By Stephen Crabb MP
This summer more than one hundred Conservative volunteers returned to Sierra Leone and Rwanda as part of Project Umubano, the Party’s international social action project, launched in 2007 by Prime Minister David Cameron and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.
Now in its sixth year Project Umubano draws from the wide spectrum of skills and experience within our Party. Conservative supporters, activists, councillors, and MPs worked together with their African counterparts to enhance and build skills and technical know-how across different sectors including health, education, justice, sport, planning, community and business on both countries. Teaming up to put their beliefs into practice and to learn about the realities of international development at the coalface, they made a small but lasting contribution to each country’s overall development.
Reflecting on Umubano, Project leader Stephen Crabb MP said “This year’s project builds on the fantastic work already done by the Conservative Party in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and the real driving force behind the success of Umubano is our volunteers. Since the project began more than 300 Conservative supporters aged between 16 and 70 have participated in the programme and are now some of our Party’s most passionate advocates for good aid and development. Many of the volunteers make big sacrifices in order to join Project Umubano and devote a large amount of time in preparing for their own individual project areas.
Many volunteers return year after year, encouraging others to join them, and the dedication and enthusiasm shared by the volunteers has created a strong sense of membership and belief in our shared aims.
By Tobias Ellwood MP
The concept of 'social action' has come a long way since its inception at the Bournemouth Party conference in 2006 when delegates were invited to roll up their grey suit sleeves and help convert an old church into a much needed community centre. We as a Party now have a formidable reputation for social action projects both at home and abroad. They emphasise the very deep Conservative value of social responsibility; the belief that by working together we can deliver real change. And we certainly did that in Bangladesh.
Our team of 35 volunteers participated in four projects in the Sylhet region of Bangladesh (chosen as it has strong links to Bangladeshi communities here in the UK). Firstly teaching English in two primary schools led by Andrew Stephenson MP, secondly working with the charity BRAC to visit rural communities and witness cataract operations co-ordinated by Nicky Morgan MP and thirdly selecting a youth football team for Sylhet, led by Anne Main MP in partnership with the London Tigers.
The final and largest project was the complete renovation of the Hazi Muhammed Shafiq High School. It has 400 students (all from deprived backgrounds) but just 5 classrooms and children sit in classes of 80 with four or five to a desk. Before we arrived it was a shell of a building with no windows and a leaky roof. There was no electricity, lighting, sports or proper toilet facilities and not a window, let alone a computer, in sight. Yet they endured these grim surroundings without complaint. However, what this school lacked in infrastructure was compensated for in warmth, friendship and the desire to learn by the children. Thanks to the hard work of our team, the charity Islamic Relief and members of the local community the building is now fit to be called a school.
The Prime Minister recently said: 'Just because you can't do everything – does not mean you should not do something'. In the scheme of things, the 'something' we did was very small. But as a direct result of Project Maja, Bangladeshi MPs are now looking at this model to improve other schools and DFID is looking at expanding its aid to targeted projects. This is social action at its best – not just an opportunity to help one community, but leading by example so others might continue the programmes once we have departed.
Baroness Warsi, who has been the driving force behind Project Maja, can be immensely proud of the entire team who volunteered, indeed paid to be taken out of our comfort zones and participate in this demanding and ambitious project (as well as endure an earthquake!) We all returned the richer for this experience and appreciative of what has been accomplished.