Project Compassion 2021: An Australian Icon

28 March 2021
An Australian family put money into a Project Compassion Box in February 1969. Image: The Catholic Weekly/Caritas Australia/Supplied


For each of the six weeks of Lent, the Diocese of Parramatta is sharing one of Caritas Australia’s feature stories of lives changed through support and empowerment programs.

PALM SUNDAY – 28 March 2021

Project Compassion – An Australian Icon


Over half a century, Project Compassion has raised millions for people living in poverty around the world.

An initiative of Caritas Australia, generations of compassionate Australians have participated in Project Compassion, since its inception in 1965 – making it one of the nation’s longest-running charity campaigns.

For many Australians, including Caritas Australia’s CEO Kirsty Robertson, Project Compassion’s iconic collection boxes have become a nostalgic part of their lives – a visible reminder around home, school, church and the community, that it’s that time of year – to support Caritas Australia’s annual Lenten appeal.

Margaret Moriarty, 69, a long-time Caritas Australia supporter says she can’t remember a time without a Project Compassion box in her house during Lent.

“Sometimes there was even more than one,” says Margaret. “My parents were very happy to support Project Compassion when it began in 1965, when I was in Year 9. Even though I grew up in an Australia that wasn’t wealthy, donating to poorer counties was very important to my mother and father.”

“As my husband and I firmly believe in donating to Project Compassion, our own children have grown up with the same iconic boxes in our home. Some of my grandchildren are also continuing the tradition now at home and at school and I am proud that four generations of my family have been able to live out Christ’s love in the world,” Margaret says.

Throughout five decades of natural disasters, conflicts, refugee crises, food and water shortages, Caritas Australia has worked alongside the world’s most vulnerable communities, enabled by the generous support of the Australian community.

Project Compassion has also been vital in helping Caritas Australia to support communities long-term – before, during and after emergencies – through access to education, jobs, health services, agricultural training, domestic abuse support and programs reducing maternal and infant mortality.

In its early days, Project Compassion raised around $90,000, while in more recent times, this has reached over $11 million. This growth enables Caritas Australia to better help support the world’s most remote, vulnerable and marginalised communities to overcome the challenges of living with poverty.

During COVID-19 times, it is through its local partnerships on the ground, as well as being part of one of the world’s largest international humanitarian networks, that Caritas Australia has been able to respond so quickly to help minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

By adjusting its existing programs, Caritas Australia has been able to share COVID-19 prevention measures and distribute soap, masks and food kits, while continuing its long-term development work.

Sharing the stories of Project Compassion this year has posed massive logistical challenges, with COVID-19 restricting movement within communities. However, the stories of the people helped by Project Compassion and their communities are key to understanding the lives of those living with poverty and injustice.

This year, Caritas Australia has presented five powerful stories of hope and resilience from people who are living in vulnerable communities from around the world who are striving to ‘Be More’, in the face of remarkable challenges. They are but a few stories of the millions that have been helped by generous Australians, through Project Compassion, for over half a century.

Jamila in Bangladesh shows us the plight of refugees, as she seeks a life, free of insecurity and violence, for herself and her young child, in one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Margret in the Solomon Islands is empowering students at a vocational school for the deaf to follow in her footsteps, while overcoming the challenges of long-term water shortages. Oliva in Tanzania is breaking the barriers of illiteracy and gender inequality for herself and her community, while building a sustainable livelihood. Arsad and Halima, from Indonesia and Bangladesh, are examples of the way that hygiene and sanitation programs can improve the health and wellbeing of entire communities, through the work and persistence of dedicated individuals.

On average, nearly 900 parishes and 1300 schools across Australia are now involved in fundraising for Project Compassion. In the past year alone, (2019-20) Project Compassion’s supporters have helped to reach over 3 million people worldwide, including many affected by disaster or conflict.

“Through our supporters’ incredible generosity, we have been able to assist communities across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Pacific, as well as here at home, to drive their own development and build brighter futures,” says Kirsty Robertson. “The kindness of our supporters has, amongst many initiatives, allowed us to build boreholes in drought-afflicted Zimbabwe, train midwives to provide care in Bangladesh and assist refugees to continue their educations. None of this would be possible without Project Compassion.”

With predictions that poverty rates are set to rise for the first time in 20 years, Caritas Australia needs its supporters now more than ever. The World Bank estimates that COVID-19 will have a disproportionate impact on the poor, through job losses, rising prices, and disruptions in education and health care. An estimated 40 million to 60 million people will fall into extreme poverty (under US$1.90/day) [1].

As we celebrate the Australian icon that is Project Compassion, we would like to thank our supporters nationwide – and spanning the generations – for their commitment to bringing about the change which has supported others to change their own lives.

With your ongoing support, Caritas Australia will be able to move forward, in new and innovative ways, with lifesaving strategies to tackle new challenges.

To donate to Project Compassion, you can donate through Parish boxes and envelopes, by visiting or calling 1800 024 413.

With thanks to Caritas Australia.


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