a doctor and a pilot each of whom explained the important tasks they carry out in the vital business of treating and transferring patients.
Midlands Air Ambulance Fundraising Director, Jason Levy, in being presented with a cheque for £2,000.00 by WBro John Williamson, President of the SMCA, praised the masonic community in Shropshire and the West Midlands for being such important contributors.
Jason was accompanied by Shropshire Fundraising Manager, Maria Jones and by Midlands Air Ambulance Operations Manager, Becky Tinsdale.
Those in the SMCA party were:
RW Bro Peter Alan Taylor, Provincial Grand Master and Mrs Pat Taylor
VW Bro Roger Pemberton, Deputy Provincial Grand Master and Monica Pemberton (Roger is a Trustee of the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity)
W Bro John Williamson, President of the SMCA and Mrs Anne Williamson
W Bro Les Oakley, Secretary of the SMCA and Judy Oakley
W Bro Dennis Hill, Treasurer of the SMCA and Mrs Valerie Hill
W Bro Simon Aucott, Provincial Grand Charity Steward and Mrs Lynn Aucott
An invited tour of the extensive new £8 million build at St Michael’s Hospice on the last day of 2014 by Herefordshire Freemasons, reflected the extent of appreciation for their committed support
In the presence of Ruth Denison, Fundraising Manager at the hospice, the RW Bro the Rev David Bowen, Provincial Grand Master for Herefordshire, accompanied by fellow Freemasons, was informed that the new building would be the most advanced and highly specified in the country.
The new facilities, including the imaginative and highly technical five clusters of four bedded areas for in-patients, representing a significant increase in capacity, will enable the hospice to sustain its excellent national reputation.
The visiting local Freemasons were also told that the projected £3.2 million refurbishment of the thirty-year-old part of the existing hospice will take place during the coming twelve months, thus completing a challenging period of development.
The Rev David Bowen presented a donation of £2,804 on behalf of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity – since 1984, the charity has donated more than £11 million to hospices in England and Wales – and David Hudson, Worshipful Master of Coningsby Lodge presented an additional £500 on behalf of the members.
Speaking about the donations, David Bowen said: 'Freemasons in Herefordshire are pleased that The Freemasons’ Grand Charity has continued to provide this vital funding for our local hospice. The care, compassion and support the hospice provides to the community is outstanding and we are delighted that we are able to show our continuing dedication to their cause.'
10 December 2014
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes
Brethren, a lot goes on during a period of 12 months in Freemasonry. Much of this all our members see in their lodges, as well at Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Lodges and Grand Lodge. However what is not seen is all the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that all runs smoothly and, even more importantly, that the Craft is fit for purpose for the future.
Over the last 40 odd years we have fought hard to ensure that our public image is continually improving. It would be ridiculous to claim that we have won all these battles or that we have convincingly won the war, but we have undoubtedly made significant progress in many areas. We will not be giving up on any of these battles, but in addition we are very much concentrating our efforts on making sure that we know as much as possible about our membership and what we can do to stabilise membership numbers and increasingly attract natural leaders and high quality members.
The Membership Focus Group under the chairmanship of the Deputy President of the Board of General Purposes, RW Bro Ray Reed, has made great strides in gathering essential information and assessing membership trends. We are presently considering governance, leadership, image and branding needs, as well as recruitment and retrieval, all vital to the success of any organisation. The MFG is keen to have the views of members on a number of subjects essential to the future of the Craft and is setting up a series of surveys to be conducted over the coming months which will allow all members to express their views. So far, I understand that over 5,500 members have signed up and I encourage more to do so.
Some ideas put forward may appear trivial, but it so often that which appears trivial that introduces a debate which widens and becomes, dare I say, a cornerstone. One such idea has been put to me by Bro Reed and came from a chance conversation that he had with a certain Deputy PGM, who shall remain nameless but his Province has a county town called Lincoln! Amongst several very useful points that he made was that the word “recruitment” has connotations of press ganging into the services and that, rather than talking about “recruiting” new members, why not think about “attracting” them. This may appear to be just semantics, but I believe it is rather more than that and could be very relevant.
The point I am making is that nobody should consider any idea too small to put forward. The worst that can happen is that it is not implemented – you won’t be demoted! A word of warning on this – I will be hugely unpopular with the Grand Secretary if his department is flooded out with emails so please express your ideas by using the free text boxes that will be incorporated into future surveys.
There have also been a number of changes within the secretariat and those working in this building. As most of you will have noticed by now, we are leading up to a very major event in 2017 and this is going to take a huge amount of organisation. For this reason it was decided to ask the Grand Secretary to concentrate his time and efforts on the purely masonic side of his current role and to separate away the operational side of the building, along with the finance and IT departments, which will be run by a Chief Operating Officer, Nicola Graham-Adriani who has been working for us here for over 13 years, latterly as Deputy Chief Executive.
Brethren, this meeting of Grand Lodge marks a watershed by having the Paper of Business circulated electronically. This was not as easy as it may sound, as, amongst other things, it required changes to the Book of Constitution. A team led by VW Bro James Long and including the current Grand Pursuivant have spent many hours ensuring that the circulation went smoothly and I congratulate all of them on doing so.
Another area where there has been much activity is the organisation of our four main Charities. In 2008 several PGMs made representations to the Rulers about how they would like to see the Charities modernised. A Grand Master’s Council Charity Committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Deputy Grand Master, which at that time was myself, but was soon to become RW Bro Jonathan Spence who has overseen the vast majority of the Committee’s work. The Charities themselves had already made an important start by agreeing to come together under one roof and they are, of course, now all in this building.
The Committee has been working extremely hard, together with the Charity Presidents and their Chief Executives, to come forward with a formula that will suit the Charities for many years to come.
I am pleased to announce that the MW The Grand Master has now received a comprehensive briefing on the review that has taken place, as have the Metropolitan, Provincial and District Grand Masters. This is the first major review to have taken place since the Bagnell Report of 41 years ago.
The Grand Master and all those who have been briefed have given their full support to the proposal to consolidate the four existing main Charities into a new overarching charity managed by a single board of Trustees under a single Chief Executive Officer with a single staff team.
Further details will be made available via the individual Charities, Provincial and District Grand Masters, and through future editions of Freemasonry Today.
At the Annual General Meeting of The Grand Charity, to be held in conjunction with the September 2015 Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge, members, after a period of consultation, will be invited to endorse the proposals in respect of the changes required to the constitution of The Grand Charity. Similar activity will be required at appropriately convened members meetings for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution and the Masonic Samaritan Fund.
The review sets out to ensure that the provision of charitable support remains central to the future of Freemasonry, but is enhanced by moving to a demand-led, whole family, cradle-to-grave model, which will be far more appropriate for the 21st century. I congratulate all those involved in this review and commend their recommendations to you.
Brethren, I have spoken for rather longer than usual, but I trust that you will agree that some important issues have been covered and I believe that it is right for Grand Lodge to be kept up to date on such matters.
Last year I mentioned that I was expecting a tiring Christmas with my grandchildren. It wasn’t just them who were exhausting. My three sons, who are all in their thirties, passed my two grandsons on the stairs. One set were on their way to bed, the other on their way to open their stockings. I leave it to you, brethren, as to which lot was going in which direction!
Whoever you spend your holiday period with, may I wish you all a very happy and relaxing time.
A sense of loyalty
Secretary of the Grand Charity Richard Camm-Jones has spent forty-seven years working in Freemasons’ Hall, walking its corridors and discovering its grand rooms. He reflects on the people and places that have shaped his career
How did you come to work at Freemasons’ Hall?
I came here when I was seventeen and started work in the Grand Secretary’s office on 10 July 1967. That was four weeks after HRH The Duke of Kent had been installed as Grand Master. James Stubbs was the Grand Secretary then and I was employed as a member of his temporary staff, paid £7 a week. In those early years, I did amateur theatre at Eltham. It was my main interest in life as I had never really enjoyed school, so working at Freemasons’ Hall was just a means to an end – I couldn’t wait to go home and get ready for the next rehearsal or performance.
What did you think of the Hall?
My first impression of working here was that it was like walking into a Dickensian novel. Everyone wore three-piece pinstripe suits and it was all very old-fashioned. There were a lot of other temporary staff members who were in their eighties sitting at slanting desks that had bronze cradles over the top of them to hold boxes of files. It didn’t worry me because there were enough younger people and everyone was interesting. Ted Manning and Albert Bastable, for example, were lovely chaps, both well into their eighties, who filled out the Grand Lodge certificates all day long in beautiful copperplate lettering.
I didn’t know anything about 1930s architecture when I joined, but I wandered the building in awe during my lunchtimes, exploring wherever I could. In the basement strong rooms were dusty old records belonging to the Charity Committee going back to the time of the Battle of Waterloo, all beautifully handwritten. Up on the roof there are wells on either side of the tower and I remember how some of the staff used them as plunge pools during the summer. Some even played cricket on the roof.
How did your career progress?
I had the opportunity of going into the Cash department in 1968, where I stayed for three years. In 1971, I was appointed to the Grand Secretary’s permanent staff and moved to the Board of Benevolence department, which administered Grand Lodge’s benevolent fund, known appropriately enough as the Fund of Benevolence. They wanted an assistant and could see I wasn’t enjoying it in finance. Sir John Stebbings was President of Grand Lodge’s Board of Benevolence at the time. A lodge would submit an application, I’d help to prepare the papers, the Board would make a decision, Sir John would sign the cheque I’d written out and that would be sent off to the lodge, which would pass it on to the recipient. That was almost how it had been done since the time of the Battle of Waterloo and it is g still how it happens now within the Grand Charity’s administration, but in a more modern, electronic way.
‘At the Grand Lodge meetings there’s a magnificent procession and people come from miles away to experience it – there’s a real sense of occasion.’
How did you become a Freemason?
After four years at Freemasons’ Hall, when I was twenty-one, I was expected to join, so I filled in a proposal form and was initiated in February 1972 into the Grand Secretary’s staff lodge, Letchworth, No. 3505. I was initiated by the Deputy Grand Secretary, Dennis Barnard, passed by a junior clerk in the finance department and raised by the then Grand Lodge Librarian and Museum Curator, Terry Haunch. Doing amateur theatre helped when it came to learning the ritual, but I couldn’t say I always understood it. I liked to perform, I liked to show off and dress up, and there is a certain theatricality to the masonic ceremonies. At the Grand Lodge meetings there’s a magnificent procession and people come from miles away to experience it – there is a real sense of occasion. I’m sure many of us try to emulate that in our lodges, too.
How did you become involved in the Grand Charity?
In 1980, Grand Lodge established the Grand Charity and in 1981 moved all of its Fund of Benevolence into the new body. The same staff carried on as before, but working under a new title. Like the Board of Benevolence before it, the Grand Charity helps masons and their dependants, but the charity’s creation enabled greater giving to non-masonic charities as well. The message is always that the money is given on behalf of the Craft as a whole, so in effect it is still Grand Lodge’s benevolent fund.
I took over as Head of the Grand Charity department in 1991, became Registrar in 1999 and have been Secretary of the Grand Charity since 2004. There were just three members of staff in the office when the charity started. Since then we’ve created our own dedicated finance section, which also operates the Relief Chest Scheme. We have people who deal with publicity, staff to deal with applications from national charities and the Masonic Relief Grants team now operates with five people. We also have more applicants to consider. It used to be just thirty a month; now it’s more like two hundred – maybe that’s because we’ve been more open so more people know about us.
What have you enjoyed most about working at the Hall?
I think it must be the many people I have met, especially the staff. My boss for the first thirteen of the forty-seven years I worked at Freemasons’ Hall was James Stubbs.
He always referred to the clerks in his office as ‘his loyal staff’. He was a strict and slightly austere boss – he’d been a schoolmaster – but he would have nothing said against his staff and he would back them in every difficult situation if he could.
In 1974, when Ted Heath’s government limited the use of electricity to just three days each week, Sir James (as he became in 1980) asked for temporary lighting to be installed in order to carry on working on the other two days in the already dark offices of Freemasons’ Hall. Unfortunately, it could only be gas lighting, which meant that there were yards of rubber tubing running all over the floors to connect to the large gas cylinders that had been wheeled into the offices. The potential hazards of tripping, gas escaping and explosions would certainly not be allowed these days, but back then the loyal staff sailed on and worked the full week in spite of everything.
I remember Irene Hainworth, who was Sir James’s private secretary. She could be very formal and would always call me Mr Camm-Jones. She would get me to do her photocopying or change her typewriter ribbon while she was at lunch. One day I remember mentioning to Miss Hainworth that I was going to Malta on holiday. She suggested that we should meet up as she was going to be there at the same time. I was rather taken aback by the idea, but we met up together with our respective holiday friends, had lunch, went swimming and even ended up playing with a slightly deflated ball on the beach. I was Richard for a while, but once we were back at Freemasons’ Hall, it was: ‘Mr Camm-Jones, can you change my typewriter ribbon please?’
What does Freemasonry mean to you?
I do believe that dignity is important. I remember worrying once when I was Master that I’d got something wrong at a lodge meeting and someone told me that it didn’t matter because I had been dignified. If nothing else, I have tried to be that in all that I do now. There are times when the mistakes are what make a meeting interesting. You’re a human being first and there are many who have family and a day job to think about.
Then there is the ritual to learn, but as long as you make the candidate feel special, then your work is done.
After the formal ceremonies there are the dinners at which everyone can relax – the atmosphere and friendliness of people with whom you might not otherwise associate is as much a part of the evening as the ritual. You may not recall much detail two weeks later but you do remember that you want to go back. All these things are part of a learning curve, but then Freemasonry is full of that.
Stronger than any disaster
It has been more than a year since one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded tore across the Philippines. Peter Watts reports on how Freemasons came together to help to rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure
On Friday, 8 November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with terrible impact. More than 6,000 people were killed when 195mph winds and storm surges flattened entire cities. ‘People were hopeless, desperate, traumatised,’ explains Cynthia Guerra, programme manager at Plan UK’s Philippines office. ‘Children were begging for food and money, unable to return to school. Houses were destroyed.’
One year later, things are starting to improve. The reconstruction work has included the rebuilding of fourteen classrooms and two health centres that were obliterated or badly damaged in eastern and western Samar, two of the worst hit areas. These rebuilding efforts were made possible by Freemasons, who donated £185,000 after seeing the scale of the devastation.
‘The International Red Cross and Red Crescent launched an appeal for over £60 million so we knew it was a large disaster,’ says Katrina Baker, Head of Non-Masonic Grants for The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, which considers emergency grants after major natural disasters. ‘It was the scale, affecting 14.1 million people. The extent of the destruction was awful.’
The Grand Charity sent £50,000 to help provide immediate relief in the form of hygiene kits, emergency shelter and medical aid, but many Freemasons wanted to do more. ‘The masonic community called on us to set up a dedicated Relief Chest,’ says Baker, and it was these donations that were used towards the second phase of the recovery operation. ‘Phase two is the transition from immediate assistance offered on the ground to long-term recovery work. The government, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and local partners conduct in-depth assessment of need in the area.’
The typhoon marked the seventh time a dedicated Relief Chest had been created by the Grand Charity, the first coming after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when the masonic community – individuals and lodges – insisted they wanted to help. With Freemasons contributing £185,000 to help the people of the Philippines, the Grand Charity passed on the money to Plan UK, a charity that specialises in working with children in some of the world’s poorest regions.
‘We have three or four NGOs that we know are reliable and have worked with in the past,’ explains Baker. ‘We ask them each to submit a project, then the Council decides on the most suitable one. We like it to be something tangible, so people can see where their money has gone, but it also has to be something that is necessary. In this case, it was schools and health centres.’
‘The Grand Charity sent £50,000 to help provide immediate relief in the form of hygiene kits, emergency shelter and medical aid, but many Freemasons wanted to do more.’
In the Philippines, Plan UK consulted with village leaders, but also spoke to women, children, farmers and fishermen to ‘gather their priority needs’. Plan UK’s Guerra takes up the story: ‘Due to the magnitude of the damage, health services were not operational, which caused major problems,’ she says. ‘Education had also been hampered as more than 2,500 schools were damaged.’
Known as Yolanda in the Philippines, the typhoon first hit land in eastern Samar. Sixty-six health centres were destroyed and thirty-five damaged in eastern and western Samar. Schools were also devastated, with more than two hundred damaged or destroyed in the two regions. Marie, a student in eastern Samar, gives an idea of what children and teachers faced: ‘Some classrooms were flattened; others had roofing blown out,’ she said. ‘Students were all in one room and standing as there were not enough seats. Our books were unusable.’
Plan UK was able to rebuild and stock several health centres and schools, something that will help around 4,720 people. These are permanent buildings with first-class facilities, built to withstand any future disaster.
‘The health centres have birthing facilities including scales, blood-pressure apparatus, wheelchairs and examining tables with stirrups,’ says Guerra. ‘For schools, we provide blackboards, learning materials, tables, chairs and toilets. All the structures are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.’
Plan UK lets the Grand Charity know how things are progressing by sending regular updates. ‘Plan UK is a great organisation to work with,’ says Baker. ‘They get back to us immediately if we need to hear from the project, and report to us every three months. We can speak to people on the ground ourselves if needed, but we’d rather let them get on with the work.’ Baker notes that Plan UK is so engaged that it is still informing the Grand Charity of projects that were funded in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The message is that masons have contributed to projects that are built to last, ensuring short-term relief with long-term benefits for a hard-pressed community.
‘Children and communities have expressed so much appreciation,’ says Guerra. ‘The project both restores physical structures as well as bringing back dignity.’
Or, as one student put it: ‘We consider this an early graduation gift. Typhoon Yolanda may have been the strongest typhoon we have ever encountered, but together we are stronger than any disaster that may come our way.’