Spain, 1937. Eric Muggeridge, a British social worker, is on deployment in Spain during the country’s brutal three year civil war. He and an acquaintance, journalist John Langdon-Davies, identify an urgent need to provide food, accommodation and education to children orphaned or displaced in the conflict. And so ‘Foster Parents Plan’ – the organisation that will later become Plan International – is born.
85 years later and almost 15,000km away, Nick Towie sits down to chat with us from his home in Perth. A dedicated long-term supporter, Nick’s connection to Plan International goes much deeper than his 20 years of child sponsorship. Nick is the grandson of Eric Muggeridge, co-founder of Plan International.
Nick isn’t the only family member to continue in his grandad’s footsteps. His mother Maureen Muggeridge, a geologist, was incredibly passionate about ensuring her father’s work could carry on and was committed to supporting and being involved with Plan International Australia, even when times were tough.
“I wouldn’t say we were really well off, but we were well off enough that we should do that sort of thing,” Nick says of sponsorship, “If you can live happily and you can go on holidays and do all these types of things, a lot of people, probably like 80% of the world, can’t do it. I think then we are obligated to give a bit back.”
Growing up, it wasn’t just through family stories and donations that Nick and his brother were exposed to Plan International’s impact. His parents travelled a lot due to the nature of their geology work, and during their expeditions they made sure to visit some of Plan International’s local projects with the two boys in tow, an experience Nick remembers fondly.
“I definitely remember going to a Plan operation. I’m sure it was in Thailand or Indonesia. Mum in particular was very keen to show us, my brother and I, the sort of areas where Plan was, what that actually meant, to have no money, where you actually need help. There were lots of other kids around, I just remember wanting to run around with them. I was just a kid, so I was just having fun, but I’m really glad that we saw that.”
Nick and his brother both began sponsoring children as soon as they got their first stable adult jobs, and when their mother passed away, it made sense to donate part of their inheritance to keep her legacy alive. “Mum was always very passionate,” shares Nick. “There was quite a long period in the 90s, a struggling period. There was a recession, interest rates at 17%, all this type of stuff. And Mum, no matter what, I remember her just always making sure she could pay Plan. And that was something my brother and I remember. So when she passed away, we just thought, how much of that are we going to take? So we decided on a figure to give to Plan, so that Mum was still supporting children.”
When it comes to his grandfather, Nick doesn’t have a lot of first-hand memories as Eric Muggeridge passed away when Nick was quite young. But what Nick does have are the many family stories told – apparently his mother was very much like his grandfather when it came to her energy and zest for life – and one very special suitcase in the attic, that provides some interesting insights into Eric Muggeridge’s life.
“The suitcase is [filled with] a lot of correspondence,” explains Nick, “because my grandfather, he was obviously travelling a lot, whether it was with Plan or he was working on cruise ships for a while. There’s a lot of correspondence between him and my grandmother. And then there’s these letters [between] him and Mother Teresa. It was definitely something to do with Plan or Granddad trying to set something up with Plan and Mother Teresa helping.”
In the 85 years since his grandad founded Plan International, Nick has seen it grow and evolve into a global organisation active in 75 countries. There are many reasons Nick has stayed involved, our impact being one of them, but he also appreciates that Plan International is secular, and that such a large percentage of our income is directed to our programs, education and influencing work, “I like that a lot because there’s no religion involved, that it really is just about that focus. Plus, I think more money in the dollar goes to the programs.”
With such a historic view of Plan International’s work, we wondered what Nick hopes for children and girls in 2022. “Making sure kids get to school – that is very important,” he answers. “You just want everyone to be treated the same, whether they’re a girl or a boy. It’s very important that girls aren’t separated from boys and taught different things. I think we won’t work as a society if kids don’t grow up into adults that can work together with males and females working exactly at the same level.”
When asked if he has any reflections on supporting Plan International for the past 20 years and continuing the family legacy, Nick is thoughtful, “I’ve always just donated, and you get used to it. 20 years, you get really used to it, you don’t even think about it. But I’ve really started thinking about what that actually means. And my brother and I were talking the other day about it and I was saying that it’s quite amazing that we’ve done this. And Mum did that, and Granddad did that too. You only have to put a small amount,” he says, “but if enough people do it, it becomes quite a large amount.”