Veteran charity fundraiser from east Belfast still thinking of others after more than 50 years

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An 81-year-old charity fundraiser from east Belfast is celebrating the success of farming communities in southern Malawi who have seen their lives transformed thanks to money raised here in Northern Ireland.

To coincide with Christian Aid Week this week, Billy McAlpine, who is the charity’s representative at St Donard’s Church of Ireland on Bloomfield Road, shared a photo with a pea pod acting as a smile to demonstrate his happiness for farmers in the region.

Billy has been a volunteer fundraiser for Christian Aid for more than 50 years and this weekend the 81-year-old is helping organise a sponsored walk for the charity.

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He said: “Around 40 of us (parishioners and friends) will set off from St Donard’s car park at 10am on Saturday (May 20) for a two-hour stroll along the Comber Greenway.

Christian Aid's Billy McAlpine outside Donard Church of Ireland in east BelfastChristian Aid's Billy McAlpine outside Donard Church of Ireland in east Belfast
Christian Aid's Billy McAlpine outside Donard Church of Ireland in east Belfast

"There will be a treasure hunt to keep the children occupied and everyone is invited to bring a packed lunch to enjoy at the parish centre afterwards.”

Of the work of the charity in southern Malawi Billy commented: “Since joining a Christian Aid-supported pigeon pea cooperative, they have received a higher income for their drought-resistant harvest.

“Pigeon peas thrive in drought-prone southern Malawi. They are cheap to grow from recycled seed and require only minimal amounts of fertiliser and pesticides, making them an ideal crop to grow in a region where over 60% of families live in poverty.”

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Esther Saizi, a 54-year-old widowed grandmother, is one of more than 3,300 farmers helped by Christian Aid’s local partner – the Nandolo Farmers’ Association – which runs the pigeon pea cooperative in the region.

With the improved profits from her harvest, Esther began buying goats, which provide milk and meat for her family as well as manure for her crops, which saves on expensive fertiliser. Esther even used her income to buy a sewing machine and now she makes clothes for her family.

The extra income also enabled Esther to support her elder daughter’s carpentry business and her younger daughter’s dream of going to college and qualifying as a nurse. She is also paying school fees for her 4-year-old grandson.

Christian Aid Ireland chief executive, Rosamond Bennett, praised the impact of the charity’s supporters: “The transformation in Esther’s fortunes in Malawi is only made possible by our incredible supporters who generously give each Christian Aid Week to fund our work to help tackle the root causes of poverty around the world.”

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Christian Aid Week has been running in Northern Ireland since 1957, making it the region’s longest running fundraising campaign. Each year, thousands of people donate to Christian Aid during the week to support people living in some of the poorest countries in the world as well as countries coping with conflict, drought, risk of famine and the impacts of climate change.

By giving this Christian Aid Week, people will be able to help more farmers like Esther secure a fair price for their crops and make their children’s dreams come true.

For more information and to donate, please visit or call 028 9064 8133 to make a telephone donation.