December 22, 2014
People were beginning to wind down their Christmas celebrations when everything changed forever.
It was St Stephen’s Day, 2004, and across Asia millions of people were about to be hit by the most powerful tsunami ever recorded.
Over a quarter of a million people were killed and a further 1.5 million were left homeless. The death toll was spread over 14 countries – from Kenya to Malaysia – but the worst of the impact was felt in Indonesia, where over half the fatalities were recorded.
Trócaire immediately launched an appeal to support the emergency response of Caritas, the network of humanitarian agencies of which Trócaire is a member.
Donations from Ireland made an incredible difference to the lives of people affected.
Caritas Secretary General Michel Roy recently noted, “the waves of the tsunami took away the lives of so many, but an unprecedented wave of solidarity never known in humanitarian history unrolled on the suffering of the people.”
Over one million people were provided by emergency assistance through the joint Caritas response.
In the affected countries, the Caritas confederation:
- Built over 12,000 temporary shelters and almost 33,000 permanent ones to help build rebuild their homes;
- Gave livelihood asset replacement (fishing boats, engines, nets, etc.) and vocational training to 55,000 households in India and Sri Lanka and 31,000 people in Indonesia;
- Gave over 700,000 people psychosocial support in Indonesia and Sri Lanka;
- In Indonesia completed 350 infrastructure projects such as schools, clinics, roads, and markets.
Scenes from the air of the devastation caused by the tsunami along the west of Aceh province, Indonesia. Photos: Noel Gavin, January 2005
The tsunami of 2004 was the worst disaster to hit the region, but there have been several smaller, but also disastrous, emergencies since.
Most recently, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people.
Trócaire continues to work with partners to respond to emergencies in the region, while at the same time working with communities to defend themselves against storms and other disasters.
Globally, only one in ten of the people exposed to natural hazards live in poor countries, but they account for more than half of total deaths. Poverty equals vulnerability.
Ten years on, the images of the 2004 tsunami feel more recent than they are. Such was the magnitude of the disaster that those images will live on in memories for many years to come.
So will the generosity of people all over the world, including Ireland, whose wave of solidarity helped to ease the suffering.
December 22, 2014
By Éamonn Meehan, Executive Director
2014 was a year that saw people in Ireland deliver emergency aid to people caught in conflict, vital healthcare to those at risk of a deadly virus, and ongoing support to the poorest people in the world.
As January began, the clean-up operation from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was underway. Over 6,000 people died and more than four million were left homeless by the force of the storm.
People in Ireland responded to our request for extra support to respond. Our emergency appeal has helped us reach 300,000 in the Philippines with aid.
Our Lenten campaign this year focused on efforts to combat drought in Malawi by providing safe, clean drinking water to communities.
We told you the story of Enestina, a young girl living in a rural area of Malawi that suffers from almost constant drought. Enestina’s story of how she spends much of her day travelling to a local river to collect water struck a chord with people in Ireland.
Enestina (9), at school in Malawi, 2014. Photo: Jeannie O'Brien
Thanks to the generosity of people during the Lenten period, we will be able to provide safe water to Enestina and many communities like hers.
We paused during Lent to remember the victims of the Rwandan genocide, the twentieth anniversary of which fell in February. The Rwandan genocide was one of the darkest chapters in recent human history. Up to one million people were killed over 100 days in 1994 as the country imploded.
The horrors of the genocide are well known, but to mark the anniversary we brought you the stories of reconciliation to show how Rwanda has moved on. Seeing how people once torn apart can forgive and seek forgiveness is truly inspiring. Trócaire is proud to have played a role in this process through our support of reconciliation programmes.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Photo: Elena Hermosa
The rebirth of Rwanda after such horrors provides hope that current conflicts will one day be put aside and today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s partners. The Israeli and Palestinian people have suffered enormously as a result of the inability of political leaders to build a peaceful future.
In June we brought our partners, Breaking The Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers who now campaign for peace, to Ireland. Their photo exhibition, which attracted thousands of visitors in Dublin’s Temple Bar, was a powerful insight into how military occupation dehumanises both the occupied and the occupier.
The importance of Breaking The Silence’s call for a just peace based on mutual dignity and respect was emphasised just weeks later when conflict broke out once more between Gaza and Israel. Over 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed in what was the third outbreak of serious violence in just six years.
Breaking the Silence photo exhibition at the Gallery of Photography, Dublin in June 2014. Photo: Alan Whelan
Trócaire supported the supply of emergency aid in Gaza and also campaigned for an end to the violence. We held a vigil in Dublin city centre to call for an immediate end to the violence and also a fundamental reshaping of relations between Israel and the Palestinian people.
The cyclical conflict is being driven by underlying issues, including the blockade on Gaza, the military occupation of much of the West Bank and the continued growth in illegal Israeli settlements. Until these issues are tackled, the violence will sadly continue.
Gaza and Israel are not the only regions of the Middle East to experience conflict. The war in Syria rages on, with almost 10 million people now displaced. The shocking reality of life in Syria was brought home to us by a visit to Ireland from Bishop Audo, Bishop of Aleppo.
Bishop Audo visited Ireland for one week and met with political and religious leaders, as well as speaking at some public events. The Bishop spoke about the impact of this war on the ordinary people of Syria and the urgent need for political action to bring it to a close and to secure a lasting peace.
Urgent political action was also being called for in September when world leaders gathered in New York at the UN Climate Conference. Trócaire launched a new report – ‘Feeling The Heat’ – to coincide with the summit and to press home the damage climate change is having on the communities we work with.
We were delighted to produce 'Glás', a new parish resource about the issue of climate change. Glás aims to complement the Irish Bishops' 'The Cry of the Earth' pastoral letter on climate change, which they launched in Maynooth in autumn.
Such is the devastation being caused by climate change in the developing world, Trócaire has committed to making this issue our main focus. Every day we speak with partners overseas about the fall-out of climate change – be it through floods, droughts, hunger or storms.
In solidarity with communities in the developing world, we are calling on Ireland and other developed nations to urgently reduce carbon emissions before the impacts of climate change worsen further.
In October the world’s attention shifted to West Africa and the Ebola outbreak. I visited Sierra Leone to help our team there build a response to the outbreak. I was struck by the bravery of our partner organisations, who tirelessly worked in affected communities to attempt to limit the spread of the virus and offer support to people affected.
Éamonn Meehan in Sierra Leone with Caritas Partners
The anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan was marked in November, although a bigger concern was the potential impact of Typhoon Hagupit, which threatened to strike the Philippines with the ferocity of its predecessor.
Trócaire was ready to launch a major emergency response but, thankfully, the impact of the typhoon was less than expected and damage was minor. It was, however, another reminder of how vulnerable people in the Philippines, and throughout the developing world, are to extreme weather.
Helping to protect communities from the impacts of disaster was one of our Trócaire Gifts this Christmas. Supporters all over Ireland are getting behind our Christmas campaign, which will help us to continue our work well into 2015 and beyond – making a difference and supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
On behalf of the partners and communities we work with, I would like to thank all those who support our work - particularly our committed givers - for your continued support, and wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
December 18, 2014
By Noelle Fitzpatrick, Trócaire's Syria Response Officer
The Arab Spring began four years ago, in December 2010.
It began in Tunisia but within weeks had spread to neighbouring countries throughout north Africa and the Middle East. It was the most widespread social movement the region had seen.
Within months protests had spread to Syria. Tragically, however, Syria would soon descend into a war which continues to this day.
The Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek kept a diary during the early months of the protests. There are multiple narratives, experiences and perspectives on what has happened in Syria. Her diary is just one account but it gives a glimpse into how she experienced the first four months of the protest movement.
Below is an edited extract of 'A Woman In The Crossfire', her story of the origins of the protests...
"I had no idea of the grumblings of the people until 15 March 2011. Nobody had.
Our demands weren’t only concerned with jobs and the cost of living, they were bigger than that. They had to do with freedom, with democracy and party pluralism, with changing the constitution that deified the single Party and enthroned the dictator.
In Damascus we would go out without any organisation. Because of the extreme repression security forces started choking the streets of Damascus, the protest movement withdrew to the suburbs.
We began to have real debates when we went out into the streets, because the entire street wasn’t cut from the same cloth – like in the mobilisation in Douma, which was led by the Socialist Union, who are Arab nationalists, and on the other side there were a lot of young Islamists with an Islamic way of thinking, but the former weren’t particularly partisan and the latter weren’t fundamentalists or extremists.
The mobilisation came first on the popular level. Some guys tried pulling the mobilisation in one direction, saddling it with ideological baggage. The mobilisation would lose its popular momentum and it would open up questions of the Islamists intimidating minorities, the scarecrow the regime uses to really frighten people. At the same time it would open up a gap separating the secularists from the Islamists from the liberalists. We came to the conclusion that the most important thing was to work together on the ground in a non-ideological way, that we wouldn’t propose any ideological angle.
Without realising it, people subsist on fear which has become as automatic as breathing.
One of the nurses told me they would never let them use ambulances to take the wounded to the hospital, that they were killing the wounded as well and that a number of the wounded had died outside the hospitals because the security forces would not let them inside.
There are stories of heroism that will be told for generations. Reluctant, non-sectarian and honourable people; old women, stronger than tanks.
What am I going to do? My daughter is far away from me, my mother is far away from me, I am forbidden from going to my own village and my own city. I can’t do anything. I am suspended in the air.
There is a rift between me and my daughter, a psychological boycott between me and my family – it’s unimaginable just how distant they have become – a break between me and my childhood friends, between and my entire environment in the village, between me and my sect. I never thought such a day would come.
I want a few simple things, like for my eyes not to tear up every hour, or not to jump whenever I hear a loud noise. I have been a bundle of raw nerves. How could I not? I fall asleep to news of killing and wake up to the stench of bloodshed and stories of imprisonment and torture."
December 15, 2014
By Garry Walsh, Programme Officer, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
I was really happy to get access into Gaza, to be able to visit Trócaire’s projects on the ground and to meet old colleagues and friends, yet I was almost dreading this visit. I knew there would be heart-breaking scenes in this war-ravaged territory.
It was my first time visiting Gaza since the devastating conflict with Israel this summer that saw over 2,200 Palestinians and over 70 Israelis killed. Although the violence has stopped, there is still a widespread humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
For despite the cessation of hostilities, and the pledges of billions of dollars in international aid, there has been little rebuilding and reconstruction of Gaza. Some emergency aid is getting through, but the Israeli and Egyptian authorities have imposed crippling restrictions on the flow of many vital materials, such as cement, that are necessary to begin reconstruction.
As I visited neighbourhoods in Gaza that lay completely in ruins, the scenes reminded me of images of European cities after World War II. These are the effects of the third war in Gaza in just six years.
Over 100,000 people remain homeless in Gaza, their homes being either completely destroyed, or being too severely damaged to live in. Some people are living with extended families, others in temporary accommodation and UN schools. Yet some still have nowhere to go. I met some families who were living in half-destroyed apartment blocks, with entire walls missing and their homes exposed to the elements.
The Shejaiya neighbourhood has been one of the worst affected areas from this summer's conflict in Gaza. Almost the entire neighbourhood lies in ruins. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Ramadan Nurfil stands in front of a partially destroyed apartment block in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. His shop has been destroyed, yet despite the damage to the building, he and his family are still living in the apartment in the first floor. They have nowhere else to go, and are afraid of the coming winter weather. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Mohammed Wahdan stands on the site of his destroyed home, where 8 members of his family were killed this Summer in Gaza. Mohammed claims he was also used as a human shield by the Israeli armed forces as they made house-to-house searches. Trócaire’s partner organisation the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are providing the Wahdan family with legal assistance to try and achieve justice. (Photo: Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Rasmi Najar stands in front of the temporary shelter that he is now living in with his family, following the destruction of his home in this Summer's conflict in Gaza. The five-floor building was destroyed by Israeli armed forces, and 35 members of his family have been left homeless. (Photo : Garry Walsh, Nov 2014)
Trócaire has been responding to the crisis over the last few months, and is working with local partner organisations on the ground in Gaza to protect some of the most vulnerable people. We have provided communities with emergency aid, including medical supplies, food and blankets. We are also working with our partners to provide psychological care to people, especially children, who have experienced the trauma of violent conflict.
After a few days in Gaza, I say my goodbyes to my colleagues, and I have one last mint tea before rushing back to get through the Israeli military checkpoint before it closes for the evening. A colleague in another international organisation tells me that as he was finishing his visit to Gaza, a young child in one of the communities left in ruins waved over to him and shouted “See you next war!”
The sad reality is that if there is no change in the status quo, another round of devastating violence is almost guaranteed. As such, Trócaire is also working to support Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations to work towards building a long term lasting and just peace and the prevention of future rounds of conflict.
Ireland and the EU also have a role to play. There is an urgent need for international pressure on Israel and Egypt to end restrictions to allow Gaza to rebuild again. Yet reconstruction is not enough. We need accountability for potential war crimes that were committed. We also need a political solution that addresses the cycle of violence and ends the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Otherwise that child will be proved right, and we will be visiting Gaza again after the next war.
December 09, 2014
By Lucy Fitzgerald & Ian Dunne
Trócaire volunteers Lucy Fitzgerald and Ian Dunne report from the 2014 annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, held at the Royal Irish Academy.
The theme of this year’s seminar was ‘Moving Beyond Fear: Prioritising the safety of women and girls in societies’.
Attending the annual seminar of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence on behalf of Trócaire, we were treated to a gathering of inspirational and experienced individuals who brought forth pressing issues of gender based violence.
It was our first time at the Consortium and we were excited to hear the activists’ speeches. Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, explained that there was a common theme in all of the speakers’ personal stories: tackling impunity and gaining access to justice for victims of gender-based violence.
The first speaker was Tom Meagher, husband of the late Jill Meagher who was raped and murdered in Australia in 2012 while walking home from a pub. Tom was struck by the fact that Jill’s murderer, Adrian Bayley, had an extensive history of violence against women, but the parole board had failed to take him off the streets. He benefitted from a culture of impunity, as his previous victims were prostitutes whose deaths are treated by society as somehow less important. The experience encouraged Tom to become the national advocate for White Ribbon Ireland, the Irish arm of the world's largest male-led campaign to end men's violence against women.
Within Tom’s speech, there were hard questions. Why is there violence? What is a real man? What can be done? Questions with hope attached, where he spoke of the need for more care and compassion, and crucially education for men to create a new, more equal generation for tomorrow.
Claudia Paz y Paz with Mary Robinson. Photo: Paul Sharp/Sharppix.
Claudia Paz y Paz, the first female attorney general in Guatemala and one who made great strides in the areas of organised crime, corruption and human rights violations, spoke about how women continue to be victimised within a culture of violence and impunity stemming from the country's 36-year long civil war. We were shocked to hear that 700 women are killed every year in Guatemala.
Paz y Paz gave an informative glimpse into the struggle in Guatemala, where the change of attitudes towards women and towards the law is bringing about steady change. In 2005, the law was changed so that it was no longer possible for an aggressor to be pardoned if he married his victim. This resulted in a massive change of atmosphere for how women were portrayed in Guatemala.
Finally, Fiona Sampson, executive director for the Equality Effect, spoke about how she is gaining access to justice for those affected by gender-based violence in Kenya through the ‘160 Girls Project’. We were angered to hear about rape committed by police in Kenya, but hopeful that now thanks to a legal challenge, the police are enforcing existing laws that prohibit the rape of women and girls.
As our former President Mary Robinson noted in her conclusion, “Access to justice is the most empowering factor for women.”
Trócaire is a member of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence, a network dedicated to helping the international community to end Gender Based Violence.
WATCH: Mary Robinson's closing address at the seminar