Can the worst of times bring out the best in us?

Hannah Johnston (Teacher of Geography and Coordinator of Charities & Partnerships) asks whether the coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on philanthropy and highlighted its importance in a way not experienced in recent times.


“No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..”

(John Donne, 1624)


There is something so compelling at the beginning of John Donne’s famous poem, as a Geographer the idea of interconnectedness and our sense of place resonates strongly, and I cannot help but also link this to Wimbledon High School. Taking on the role of Charities and Partnerships coordinator, especially at the beginning of Lockdown 3.0, has enabled me to develop and expand upon this sense of belonging.

We are not just a site of education; we are a community. From the very youngest, to the oldest students, parents and staff, we draw together. This goes far beyond the bricks and mortar of the school site, as demonstrated so strongly with our Guided Home Learning Program and ‘Together Apart’. The wonderful aspect of our community, however, is that it does not stop there.

Local Community Partnerships

We have long established links with local charities, including Wimbledon Guild, Merton & Morden Guild, Christian Care and Faith in Action, who are our House charities. During pre-pandemic times, our Yr11-13 students were able to meet with members of both these charities, those living in care homes and their peers from other local schools on a Thursday afternoon as part of our successful partnerships programme.

The introduction of the first national lockdown on 23rd of March 2020 put a halt to this. Across the country many people began periods of isolation and separation from loved ones.

“One of the feelings millions of us are experiencing during the current coronavirus pandemic is loneliness”  (Mental Health Foundation, 2021).

Our students rose to the challenge and, demonstrating those core characteristics of empathy and kindness, recognised the importance of remaining part of their wider Wimbledon community. They nurtured links they had already made, and in some cases, made new ones. Pupils began by writing letters to those in care homes whom they had visited and to those identified by our partnership charities as being lonely. The responses they received were wonderful and enabled all to gain a new perspective.

The partnerships programme adapted and moved online. Spanish conversations were able to take place via Flipgrid and teachers were able to share technological innovation across schools. Students ran academic masterclasses live for students in younger cohorts and created WimFlix videos for those who benefited from pre-recorded materials. The moving of clubs to after school slots allowed for those from partnership schools to join us.

It was not only students who were able to support the local community, the Science and Design & Technology departments were able to support Northwick Park hospital with the donation of goggles and the use of the 3D printer to help produce PPE. As Mr Keith Cawsey discussed in his recent WimTeach (link here), we realised that although we may come from different perspectives initially and live very different lives, we are all united by our desire to be part of, and keep safe, our communities.

“Two million children have gone hungry since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, including one in five in London” (Alim, 2020)


Christmas Hampers

Coronavirus has brought huge challenges for our wider community. Wimbledon High School, in conjunction with the GDST and The Thomas Franks Foundation, signed up to support ‘Feeding Communities’. Across the months of lockdown, staff volunteers have helped to prepare thousands of meals in our kitchens, distributed to support the most vulnerable children and adults in our community.

In the run up to the festive period, WHS staff raised £1000 to buy food for local state primaries and, for our Christmas Tree assembly, students and staff brought donations of food, non-perishables and toys for five local charities. Furthermore, as a community, cash donations enabled us to purchase laptops and other devices for our partner primary schools.

As we approach Easter, we are once again rallying as a school to support our House charities. While donations peak at Christmas and will pick up again in May, at present, charities are facing dwindling donations. With so many in need of their support, this is leading to a desperate situation.

To help maintain social distancing and Covid-19 guidelines, this Easter we are asking students and their families to donate to their house charities. Each charity has provided us with a list of items that are needed by those they support in our local communities and the donations will be used to buy these for our chosen causes.  To find out more about each charity, and to donate, please follow this link.

Year Group Charities

“When we focus energy on helping those who are most vulnerable in times of crisis, the positive effects spread and strengthen our collective well-being” (Lee, 2020)


Year 9 fundraising by walking a marathon

It has been inspiring to see how each of our students have responded to the Covid pandemic and the understanding they have on its impacts for both the local, national and international community. This was abundantly clear as they discussed in their year groups, which charities to support this year.

As Ava, our Year 8 charities rep summarised; “The impact of charity is particularly evident during the pandemic as funding for many charities has been reduced significantly. Many people have been furloughed and jobs have been lost, so charities have lost a lot of their funding which is why it is important for us to donate and fundraise as much as we can.”

These were sentiments echoed by her peers, as Jemima (Year 10 rep) stated; “Charity has never been so important as during the Covid-19 pandemic. Year 10 is raising money for World Vision, which is supporting children who are living in extreme poverty all over the world. It is communities like the ones World Vision helps that are hit the hardest by the pandemic, and so this year, giving to charity can go such a long way in helping those less fortunate than ourselves”. Over the past few weeks, as the fundraising has continued at pace, I have received several emails from World Vision expressing their delight at the work our girls are doing and reiterating how difficult they have found fundraising this year.

Throughout the pandemic, our students have had to adapt and discover new ways to fundraise and continue supporting the charities that mean so much to them. Their creativity has truly been boundless, with GHL mufti days, baking competitions, walking marathons, charity auctions and film screenings to name just a few. The challenges faced this year have helped us to discover strengths and resources we may not have been expected to call upon before.

To go back to John Donne, indeed ‘everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’, so we are intrinsically linked to our local, national and international communities. Georgia (Year 11) so poignantly said: “Charities help to bind us as a society. By supporting the more vulnerable members of our communities, we grow closer”.

Covid has challenged us in ways we could never have expected. It has also brought out our resilience, pulled together communities and taught us to look outwards.  As we move towards more ‘normal’ times, that desire to maintain and develop our philanthropic links remains.



A short introduction to foreign aid

Alex in Year 13 writes a short introduction to foreign aid, highlighting some of the successes and problems that can appear from the charitable act of giving.

Instilled in us from a young age is the principal that we should help those who are in extreme need. And what could be simpler? From charity mufti days and bake sales, this theory underpins social behaviour in our modern day. It is indeed this principal that drives support for foreign aid.

In the words of Roger Riddell, ‘The belief that aid is a ‘good thing’ is sustained by the assumption that the resources or skills that aid provides do make a difference to those being assisted’. However, the impact of such aid on recipient countries is not always as positive as it may initially appear.

As the effects of climate change enhance the frequency and severity of natural disasters, we often see foreign aid expenditure in an emergency form. Altruism of this kind is uncontested as in the short-term these humanitarian responses are overwhelmingly positive. However, it is with sustained aid that potential problems arise.

Overtime, foreign aid has expanded from small beginnings to become a large and complex global enterprise. Development cooperation (as foreign aid is also called) is now established as an integral part of international relations, with many donor countries contributing at a UN target rate of 0.7% of their gross national income. For the UK, this sum stood at £14.6 billion in 2018. As can be seen from the charts below, few countries meet this target.

Foreign Aid Graph
Net development assistance by country (total million US$ in 2015)


However, if we compare this data above with looking at this giving as a percentage of GDP, a rather different picture emerges:


For many people, this huge economic contribution to foreign aid and development is a triumph in the world of humanitarianism and society as a whole. An ethical theory linked closely with the topic of foreign aid is utilitarianism. To put it simply, this is the notion that ‘moral life should be guided by the objective of trying to achieve the maximum happiness for the greatest number of people.’

As stated by Paul Streeten, ‘a dollar redistributed from a rich man to a poor man detracts less utility than it adds, and therefore increasing the sum total of utility’. This argument is comprehensive and easy to wrap your head around, which explains why foreign aid is so often short sightedly seen as a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There has been evidence of several key factors that can inhibit the aggregate impact of foreign aid.

The first problem arising with aid is its potential for misuse. Additional resources in the hands of potentially corrupt governments are significant impediments to optimum utilization of funds. This is because the fungibility of aid could enable the financing of non-developmental projects against the interest of the population. Hence, aid itself has, in some cases, the perverse ability to create negative effects on recipient economies.

Secondly, there are limits associated with aid and a country’s absorptive capacity. As the volume of aid increases, it is subject to diminishing marginal utility. In basic terms, the effect is as if I gave you one chocolate bar that you enjoyed consuming. And perhaps a couple more wouldn’t do you any harm… but once I’ve given you 100 chocolate bars, each individual bar’s worth has decreased along the way. In this way it can be seen than after a certain point (called the absorptive capacity threshold), providing more aid becomes completely ineffective.

Finally, fluctuations in aid inflows are external shocks to vulnerable economies, which plan expenditures based on promised aid commitments. When a highly dependent country’s aid is not given in full, this can damage future growth prospects significantly.

From all this, we can gather that the future of aid-giving and its associated policies may need modifying to ensure aid is given and used in the most efficient and appropriate ways possible, enabling it to help those who are most in need.

In a world full of need, how can we ensure we help people in the best possible ways?

Mrs Efua Aremo, a Design & Technology Teacher at WHS, explores whether a ‘human-centred design’ approach can help us deliver solutions which are effective in meeting local and global needs.

A World full of Need

It is impossible to adequately describe the profound losses experienced over the past 12 months. There are the more measurable losses such as employment, finance and health but then there are also the relational losses caused by isolation and tragic bereavements. It has been a brutal year for many, and the impact of the pandemic has been acutely felt by the most vulnerable.

When we are confronted with such needs both locally and internationally, we desire to help in any way we can, as Mr Keith Cawsey observed in his December article. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that people have many different types of needs and there are many different types of help we might provide.

What do we need?

“I need blue skies, I need them old times, I need something good…”

Those words from singer-songwriter, Maverick Sabre, powerfully captures the sense of longing many of us feel for simple things like sunshine and for more intangible things we struggle to name.

One of the most popular ways of categorising human needs was introduced by Abraham Maslow in 1943, it is known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ © Verywell / Joshua Seong. Used with Permission.

Maslow’s hierarchy describes five different levels of need:

  1. Physiological: basic needs such as water, food and sleep.
  2. Safety: security and freedom from danger.
  3. Love/Belonging: the desire for relationships of love, affection and belonging.
  4. Esteem: a stable, positive self-evaluation and respect from others.
  5. Self-actualisation: the desire to realise one’s full potential.

How can we help?

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The old proverb quoted above helps us as we think about the types of help we might provide to people in need.

Through observing the charitable work of religious and humanitarian organisations, we can identify at least four levels of assistance:

  • Emergency Relief: giving direct help to meet immediate needs – “give a man a fish.”
  • Longer-Term Development: giving assistance which results in a person or community being able to meet their own needs – “teach a man to fish.”
  • Social Reform: overcoming the adverse social conditions or systems which lead to injustice or oppression.
  • Advocacy/Campaigns: providing information about needs to people who are able to help.

This article focusses on the first two categories.

When Helping isn’t Helpful

© Africacollection / Shutterstock

Sometimes, efforts to provide help do not achieve the intended result. For example, in 2010, a US aid agency installed 600 hand pumps to supply clean water for rural households in northern Mozambique. The aim was to help the women and girls who travelled long distances to collect contaminated water from wells and rivers. The aid agency imagined that the pumps would save time, improve health conditions and empower the women to start small businesses. However, these water pumps were not used by most of the people in the community. What went wrong?

Helping those who are different to ourselves

Though the desire to help others is always to be commended, it can often be accompanied by wrong assumptions which hinder our ability to help effectively. This is especially true when we are seeking to help people from a different economic status, ethnicity or culture to our own.

It is tempting to assume we know what people need, especially if they have basic physiological needs which are not being met. However, even in his original paper, Maslow acknowledged that human beings are more complex than the tidy logic of his hierarchy suggests. He recognised that the lower-order needs do not need to be completely satisfied before the higher-order needs become important. Therefore, when helping the neediest people in society, we need to get to know them beyond their basic needs.

Recognising this fact is key to understanding what went wrong with the water pumps in Mozambique. The aid agency seems to have stereotyped the rural women as passive, needy people and so failed to ask their opinion about where best to locate the new pumps. They focussed their attention on providing access to clean water but did not account for the fact that the original water sites were “important social spaces where women exchanged information, shared work, socialized their children, and had freedom outside the home.” The new sites lacked the privacy, shade and areas for laundry and bathing which the women valued, and so the new water pumps were rejected.

Thankfully, we can learn from experiences like this to devise better ways of helping people in need.

Human-Centred Design: A Better Way?

“In order to get to new solutions, you have to get to know different people, different scenarios, different places.”

Human-centred design (also known as ‘design thinking’) is an approach to problem-solving which involves partnering with those in need of help to deliver the solutions which most benefit them. It involves “building deep empathy with the people you’re designing for… as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs.”


The Elements of Human-Centred Design


But this does not mean that those who are being helped are only consulted at the start of the process. Human-centred design is a non-linear collaborative process which involves back-and-forth communication between those helping and those needing help. Together they produce many design iterations until they find a solution which best suits those who need it. It is obvious how this approach might have led to better results in Mozambique.

Human-centred design involves looking beyond their needs and acknowledging the full humanity of the people who we wish to help: appreciating their culture, discovering what they value, and how they might contribute to meeting their own needs.

Sternin in Vietnam ©

Taking a more human-centred approach enabled Jerry Sternin from Save the Children to successfully deal with the problem of severe malnutrition amongst children in rural Vietnam in the 1990s. Previous attempts had relied on aid workers providing resources from outside the affected communities – these methods proved unsustainable and ineffective.

Sternin discovered that despite their poverty, some mothers were managing to keep their children healthy. So he sought to learn from them and discovered what they were doing differently from their neighbours: they were feeding their children smaller meals multiple times a day rather than the conventional twice daily. They were also adding to these meals freely available shellfish and sweet potato greens even though other villagers did not deem these appropriate for children.

By empowering the mothers to train other families in these practices, Sternin was able to help the community help itself. Malnutrition in northern Vietnam was greatly reduced through implementing this effective, empowering and sustainable local solution.

The Wonderbag

Wonderbag by, CC BY-NC 3.0[iii]

Another sustainable design solution is the Wonderbag, which is a non-electric slow-cooker. Once a pot of food has been brought to the boil and placed in the foam-insulated Wonderbag, it will continue to cook (without the need for additional heat) for up to 12 hours. This product was developed in South Africa to address the problems caused by cooking indoors on open fires. It has vastly improved the lives of the women who use them because cooking with the Wonderbag uses less fuel and water, improves indoor air-quality, and frees up time which many girls and women have used to invest in their education, employment, or to start their own businesses. Local women use their sewing skills to customise the Wonderbags with their own cultural designs.

Human-Centred Design at WHS

Year 9 WHS Design Students

In Year 9, design students at WHS are tasked with designing assistive devices for clients with disabilities. One of the first things they need to do is get to know their users; seeing beyond their disabilities and discovering who they are, what they love, and what they hate.

One pupil found that her client who suffers from benign tremors loves to paint but hates having to use massive assistive devices because they draw too much attention to her.  This pupil is currently developing a discrete product which will help their client paint again, meeting her needs for esteem and self-actualisation.

Helping Others in this Time of Need

In the midst of a global pandemic and in its aftermath, we will encounter people in need of both emergency relief and longer-term development assistance. Perhaps by adopting a human-centred design approach, we will be able to help others in ways which are effective, sustainable, and which recognise the beautifully complex humanity of those in need.


  •, Shutterstock Image ID: 212764069, n.d.

  • Keith Cawsey, “What Has COVID Taught Us about Our Relationships with Others?,” WimTeach, 10 December 2020,
  • Maverick Sabre, I Need (Official Video), 2011,
  • Abraham H. Maslow, A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943,
  • Joshua Seong, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 2020,
  • Timothy Keller, Generous Justice (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010); Oxfam GB, “How We Spend Your Money,” n.d.,
  • Africacollection, Shutterstock Image ID: 714414436, n.d.
  • Emily Van Houweling, Misunderstanding Women’s Empowerment (Posner Center, 2020),
  • Emily Van Houweling, Misunderstanding Women’s Empowerment.
  • Emi Kolawole, Stanford University cited in, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design: Design Kit, 2015, 22.
  •, “What Is Human-Centred Design?,” Design Kit, n.d.,
  • Monique Sternin, “The Vietnam Story: 25 Years Later,” Positive Deviance Collaborative, n.d.,
  • Jerry Sternin and Robert Choo, “The Power of Positive Deviancy,” Harvard Business Review, 1 January 2000,
  •, Wonderbag CC BY-NC 3.0, n.d.,

What has COVID taught us about our relationships with others?

Mr Keith Cawsey, Head of Religious Studies at Wimbledon High, looks at the impact that COVID has had on our local community and the impact that small acts of kindness have in helping those in need.

Last December, as I was sitting having a cup of tea with a colleague in the Humanities office, our conversation moved on to this ‘mysterious virus’ that was emerging from China. It was spreading through a city called Wuhan and no-one knew what it was or the impact it had on health. It seemed a million miles away, far, far away from SW19. We discussed what would happen if it travelled over to London, but we both agreed that this seemed highly unlikely. We all know what happened next. Case after case, COVID 19 crept closer and closer and took over our lives in a very short space of time and in a way that we would never have imagined.

I believe that COVID has taught us a great deal about ourselves and the community that we live in.

The first thing to happen was sheer panic. I remember visiting my local supermarket at 0700 when it opened. What I saw was nothing short of apocalyptic – people running through the supermarket (and over each other) to grab the last remaining packets of toilet roll. Quite a few had five / ten packets in their trolley and they then selfishly guarded their ‘booty’ as they waited at the checkouts. Others snatched bread, milk, eggs, teabags, meat, butter – whatever they could find and piled their trollies sky high with food so that their families would not be without. What followed in the news? Pictures of bins piled high with out of date food and meat. It seemed that the whole country had become increasingly selfish and the only people who mattered were the people in their families. What had happened to us?

Every religion is unique, but what is particularly interesting is the similarities between them. One thing that stands out as a ‘golden thread’ from all worldviews is charity and caring for others.

Indeed, every religion encourages its followers to care for others, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

  • Hinduism teaches about ‘atman’ – the aspect of God that is in each and every one of us. As equals on this planet, we need to protect every living thing, including animals.
  • The Buddha taught about compassion and how to alleviate suffering, ‘dukkha’.
  • Guru Nanak taught about the importance of providing for others, physically and spiritually.
  • Jesus Christ taught us to ‘love your neighbour’.
  • At the heart of the Jewish faith is ‘Tzedakah’ – a religious duty to provide for anyone in need.
  • One of the Five Pillars of Islam is ‘Zakah’ – 2.5% of all income is shared amongst those in society who need it most.

As we all know, you don’t have to be religious to feel a moral duty to help others. Humanists believe that by helping others, we make society fairer and it is an obligation of us all to provide for those in need.

So while some where piling their trollies sky high with food that would go to waste, what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. As most of us sat safe at home, we started to think about those in our community who carried on regardless: our refuse collectors, our post people, policemen and women, our firefighters, our nurses and doctors. I am sure that no-one will ever forget standing on our doorsteps clapping for our NHS workers who went to work each day putting themselves in the eye of the storm, quietly, diligently and without any fuss.

It became clear to me that in the middle of such a national catastrophe, there were two types of people – those that cared only about themselves and those who put themselves out to help others in whatever way they could – a phone call / a doorstep conversation / a text to people who lived alone. Streets became connected like never before. People were knocking on their neighbours’ doors. Shopping lists were exchanged and those who were shielding were cared for – food deliveries were made. We realised that even though we were scared about the pandemic, it was our moral duty to care for those who needed us.

In Merton, the following charities helped those in need:

  • The Faith in Action Merton Homeless Project
  • Merton Giving Coronavirus Fund
  • Merton Mutual Aid
  • MVSC Covid-19 Community Response Hub
  • Stem4 (Teenage Mental Health Charity)
  • The Dons Local Action Group
  • Wimbledon Food Bank
  • Wimbledon Guild

Some volunteered, others gave tinned food outside supermarkets and others were able to give a financial contribution.

We realised that even though we live our separate lives, the one thing that unites us is our community.

We will be talking about the pandemic for years to come but I hope that the one thing we will reflect on is the power of community. We will never ever again take for granted the tireless work of our NHS staff and our key workers and we should all aim to keep the conversations going with our neighbours.

We are stronger together and we should always aim to be kind. These are the connections and relationships that really matter. Happiness is sometimes a cup of tea, a meal cooked by someone else or a text from someone who you haven’t heard from for a while. These acts of kindness can often cost very little but are invaluable to the recipient and really matter.

Let’s hope that we are turning a corner with COVID and can get back to a ‘normal’ life soon. But when we do, we should always remember the connections we have made and the power that our community has when we truly work together and show kindness and love for one another.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.’

Matthew 25:35

If you would like to support Wimbledon High’s Christmas 2020 Project please do visit our Christmas Firefly Page where you can find out all about our Access to Learning Project, where we are raising funds to support the purchase of computers for pupils in two of our local primary partner schools, enabling their pupils to access learning when they are at home owing to self-isolation requirements. If every pupil in Wimbledon High raised just £10 each, we would have raised over £10000 in total, enabling the purchase of 40 iPads or laptops!

Why should WHS connect more with the community?

Janvi, (Year 13) explains what her role as Charities and Partnerships Rep involves and explores her plans for the year. In our busy daily lives, why is it important to make connections to the wider world?

What does the role of Charities and Partnerships Rep involve?

I think it is reasonable to say that the average WHS girl leads a fairly busy life. With countless deadlines and extra-curricular commitments, sometimes it seems impossible to find time for yourself, let alone for others! As Charities and Partnerships Rep, one of my main duties is to remind students of the importance of giving time to charity and helping those in need. I truly believe the core characteristics lying at the heart of every WHS girl are empathy and kindness, and my aim is to motivate pupils throughout the school to use these values to help make a significant impact on the lives of people around us.

Another important aspect of my role is organising and running various charity events such as the Autumn Charity Fair which took place last week. It was heart-warming to see students of all ages working together to raise money for various causes, led by our newly elected year-group charity reps.

Aims for the year

My aims for this academic year fall under three categories:

  1. Raising awareness

Bringing awareness to the work which a charity does is very important as it encourages more people to get involved and fundraise as well as bringing to light different issues faced by people across the world. For this reason, I plan to start a termly newsletter detailing the work done by our chosen year-group charities and the charity events that have been taking place.


  1. Giving time and getting involved

As I have mentioned, giving time to charity is often neglected due to our busy lives, so with the help of our year-group charity reps, I would like to encourage people to take time out of their week to help others.


  1. Increasing our fundraising output

Fundraising is crucial as charities need money to provide the people they help with specific resources and services. Therefore, the goal for each year group this year is to raise £300 per term towards their chosen charity.

Why is making connections to the wider world so important?

Our pastoral theme for this year is “Connections”, which is an idea that links very closely to charity and partnerships. When it comes to charity work, there is often a heavy focus on fundraising. Whilst giving money to charity is undoubtedly important, the power of connecting with individuals on a personal level is astounding and often underestimated. Every week during our Enrichment session at Kew House Care Home, I find myself astonished at the impact our visit has on the elderly residents. Seeing their faces light up as we chat to them and play games with them is a powerful reminder of the difference that can be made to a person’s life by simply giving your time and energy without expecting anything in return. To us, it is simply an hour out of our day every week, whilst to them we are making a significant improvement to their day.

Spending time with people in our community and making connections with them is also incredibly rewarding. Not only does it bring happiness and a sense of fulfilment and purpose, but it constantly challenges us to see the world from somebody else’s perspective and reminds us to be grateful for what we have. In our day-to-day life it is very easy to forget how lucky we are and the privilege we hold, but charity work enables us to put our problems into perspective which is crucial to living a fulfilling life.

For these reasons, my main goal this year is to encourage students to make connections, whether it be locally or globally, because giving a tiny fraction of your time to support a person who is in desperate need of help can truly make a significant improvement to their life.