Students at St Mary’s Speak Out!

Students from St Mary’s RC College in Southampton sent a very clear message to the Secretary of State for International Development this morning during their RE lesson by calling on him to use the existing aid budget to support the needs of small businesses around the world and help lift millions of people out of poverty.


Classes looked at some of the injustices we have around the world at the moment and how our faith calls us to respond and take action.


The focus for today was the impact that small businesses can have on people living in poverty and focused in particular on the story of Luz Mila and her family in Colombia.


A short film, featuring Eliana (Luz Mila’s daughter – see ) explained why her family had been forced to flee their home in the countryside to the city and the life-changing difference her mother’s new business has made.


Supported by CAFOD partner (Pastoral Social), Luz Mila received training from a local church group and joined others to work together in their own metal furniture making cooperative. The family now has a much brighter future ahead of them.


But, as pupils discovered, small businesses have their own challenges.  The metal furniture making business, for example, suffers if anyone is off sick and the workers only get paid when the business makes a profit. 


CAFOD’s new cartoon ‘Road to Prosperity’ (see )  also illustrated other problems small businesses face such as finding it difficult to compete in world markets and getting local officials and local governments to act on their concerns.


Small businesses make up the vast majority of business activity in developing countries –and they have the power to improve millions of people’s lives and reduce inequality – but they need special support.

At the end of class, pupils were invited to sign a petition to Andrew Mitchell (Secretary of State for International Development) to ask him to use existing UK aid to support small businesses overseas by building roads for example so people can get their goods to market, investing in training, education and healthcare and supporting people to form cooperatives to give them strength in numbers.

The petition asked Andrew Mitchell to ‘act BIG and support SMALL businesses’ because they:

    • Help lift the poorest and most vulnerable people out of poverty
    • Act as a safety net for people and communities in times of global financial difficulties and
    • Give people pride and confidence in their work.

Students also wrote their own personal messages. Some of these are featured below:

Dear Mr Mitchell

Small businesses are important because….

‘…they help people overcome poverty, regain their confidence, and pay for their children’s education so that the next generation can get better jobs and overcome poverty too.’

‘…they support a lot of people in developing countries. Also they give support in the difficult times.’

‘…they give people hope, a source of income..’

‘…they make up a large part of business world wide..’

‘…they help disadvantaged people regain their sense of dignity by earning their own money, and they can be proud of the work they have done.’

‘…they help people get back on their feet.’


‘…many poor people have small businesses and are very much overshadowed by the bigger businesses, yet they give them dignity and belief for the future…’

‘..they give people happiness and a purpose to live.’

‘…they are very important in the world today and if people like Luz Mila didn’t have them, their lives would be difficult and sad and families would go further below the poverty line.’

Some last words…

‘This money could change the lives of millions of people and help the economy grow…’

‘This is your chance to make a difference to these people’s lives.’

Just before I left, Mrs Thom and the Head Boy and Girl presented me with a cheque for a whopping £781.56!   This was raised by everyone at the school last Lent during a fantastic fundraising day! The day involved sponsored leg waxing (painful!!), cake sales, the selling of Fairtrade milkshakes and hot chocolates (yum!), face painting and apple bobbing!  This is an amazing amount!  Thank you all so much on behalf of all our partners around the world!

Thank you too to everyone I met today including all the staff, the pupils and of course Mrs Thom, who arranged for me to visit in the first place.  Thank you all! 

There are only a few weeks now left to take part in our ‘Getting Down to Business campaign. Email Andrew Mitchell today!  Go to

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