Donna Barrowcliffe is the Development Manager from the Community Church of Ruchazie in Glasglow, Scotland. She’s here at the Leadership School with colleagues from the Truth Commission in Glasglow.
How did you end up coming to the Leadership School?
I work for the church of Scotland and my minister wanted me to do more work. I’ve been working there and I even went to Africa.
Tell me about the work you’ve done in Africa.
There are 60 suburbs within Glasglow that are really poor. These are called “priority areas.” As one of the poorest areas, we were partnered up with the poorest area of Malawi. The program is called Together for a Change. Baula is the area in Malawi where we visited. They don’t have running water or electricity, and it’s a 5-hour drive to the nearest town. It’s quite an isolated village. They set us up to have a partnership to see if we could help one another. Not financially, but through discussions. We were set up by the church, but the people who attended the trip were not church people. I was primarily a community person. I was volunteering at the church. We exchanged a lot of different ideas. The young people we took from Scotland gained a lot from realizing how lucky we really are. We don’t have to fetch water, and we have free education. These are things our young folk took for granted. We gained a lot of spiritual wealth. We realized that these people were poor and very happy. I’m envious of them now. They don’t have the burdens that we have now. They work really hard. The young people that we took with us are now really focused. Before the trip, they had no idea of what they were going to do with their lives. We realized how much they achieved through working with one another by talking to one another. We learned that by believing that if we want something done, we have to do it ourselves.
When they came to Scotland for the exchange, they learned how to make manure. They learned much more about hygiene, how to work with children, and women’s rights. They learned how to be better to their women. We also taught them how to have an AA meeting.
You’re doing this great work for the church, but when did you decide to join the church?
Well, my partner died about two or three months before we left for Malawi. I felt sad about that, but we had been planning to go on this trip. My minister strongly encouraged me to go on the trip. I had a spiritual awakening while I was on the trip. I was depressed and in a bad space. When I got there people greeted us with such warmth. We were the first white folks who had come to their village and stayed there. They were amazed by that.
No matter what they did, whether they were cleaning the fields or working, they were happy. They didn’t have the worries that we did. They didn’t have the day-to-day stress that we do. Since we’ve established this relationship, their church community has grown. My minister realized that I had a gift around people. I have a way of relating to people. They couldn’t understand anybody else in the group but they could understand me. Nobody else in the group was a great talker. They saw my minister as too high up to approach. When they danced, I danced. I did everything they did.
My minister realized that I could help the church. He asked me for suggestions on bringing people back to the church. I suggested alternative therapies. I realized that people weren’t spiritually well. We need to make people chill out. We need to reach them in some other way. How about a café, a base for people to meet up? If we had these things we’d be able to access the colleges better. We’d have more people coming and less isolation.
Everbody I knew was tough. I just needed to meet good people. I was brought up in a healthy home. I just needed to know more people like my family. I wanted to meet people who were spiritually well. I’ve been aware of God my entire life.
The church people decided they wanted somebody to help the minister. My minister got funding from various groups to hire me part-time. So then I could get family tax care. Once I was there the church gave me another 10 hours. I’ve been there three years. This is my fourth year.
Tell me about the how you got started working against poverty.
Paul Chapman helped organize the Truth Commission at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and when Paul Chapman and his wife moved to Scotland, they brought the idea with them. Martin Johnston asked Paul to organize a Truth Commission and 15 months later, we had the Truth Commission. I was asked to be a testifier at the commission. Other than me being a testifier, I thought that the young people who went to Malawi should also be testifiers. My nephew, William Barrowcliffe and his girlfriend were also testifiers. William is still involved and he’s done more than any of the other adults who were involved. I think he’s going to be a minister some day.
Being a testifier has changed things in my community. I used to apply for monies and the community was never recognized. The older, m ore established community in Ruchazie received funding, but the community where I lived did not receive any funding. After I testified at the truth commission, I applied for monies and got them. I know it’s because I testified at the truth commission that we got more funds. An organization called Action for Children came to the church and asked if we could get a number of youth involved in their program and I got these 11 boys and 1 girl involved in the program. These youth had troubled backgrounds, never went to school, were in trouble with the law and now they’re either in college or they have jobs.
My main job now is with alternative therapies and recruiting volunteers to help with everything that the church does.
How did you end up here in West Virginia at the Leadership School?
Tricia and I were invited by Martin, Paul and the Poverty Initiative.
What will you take back with you to your community?
A new strength, you know? Now, I’m like, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” I’m going to ask a lot more people in my community and outside agencies to take part in our Poverty Truth Commission. This has fired me up, you know? And like, the strength in working with other people, the empowerment. Being a part of the Poverty Truth Commission and being with you has strengthened me. I feel empowered and more able to do the job and task. I have an understanding of how it works. I will keep in touch with what you all are doing. You know, follow what you all are doing. I will follow the website and check out what you’re doing. I really feel fortunate that we had the opportunity to sit with commissioners and policy makers. We sat with people and we are changing things. We just appreciate the opportunity that we have. The people in charge of decision making don’t come to these things (Leadership School). I realize how lucky we are in Glasglow to have the decision makers around the table with us, and not to be afraid to talk with them, to grab that opportunity. I’ve learned loads and loads from being here. I’ve learned how to use a blog, and I have learned the benefits of using the internet. Not just for the Poverty Commission but for my church base as well. I think it’s great if we do make this an international movement. I think it would be great to make this stronger.
Meeting all of you preachers, you all are really effective. You have a strong word. You don’t look like a preacher. Derrick doesn’t look like a preacher, but if you came to my church, people would sit up and listen to you.