After learning about the brutal drought affecting the rural community in Australia, Jack came up with a simple but powerful idea – Fiver for a Farmer
“You think, ‘Have they ever felt [what it’s like] to see a nice day, where it’s not too hot and it’s not too cold and you see the nice green grass and the green trees?’” he says. When Jack Berne looks out the window of his family’s home in the northern Sydney suburb of Wheeler Heights, he sees a lush backyard, but he knows that for Australia’s farmers, facing a brutal drought, their view – of sunburnt paddocks and cracked earth – is heartbreaking.
Jack first learnt about the crisis facing rural communities along with his year four classmates at St John the Baptist Catholic Primary School in Freshwater. For the 10-year-old, one of the most upsetting things about this crisis is that it is profoundly affecting boys and girls just like him. “There’s kids my age skipping school [to help] their mums and dads on the farm.”
A conversation with his mother Prue inspired Jack to take action. “I was talking to mum while she was cooking dinner and I said, ‘We need to do more about this drought.’ Mum turned around to me and said, ‘What drought?’ I said, ‘There’s a drought that’s been going on for a year and [so many people] don’t know a thing about it,’” he says. “We need to help, so I decided to help them.”
So, Jack and a mate came up with a campaign called Fiver for a Farmer. The idea was simple – they would ask fellow students to dress up as farmers and donate $5 to help rural communities in need. “Our school is not the biggest school in the world but we thought we could raise a bit of money and we would do a good job,” he says.
The motto at Jack’s school is “Prepare the way” and he decided to do just that by getting a slew of the biggest news outlets in the country to help spread the word about his initiative. “I took mum’s computer and I started sending emails to TheDaily Telegraph, Sunrise, Today and Manly Daily, our local newspaper. And the next day, it kind of went everywhere. I was on Sunrisethe next morning. It was so much fun.”
Jack’s media blitz sparked a tsunami of public support – and money. Only 13 hours after launching the campaign, “I actually hit my first goal which was [to raise] $20,000 … so not even a day,” he says proudly. “And it was all because you tell people one little thing and it goes on to big things.”
For Jack, doing whatever you can to support those who are struggling is the definition of the Aussie spirit. “You’ve got to be there for your mate. In school, we are told to help others because they would help you if you were in need. Even if they are your enemy, you have to help [others].”
In the days and weeks after the campaign launch, Jack’s message was heard by everyone from then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who praised Jack’s work in Parliament, to his young cousins. “They’re four and seven years old and they sold lemonade in their street for 50c and $1. They made $50,” he says. “That’s a lot of money.”
By the time Fiver for a Farmer Day rolled around on August 13, more than 1000 community organisations around the nation, including football clubs, schools and kindergartens had rallied to support Jack’s efforts, and by mid-September, the campaign had raised $1.1 million.
The money will be split equally between two charities, Drought Angels and Rural Aid, which will provide much-needed care packages, hay bales and, in some areas, counsellors to help those struggling with the emotional fallout of the crisis.
In the course of the fundraising drive, Jack and his family spoke with and met with farmers facing the hardship and anguish of drought. For Jack, it was a deeply moving trip. “I think one of the best experiences was [on] the first farm I’ve actually been on. I met a really nice family. They had three kids, Jock, Tully and Tex and they were really nice. They said to me ‘We love it out here. We would just love it even more if it was green.’”
While Jack has always wanted to play professional footy when he grows up, now he has a slightly different dream. “I’ve realised how good it is to be a farmer. I like to play rugby a lot so I would like to be a rugby player and a farmer.”
For the millions of kids around Australia, just like Jack, he has powerful message: “If you see something bad like a natural disaster or a national disaster, if you know you could make a difference, you’ve just got to make a difference.”
Jack wants young people everywhere to know they have the power to speak up and to change things they think are wrong or unfair. “Find what you think [needs doing] and just go for it, spread the word as much as you can, scream it from the rooftops, tell your friends, send emails. I did all of that and we raised $1 million, so I think you guys can do it, too.”
“You might be small but your voice is mighty.”