Project Compassion: An Australian Icon

For over half a century, Project Compassion, an initiative of Caritas Australia, has raised funds to support people living in poverty around the world. 

Since its inception in 1965, generations of compassionate Australians have participated in Project Compassion, 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 the home, school, church and 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 the season of Easter.

“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.” 

The Catholic Weekly, 20 February 1969.

“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 with alongside the world’s most vulnerable communities thanks to 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.  

During COVID-19 times, Caritas Australia has been able to respond quickly to help minimise the spread of coronavirus. 

By adjusting our existing programs, we have been able to share COVID-19 prevention measures and distribute soap, masks and food kits alongside our long-term development work. 

Despite the logistical challenges posed by COVID-19, Caritas Australia has managed to collect and share five powerful stories of Project Compassion this year from people who are living in vulnerable communities around the world. They are but a few stories of hope and resilience from the millions that have been helped by generous Australians, through Project Compassion, for over half a century. 

Jamila’s story demonstrates 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 in Bangladesh. Margret’s story highlights the challenges of long-term water shortages and natural disasters in the Solomon Islands and portrays how she’s empowering students at a vocational school for the deaf to follow in her footsteps. Oliva’s story delves into the barriers posed by illiteracy and gender inequality and how she overcame them. Finally, Arsad and Halima’s stories convey how hygiene and sanitation programs can improve the health and wellbeing of entire communities.

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 us to reach over 3 million people worldwide, including many affected by disaster or conflict. 

Roy Boylan and Sydney Committee with first PC Box in 1965.

“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).  

As we celebrate the Australian icon that is Project Compassion, we would like to thank our supporters nationwide.

With your ongoing help, Caritas Australia will continue to work with the most remote and marginalised communities around the world and at home, supporting them to draw on their strengths and build brighter futures.