Does charity stop after RAG week? Or even after we leave University? What is it that you are prepared to give in the name of charity? Siobhan Dooley explores some of the answers.


Follow your dreams. It’s worth it. You are only getting older, and the world won’t wait for you.


RAG week is over. The tickets sold, the balloons popped and the purpleness of that one week of philanthropy has all but disappeared from our lives.

In recent years, the University of St Andrews Charities Campaign has developed its fundraising programme and promises to expand even further, even launching a new campaign, “Challenge”, this year. It promises to bring to you, the students, the opportunity to fundraise through abseiling, skydiving, marathons and possibly a summer expedition. There’s a lot going on, a lot to get excited about and get involved in. Over £90, 000 was raised last year for several well-known charities, and I have no doubt they will raise a similar sum this year, and are to be commended on their tireless work. But can you honestly say the same about yourself? I know I can’t.

Right now, it’s relatively easy for us to feel ‘charitable’. I’ve got the wristbands to prove it. How are we meant to get involved later in life when the Student Association, the Charities Campaign and societies aren’t sending us emails, putting up posters and organising cool stuff where it just so happens all the proceeds go to charity?

I have the organisational skills of a peanut (do they have any?), heights terrify me and I can’t run for toffee. So, what can I do? I mean, what difference could I, one person, make?

In asking these questions, I offer no one-size fits all solutions, only a story in which I’ve found inspiration:

I met Fred at a mutual friend’s wedding last year. We spoke briefly, mostly about poetry, and I found him to be quiet, and unassuming. It was only later that I found out he had a thing for motorbikes, and that he had used this “hobby” to do something quite out of the ordinary.

For several years, Fred wanted to travel solo through Africa on a bike, as far off the beaten track as possible. No strict schedules, only a map and enough fuel to get him there. He desired to encounter people and places, to see and experience the continent in a way few people have, or probably ever will.

After two years of preparation, he found himself driving away from the familiar, thinking, “have I packed the toothpaste?”

Fred confesses that, at first, he was reluctant to have the additional responsibility of supporting a charity through his trip. However, he felt it would be a selfish decision on his part and so he began to seek out a charity.

After much thought, he chose to support Ubuntu Africa, a relatively new and small organisation dedicated to improving the health and well being of HIV-positive children in under-served communities in South Africa.

After visiting their orphanage in Khayelithsa, Cape Town, these children became more than statistics to him. Suddenly, his journey through Africa on a bike intersected with their own life journeys, “mov[ing] from [places of] shame, abuse, neglect and sometimes death to the blossoming of hope”.

Fred would return four months later, having travelled through Namibia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Spain, France, Switzerland and finally, Germany. In his blog, he recounts the difficult roads, the endless skylines, crossing rivers and borders, the places he saw and the people he met along the way. He’d accomplished what he had set out to do, but it was not always an easy road. Even from its beginning, he describes fighting with himself, a part of him “burning to experience something more, something richer, more meaningful”, the other part “scared, maybe even lazy”. It sounds familiar.

What is it that you long to do? Take a moment and ask yourself what makes you come alive? Then ask yourself, how could your passions be translated into acts of compassion?

What makes your heart ache? What causes it to break? What has become more than a statistic in your life?

These are dangerous questions to ask yourself, but they are worthwhile; they might even make you take the first step on an adventure you could never have anticipated.

This year’s RAG week’s total is £20,446.43 and counting. It is worth infinitely more if it leads us to ask ourselves what it means to be charitable, what it means to give and what it means to love.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Ubuntu Africa, you can have a look at their website:

If you’d like to read more about Fred’s journey, take a look at his blog:


Siobhan Dooley

Image Credit – Frederick von Heyer