Sunday, 20 February 2011

American postal censorship?

Last year, whilst working in University of California, Los Angeles, a friend tried to post me this book: When Atheism Becomes a Religion by Chris Hedges, that she found in a Borders bargain bin. Two weeks later it was returned to her with "Unauthorized Circulation: Religious Content (Int'l) RTS" written on the package. She kept the packaging and just recently gave it and the book to me in person.

Hmmm.. going to follow this up and write this up in full as and when.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Non-prophet week: Update 3

After bake sales, silences and bucket shakes, the last of our Non-prophet Week events was the Donation Station, set up to collect unwanted items that would then be donated to Barnardo’s. All told, we didn’t quite get the response that we’d hoped for, despite the very obvious enthusiasm on show. Although plenty of people still generously donated their spare change to the bucket, over the course of the two hours that we were open, we only managed to get a few bits of clothing.

I think this was largely down to poor promotion of the event on our part; whilst there were plenty of posters up around campus, we could have done more to promote the event beforehand so that people could plan ahead. Short of giving us the clothes of their backs there was little people could do for us on the day however keen they were to support us! 
That said however, coupled with the few bits and bobs from the Donation Station and the stuff I’d accumulated at home, we did still end up with four full bags worth of stuff! Judi (left), the manager of the Barnardo’s charity shop in Banbury, and her assistant, Pauline (right), were pleased as punch when I turned up this morning and even graciously offered to pose for a photo. 

One of our members, Emma Moseley had managed to cajole some of her flat mates to make a donation but by the time they’d got there we’d already packed up! Their donations will be collected on Monday and taken to Barnardo's next weekend.

Here’s a quick roundup of where we all are with the rest of the fund-raising totals:

Emma’s sitting pretty at £276 so far for her fundraising for Volunteers for Eductational Support and Learning.  Although her sponsored silence is over she’s still taking donations!

I’ve raised £80 online and £40 offline so far for my runs for Amnesty International, the routes  from Wednesday to Friday are below. The runs have been strange because I’ve alternated between pleasant runs and decent times of around 23 minutes (like Thursday and today) to absolutely awful slogs of 26 minutes (like yesterday), where it felt like sawing my legs off with a rusty spoon would have been easier and less painful. I still can’t wrap my head around how Eddie Izzard managed 43 marathons in 51 days

Including proceeds from the two bakes sales and the random change we’ve managed to collect, we estimate that our fundraising bucket must have had around £70 in it by Friday afternoon. The grand total from our bucket will also include a donation from the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub very generously offered £50 from the profits from their last talk to our societies’ funding raising total! We have now handed over our bucket to Aston RAG who will count the money, split it 50/50 and raise two cheques for Book Aid International and One World Action at the beginning of next week. 

Finally, it’s still early days for Jack Hooker, but he’s raised £30 on his way towards a final target of £2440 as he attempts to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Childreach International.

Not sure what the exact total raised by the Aston Humanists will be just yet, but I’m pretty sure we’ve broken the £500 barrier!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Non-prophet week: Update 2

Not many photos from Monday’s bake sale as I forgot to charge the battery in my camera, and the photos that were taken on my phone have been lost into the digital ether as my memory card decided to inexplicably corrupt itself. I’m doing my best to try and retrieve them, but you’ll just have to take our word for it.

Work commitments of the various people helping out got in the way of bucket shaking on campus yesterday, but we more than made up for it today with our second bake sale. I baked blueberry and apple crumble-cake (a hotch-potch recipe that was semi freestyled), honorary humanist Emma Birkett baked apple and toffee cakes, which were out of this world, and Jack Hooker lived up to his promise and baked some dark chocolate muffins with a luminescent orange frosting that even the most bleary-eyed student could spot from a distance! 

We braved the biting wind for an hour and managed to sell pretty much every bit of cake we had. One of my favourite reactions: “Mmm.. Godless cakes are they? Could do with one of those right now”. 15 minutes more and we would have sold out but I decided to save some for some colleagues and friends who I knew would be more than happy to make a sizable charitable donation in return for an afternoon sugar pick-me-up!

By my guess we raked in at least another £40 today from the bake sale today. Most people were happy to pay a £1 although the suggested donation was 50p and we even had someone donate £2 even though they couldn’t take a cake because of a nut allergy (none of the cakes were nut based but we couldn’t guarantee that they hadn’t been near nuts). To top it off, we were approached by a lady who wanted to commission us to bake cakes for her personally! 

A few bits of each of cake were saved for entry into the Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub bake-off at this evenings talk with paranormal researcher Hayley Stevens (check out her excellent sceptical blog here and the consistently brilliant Righteous Indignation podcasts here).

Patrick Redmond, co-organiser of the Birmingham SITP let me say a few words at the beginning to the meeting to plug Non-prophet Week and then very generously offered to donate the profits from that evening’s talk to Aston Humanist’s fund-raising total, which ended up being around £50!

Unfortunately, none of the humanist entries won the cake-off (we lost out to a super-moist carrot cake), but the feedback from those that tasted our cakes were all the right side of brilliant! The total money raised from the bake sale, bucket shaking and Birmingham SITP will be split evenly between Book Aid International and One World Action.

Emma Moseley completed her sponsored silence at 9pm on Tuesday. She managed to go 120 hours without saying a word. (First words: “Yah! I can speak!”) What a star! You can reward her fantastic achievement by donating to Volunteers for Educational Support and Learning here.

I am now 3 runs into my seven day challenge and doing pretty well. After a disappointing 25:02 run on Tuesday (left pic) I managed a decent 23:04 along the canals this morning (right pic). The most important thing is the amount of money I manage to raise, not my best time; including my offline sponsorships I’ve now surpassed my (admittedly modest) fund-raising target! I’m not resting on my laurels though. Still four more runs and four more days of fund-raising to go! 

We now also have another longer-term event added to the rosta. The aforementioned Jack Hooker will be climbing (or at least attempt to climb) Mount Kilamanjaro in June this year to raise money for Childreach International and needs all the help he can get to raise a mammoth £1,900 in the next 5 months! More information about the project and his sponsorship page can be found here.

The next event will be Friday’s Donation Station. Lots of posters have been put up across Aston’s campus encouraging people to donate any unwanted items that in good condition. Everything collected will be donated to the Banbury branch of Barnardo’s. We’ll also have our bucket there to take spare change and if a couple of us have any spare time there might even be one final cake sale too – like children, students just cannot get enough of very brightly coloured sweet things!

Estimated mid-week total stands at around ~£500!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Non-prophet week: Update 1

A short while back I wrote about how, contrary to what a some religious people think, non-believers give aid too, and now with the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student SocieitiesNon-prophet Week, we really get to show that is the case!

Non-prophet week has been organised as a series of events running from today to next Sunday, with nearly 20 student societies across the UK all banding together. Raising money for charity has always been high on the agenda for the Aston Humanists so we jumped at the chance to be involved!

Here’s a run-down of the events that we’ve organised and the charities that we are supporting and how they are going so far:

From 9pm last Thursday (that’s 97 hours and counting!) Aston Humanist, Emma Moseley, has not spoken a single word as part of a sponsored silence to raise money for Volunteers for Educational Support and Learning. Through VESL, Emma will be going to India in August to spend 4 months as a volunteer in Andhra Pradesh (Southern India), running English activity lessons within 3 local schools during the school day and running after-school clubs as well as generally helping to care for the orphans as many will be disabled or HIV positive. At the time of writing she’s more than half way to her £500 fund-raising target. You can sponsor her on her JustGiving page.

I myself have once again managed to marry my twin passions of running and charity by setting myself the challange of running 5km every morning for the duration of Non-prophet week. All the money raised will go to Amnesty International. You can sponsor me here, either as a lump some, or per km that I run.

I started the first of my 5km runs this morning in not exactly the best shape, having spent the weekend in Manchester at the rationalist-oriented QED conference, but still managed a time of 24:01, which I’m pretty pleased with.

One of our members, who has moved on to pastures new, has promised to treble their donation if I beat my personal best of 20:42, so the pressure’s on! I’m planning on running 7 different routes, both for a little variety and to prove that I’m not cheating (it's all recorded on my GPS watch). Here’s the route from this morning.

We’ve also planned a series of bake sales throughout the week. Today, Nick Martin baked a batch of his special, secret recipe white chocolate brownies, which went down an absolute storm! The whole lot sold out in 45 minutes and we had countless people telling us how delicious they were! With £2s worth of ingredients we managed to raise £30 for Book Aid International, a charity that promotes literacy by providing books to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Having a collection bucket really helped as, more often than not, the people that didn’t want a brownie still chucked in a few pence. It all adds up! No cakes tomorrow but I’ll be out and about on campus with the bucket during my lunch break.

For Wednesday we’ve got more cakes planned. Jack Hooker’s baking some of his mind-bogglingly multi-coloured cupcakes, honorary humanist member Emma Birkett’s baked some toffee and apple muffins (the apples are from her garden!), and my very lovely wife will be baking something too (although the first she might know about that is when she reads this). The money from Wednesday’s bake sale and the next day’s bucket shake will go to One World Action, a charity that helps marginalised populations, with a particular focus on women’s rights.

On Friday 11th we thought we’d mix it up a little and organise a Donation Station so that people who don’t much spare cash can still contribute by donating unwanted items. We’ll be accepting anything and everything in good conditions, with everything we collect donated to a Barnardo’s charity shop. Non-prophet week won’t end on the Friday though, I still have the last of my runs on Saturday and Sunday morning!

It’s definitely been tougher than previously to raise money, which is understandable given the financially constrained times we are in, but the support we’ve had so far has been great, and we’re all the more appreciative for it. We've decided to spread the money we raise across a number of difference charities to reflect the diverse causes that humanists and our society in particular support.

At the time of writing we’ve raised around £350!