Trócaire Blogs

 

January 11, 2017

How €31 can change a life in Malawi

By Emmet Bergin, Acting Country Director, Trócaire Malawi

Irrigated corn field in Malawi

A field of corn isn’t that exciting. Even to Irish eyes unused to the tall, long stalks and yellow cobs it really doesn’t get the heart pumping. 

In Malawi, however, where 6.4 million people are experiencing food shortages due to a prolonged dry season, a thriving field of maize is about as exciting as it gets. 

Malawi has sun - plenty of it, and as the Cornflakes ads attest, that’s vital to grow corn. But what Malawi doesn’t have is the other basic component: water. 

Most land is rain-fed, with rains falling within the months of December to February. The rest of the year is completely dry.

When the rains are “bad”, with lower expected rainfall, as has occurred across Eastern and Southern Africa this year, then much of Malawi’s 18 million population, 85% of whom are self-sufficient farmers, are in serious trouble. 

Because of climate change, these rainfall shortages are now becoming the norm.

If Malawi is not to face year after year of famine, the missing ingredient of water must be found. 

These fields of corn in Mganja, Lower Dedza, testify to what is possible once the right mix of specialist water engineering support, agriculture training and community commitment is available. Cost effective and simple to maintain, the water for these fields comes from the diversion of a nearby river. Without it these fields, like neighbouring communities, would be dead soils.

It felt as if the whole village community of Mganja had come to greet us. They wanted to express thanks, through us, to those who supported this irrigation project, in this case the Irish people and the UK Government, through funding from Department for International Development to Trócaire. 

Mganja Community welcome

Welcome from women of the Mganja community. December 2016

Francisco, the village committee chairperson, insisted we walk to the middle of the fields, away from the irrigation channels, to show us how all parts of the fields had become productive.

Francisco spoke eloquently of the challenges of climate change, the previous reliance of the community on maize handouts during the months before the harvest and now how the community are moving towards complete self-sufficiency and the production of surpluses. He, on behalf of the community, asked for continued support from Trócaire. 

Trócaire will continue to support the farmers in this village with agricultural training for another 12 months.

However, the scale of need in Malawi means that we must move on to support communities in the neighbouring area.

The cost of the intervention for the 150 households in Mganja is modest. Benefitting a total of 800 men, women and children the total irrigation and training package cost €25,000, or €31 per person. This investment will set everyone on track for self-sufficiency into the future.

The cost of not making this intervention is stark.

The World Food Programme states that millions of Malawians will go hungry and thousands of Malawians are at risk of starvation if a shortfall of $230 million is not found to purchase sufficient maize meal for this year.

The cost of this emergency intervention to help Malawi’s poor get through these months of hunger is €45 per person for this year. 

Despite the overwhelming needs in Malawi and the hunger that prevails, the example of Mganja left me with hope of one affordable, efficient and concrete example of that often misused concept “climate change adaptation”. 

Mganja shows how in the midst of a crisis, human ingenuity, hard work and some outside investment can materially improve the life circumstances of the people affected, well beyond their previous level of existence and in a manner that can - and must - be replicated across the country.

December 20, 2016

Bethlehem: The Capital of Christmas

Separation wall in BethlehemThe Separation Wall in Bethlehem cuts the city's residents off from their agricultural land, while illegal Israeli settlements expand on confiscated land. Photo: Garry Walsh, 2016

By Colm Hogan

Vera Baboun is the Mayor of Christmas. More specifically, she is the Mayor of the capital city of Christmas: Bethlehem.

We met recently while I was visiting the city with the Irish Catholic Christian Solidarity Pilgrimage.

During the Christmas period the name Bethlehem will be heard in homes, schools and parishes all over Ireland, and indeed the world. This is the place where Jesus was born, and today you can still visit the site of his birth over 2,000 years ago.

But while Bethlehem captures the world’s attention during Advent, it remains sadly forgotten at other times of the year. It is spoken of as though it is an historical place, not one where people continue to live and face injustices on a daily basis.

Vera told us about life in this special place.

She told us that Bethlehem is a city of peace, love and hope. Sadly, it is a city which is today torn by the separation wall – the wall that divides the West Bank from Israel, and cuts Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

Vera Baboun, Mayor of BethlehemVera Baboun in Bethlehem. Photo: Michael Kelly, The Irish Catholic 2016

It is ironic, in a sense, that the city which saw Mary and Joseph turned away from accommodation today faces such an immense physical barrier. The wall which cuts Bethlehem – separating farmers from their land and people from family members – stands against the message of hope and peace for which the city is revered.

Vera’s passion for Bethlehem comes from her faith. Approximately 34,000 Christians live in Bethlehem today, making-up one-fifth of the city’s population.

The Bethlehem Christians are carrying the mission for all. They are the living stones. But life is not easy. There are young people in Bethlehem who have never prayed in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

Vera says that the Christian community there needs to sustain and remain. Both elements are important. One hand cannot clap, she says. You always need two hands.

Pope Francis has recognised the injustice facing people in this city and throughout the region.

To enter the city, you pass through military checkpoints. People wait patiently in line for their turn for their permits to be checked. These are the people fortunate enough to get permits to travel to Jerusalem – for many, that trip remains a dream.

Vera reminds us of the importance of pilgrimages to Bethlehem. Not only do pilgrims get exposed to the modern reality of life in the city, their visits are an economic lifeline.

Staying in Bethlehem is an important act of solidarity with the people of the city - to meet the living stones, to interact with the people living in this gated city and to hear their stories. 

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the patron of our pilgrimage, commented on the mayor’s speech that “if peace is possible, peace is necessary”. 

The situation in Bethlehem is a complex and conflictual one, but we must not lose hope. Just as the first Christmas was a challenging one, so are the future Christmas stories for the people in Bethlehem.

Vera urged us to stand in solidarity with the people of Bethlehem. She urged us to pray and reflect on what we had seen; to highlight the situation in our local communities; to raise the injustices we have seen with our politicians; and to encourage other pilgrims to stay in Bethlehem. Through Trócaire, the Catholic Church in Ireland is supporting ongoing efforts to bring peace and dignity to the people of this troubled land.  

Our actions can bring hope for the people of Bethlehem. We must advocate for them in any way possible.  I will leave the words to Vera who said these lines, after lighting the Christmas tree in Bethlehem last year:

“When we lit the tree, we gave a message that we cannot be without hope. We have to be with hope, despite everything surrounding us: the political situation, the situation in the Middle East, and war.”

December 16, 2016

How you can help people in Syria

The slaughter in Aleppo has highlighted the appalling suffering endured by the Syrian people over the last five years.

 Video: Trócaire's Niall O'Keeffe speaks about the situation in Aleppo

Over 11 million Syrians are scattered across the region having been forced from their homes. They are living in tents and other basic accommodation, struggling to make ends meet and to provide for their families.
 
They do not know when this hell will end.

What Trócaire is doing

Trócaire is supporting innocent civilians trapped in this nightmare.
 
Through donations received from people in Ireland, Trócaire is delivering food, shelter and other vital support to people in Syria, as well as those seeking refuge in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia. We are also providing trauma counselling and education for Syrian children.

Children in class at the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon's capital city of Beirut. Photo: David O'Hare, December 2016Children in class at the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon's capital city of Beirut. Photo: David O'Hare, December 2016
 
Trócaire is funding programmes in Aleppo, Damascus and other regions of Syria where people have fled. In Lebanon, we are providing support to Syrians living in camps along the border, and also to people living in refugee camps in Beirut.

‘I cry a lot but only when the children can’t see me’

Rabiha Khalil (36) is one person receiving Trócaire support in Beirut. She and her three children have been living in the Lebanese capital for almost five years. She is originally from Damascus but fled as a result of the fighting.
 
‘We thought it would only be for a few days and so only had a few clothes with us,’ she says. ‘We tried to go back to get more belongings but just missed being caught in an airstrike so had to leave with nothing.’

Rabiha Khalil (36), who is originally from Damascus in Syria, looks out over Shatila refugee camp in southern BeirutRabiha Khalil (36), who is originally from Damascus in Syria, looks out over Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut. Photo: David O'Hare, December 2016
 
Rabiha is receiving counselling and her children are being educated in a Trócaire-funded school.
 
On the Lebanon-Syria border Nofa Dergham (33) lives in a tent with her four children. She is originally from Homs in Syria but fled when a missile destroyed their house. Her seven-year-old daughter is in constant pain due to injuries received in a separate missile strike.

Nofa Dergham (33) with two of her daughters Dalaa (8) and Sydra (7). The family are living in a tent in a camp in the Beqaa Valley near the Syrian border.Nofa Dergham (33) with two of her daughters Dalaa (8) and Sydra (7). The family are living in a tent in a camp in the Beqaa Valley near the Syrian border. Photo: David O'Hare, December 2016
 
“I am worried about my children and what kind of upbringing they will have,” she says. “I worry about the children so much and I can’t sleep at night unless I am hugging them. I cry a lot but only when the children can’t see me.”
 
Nofa and her children are receiving food, shelter and training through Trócaire-funded projects.

How you can help

By supporting our Christmas appeal you can help us continue to deliver aid to people like Rabiha and Nofa.
 
You can also take our action calling on your local TDs or MP to stand up for the people of Syria.

December 13, 2016

Encouraging entrepreneurial spirit in Rwanda

By Maria Cleary, Institutional Funding Advisor

Ten years ago Consilde Mukamudodo had nothing: no home or access to income. Today, thanks to her amazing entrepreneurship and determined work ethic she has her own thriving business, established with an initial loan of just €11.

consilde mukamudodo outside her homeConsilde outside her house in Huye, Southern Province, Rwanda. November 2016

As we drive toward Huye in the Southern Province of Rwanda, I begin to notice changes in our surroundings. The area looks and feels different from the rest of Rwanda. 

Everywhere are stark reminders that in the Southern Province the poverty rate is almost one and a half times higher than the national average, with a massive 57% of people living below the poverty line, and 31% living in extreme poverty. 

As a strategy to tackle this poverty, Trócaire has partnered with women-led local organisations promoting economic empowerment in the region, supporting women to purchase livestock and set up their own small businesses. 

One such partner is Duterimbere Microfinance SA, which has given support to Consilde Mukamudodo, who we are visiting today.

As we walk up the hill to Consilde’s compound, we find that she is not waiting to receive us. She is working. In fact, while we are there, she doesn’t stop working.

The only time she stops is to take out her microfinance book, where all loans and repayments are recorded, and again to pose for one quick photo! 

Transformation

Rwanda uses ‘Ubudehe Categories’ to classify income levels for the purpose of social welfare support. 

In 2006, Consilde would have been assigned to Ubudehe Category 1 – the lowest out of four categories, based on her household’s economic status. 

People in Category 1 are defined as: ‘Families who do not own a house and can hardly afford basic needs.’ 

At that time for Consilde every day was a struggle to survive, to find work and buy food. 

But, thankfully she did find a job serving sorghum beer.

Through that work, she saw the high demand for sorghum and came up with the idea to set up her own sorghum processing microbusiness.

Through membership of a community solidarity group, she secured her first loan for 10,000 Rwandan Francs – the equivalent of € 11. 

consilde mukamudodo at workConsilde hard at work to fill a new order. November 2016.

Consilde set up her first business and clients started coming to her for sorghum. She soon found that the demand for her sorghum was higher than what she could produce herself, so she hired a helper. 

Since then, with the help of Duterimbere Microfinance SA, Consilde has successfully taken and repaid 10 loans. 

With this she has bought chickens, a pig, and a cow, greatly improving her family’s food security. 

Consilde has also been able to buy a home for herself and her husband, who now works as a guard in the local medical centre, and their three children all go to school.

In addition, Consilde has bought another property in her compound, which she has renovated and is now going to rent out. 

Consilde manages the sorghum business, the livestock, and the property for rent... but she also has new ideas for other businesses. 

She and other community members have established their own community savings and lending group, which provides microloans to three different member of the group each week. 

The members of the group are committed to this work and they are happy to do it independently of Duterimbere Microfinance SA – a testament to their individual empowerment journeys and the overall sustainability of the microfinance initiative. 

By the end of my visit I am utterly in awe of Consilde, who continues to work away as she speaks to us. Her strength, resilience and energy are inspiring. 

Consilde proudly informs us that she is now in Ubudehe Category 3, which is defined as including: ‘Those who have a job and farmers who go beyond subsistence farming to produce a surplus which can be sold. The latter also includes those with small and medium enterprises who can provide employment to dozens of people.’

What a transformation she has experienced!

Trócaire’s work with microfinance institutions in Rwanda is a pillar of our Women’s Empowerment and Resource Rights programmes. With its activities Trócaire supports the empowerment of poor and marginalised people, enabling them to claim their rights and live free from poverty. 

You can support inspiring women like Consilde this Christmas with the Trócaire Gift of Support for Entrepreneurs.

December 13, 2016

Ceann Comhairle launches the ‘Project for Africa’ with Trócaire

Ceann Comrailhe, Ethiopian Ambassador, Mary KennedyCeann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, Lela-alem Gebreyohannes, Ethiopian Ambassador to Ireland, and RTÉ broadcaster Mary Kennedy at launch of  ‘Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa’ at Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre on 12 December.

The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, last night launched the ‘Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa’, a special fund which aims to raise an initial €50,000 for Trócaire to tackle drought and urgent need in northern Ethiopia.
 
RTÉ broadcaster Mary Kennedy officially launched the Project at Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre in Newbridge, Co. Kildare and urged local businesses to support the fund.

The Ceann Comhairle, Sean Ó Fearghaíl TD, said that he hoped the fund would allow Trócaire to bring support to 7,000 people in drought-affected areas of Ethiopia.
 
“I have seen for myself the devastating effects on millions of people facing extreme food shortages in communities vulnerable to drought and so, as sponsor of this project, I am pleased to launch this new and innovative ‘Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa’,” he said.

“Through charitable donations, this project aims to put in place a long term response to the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities in the Enderta District in Tigray northern Ethiopia. People there simply do not have enough food to live and it is hoped that this project will directly benefit 1200 families, or 7000 individuals. It is about introducing sustainability for the most vulnerable communities in Ethiopia through building irrigation systems that will ensure that farmers have at least the minimum amount of water to grow and harvest crops.”

Sean Farrell of Trócaire thanked the Ceann Comhairle for his determination to support the organisation’s work in Ethiopia:
 
“There are currently over nine million people in Ethiopia facing food shortages due to drought. The Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa fund will greatly help us to build irrigation and supports that can ensure that people do not face this situation again. We are delighted that the Ceann Comhairle has chosen to work with Trócaire on this very special project and would like to thank everybody who has expressed an interest in supporting this initiative.”
 
To support the Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa fund please email [email protected]

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