80 years of Methodist relief and development
All We Can has served the most marginalised on earth for the last eight decades – since a group of Methodists answered the call of refugees in Europe, in the 1930s.
Our story is about the inherent value and potential in all people. Whether children fleeing tyranny; communities facing extreme poverty, or families hit by disaster, we answer through partnering local innovators, projects and churches to unleash inherent potential.
All We Can traces our roots back to the 1930s, when Methodist minister Henry Carter felt the church had a responsibility to respond to the refugee crisis in Europe. He pioneered the Methodist Refugee Fund as a personal initiative to raise money and collect supplies to relieve hunger and improve conditions among refugees, particularly in Austria and Germany.
As the refugee situation in Europe became less demanding, our remit expanded and we became known as the Methodist Relief Fund (MRF). We supported the building of Wesley Village in Hong Kong, a resettlement camp for refugees fleeing the civil war in China.
We also increasingly provided practical relief in response to disasters – including a hurricane in the West Indies, famine in India, a fire in Burma, and the Hungarian uprising – largely working through Methodist channels.
Our focus began to shift towards ‘rehabilitation work’ – providing training for the unemployed in West Africa and Rastafarians in Jamaica and supporting Methodist agricultural colleges in Tonga and Haiti and a home for orphans in Nigeria.
We continued to act as a focus for giving at times of crisis, such as after the Biafran war. Ten percent of monies were allocated for work in deprived areas of the UK, such as projects promoting good race relations.
With growing concern about global hunger and poverty, Methodists were challenged to give one percent of their income for world development – a figure the government was called upon to match.
A new World Development Fund was launched alongside the MRF, to encourage education and political action to address some of the structural causes of poverty.
The World Development Fund also raised donations – notably through a Harvest Festival Appeal – to be distributed through the Methodist Missionary Society, the MRF and Christian Aid. Projects with subsistence farmers, refugees and the disabled continued to be supported. In 1979, £200,000 was raised for victims of Pol Pot’s regime in Kampuchea.
After an earthquake in November 1980 left 300,000 people in Southern Italy homeless, the MRF launched an appeal which was backed by local radio stations in Yorkshire. People donated caravans to serve as emergency accommodation and 250 volunteers spent Christmas driving them across Europe.
In 1985, the Methodist Relief Fund and World Development Fund were merged to form the Methodist Relief & Development Fund (MRDF). One of our first tasks was to respond to a catastrophic famine in Ethiopia. However, our main work was increasingly about meeting longer-term needs, particularly by supporting adult literacy, basic healthcare, and agricultural training.
In 1991, MRDF’s income reached £1m for the first time. By now we were supporting work in over 50 countries each year, from urban healthcare in Calcutta to land rights of indigenous communities in the USA. Through the 1990s, we ran a significant agro-forestry programme, co-funded by the European Community.
As MRDF continued to grow, we reduced the range of projects and countries it supported in order to focus more on long-term impact and building the capacity of our partners. The World AIMS project was launched to provide a development education programme in Methodist schools.
In 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami resulted in the biggest response to an MRDF emergency appeal to date, raising over £1.5 million. The following year, MRDF and Methodists played a prominent role in the Make Poverty History campaign on aid, trade and debt.
By 2013, MRDF was supporting long-term development projects with 38 partner organisations in 16 of the world’s poorest countries, with a focus on livelihoods, health and women’s empowerment. We continued to respond to emergencies, and resource campaigning and development education work in the UK, including through our award-winning Iota course for small groups.
On the 8th April 2014, MRDF became All We Can – a new name reflecting our Methodist heritage, as it echoes the famous ‘do all the good you can’ quote attributed to John Wesley. We embraced a new partnership approach, walking alongside our global neighbours in collaboration.