Trócaire Blogs


August 19, 2016

World Humanitarian Day 2016 #sharehumanity

Today, 19 August, is World Humanitarian Day, a global event to recognise humanitarian workers and those who have lost their lives working on the front lines of crisis. The day also helps to bring stories of people and communities in crisis situations to light. 

To mark the day, Sadia Irum, our Humanitarian Programme Manager in Pakistan shares three examples of Trócaire’s recent humanitarian work in the country.

1. Rapid response following the 2015 earthquake in Pakistan

Earthquake damage in Northern Pakistan, Oct 2015. Photo courtesy of Pak Rural Development Program.

Earthquake damage in Northern Pakistan, Oct 2015. Photo courtesy of Pak Rural Development Program.

On 26 October 2015, an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale struck northern  Pakistan, including major population centres. Over 200 people were killed and more than 1,000 people were injured. 

Communication systems were disrupted in many areas and roads were blocked due to landslides. Thousands of people were forced to sleep outdoors in near-freezing temperatures, reluctant to go back inside due to a fear of aftershocks. 

The Government of Pakistan, and in particular the army, was mobilised as first responders and conducted significant search and rescue operations.

Many people were displaced. Men, women and children were evacuated to safe sites adjacent to their homes in temporary shelters or moved to nearby villages to stay with relatives. Women and girls had limited privacy in these living arrangements.

Together with three local partners: Mojaz Foundation, Pak Rural Development Program and United, Motivation, Education and Empowerment for Development (UMEED) Foundation, Trócaire set about responding to the needs of such families. 

Distribution site Lower Dir, Courtesy of UMEED Foundation, October 2015

Distribution site Lower Dir, Courtesy of UMEED Foundation, October 2015

Within five days of the earthquake occurring, we had gathered sufficient information about the needs of affected communities in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and began distributing vital shelter materials including tents, blankets and sleeping mats.

Our response targeted people living at high altitudes which although difficult to reach, were among the worst affected areas. We provided shelter kits to 3,530 families, reaching a total of 16,202 people.

Bibi1, 37 year old, received a shelter kit and said, “It was really a big support to me as I was able to protect my children from the cold weather and keep them warm. We were not sleeping properly and now we can. It was because of Trócaire and its partner that we were protected from the weather and our lives were saved”.

Trócaire’s response was generously support by Start Network, Irish Aid and the Irish public.

2. Providing safe spaces to displaced women and girls 

Rabia in a women's safe space

Rabia in a women-friendly space in Peshawar, Pakistan, 2016

Rabia was engaged to be married at the age of 12 years. After her marriage her family did not allow her to continue her education.
As a result of conflict in 2014, her family were displaced and moved to Peshawar.
Trócaire’s partner in Pakistan, UMEED Foundation established women friendly spaces in Rabia’s village.
In this space, the now 16 year old Rabia meets other girls her age and they discuss their concerns and practice embroidery, cooking and stitching.
Rabia said, “I felt I had no value among family and community. I could not study or learn. I was destined to live a limited life.”
The programme also provided sessions on life skills, psycho-social support and skills training for income generation.
Rabia added, “I feel now I am changed. I feel more positive about life. I am safe here and am with friends.”
“My parents also see the great change in me and have allowed my two younger sisters to join the programme. Even though I could not continue my education, I am happy to learn different skills and I can work to support my family.”
Growing evidence shows that in times of humanitarian crisis, both in conflict or following natural disasters, child marriage rates increase, with a disproportionate impact on girls.
Education provides a myriad of opportunities for girls from self-confidence and social stability to earning opportunities and better health outcomes.
Empowering girls by providing support networks and creating ‘safe spaces’ where girls can gather and meet outside the home, have multiple social benefits, changing norms and attitudes and helping girls to assert their rights.

Trócaire’s response was generously support by the Irish public.

3. Rebuilding after severe flooding

Community flees flooded area in 2014

Community flees flooded area in 2014

My name is Aqeel. I’m eleven years old. I live in a beautiful village with green fields and a big ground where we used to play cricket. I go to school in a nearby town with my cousins. 

I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I live with my grandmother, my three siblings and my mother.

My mother grows wheat and vegetables. We also have one cow and some hens which give us milk and eggs. 

In September 2014, heavy rains fell. The river water level rose up very high. One day there was an announcement in the local mosque that there was a flood warning. 

We were asked to leave our village. Everyone rushed to take their families, animals, some food and some belongings to the camp in a high, safe place. 

The flood hit my village. My house was swept away. Our crops were destroyed. 

Aqeel and friends lend a hand Courtesy of Mojaz Foundation. April 2015

Aqeel and friends lend a hand. Courtesy of Mojaz Foundation. April 2015

After 22 days in the camp we went back to our village. 

The only road to the  village was destroyed, making it difficult to get to the school, hospital and market. 

Trócaire and its partner Mojaz Foundation supported the people in my village to come together and fix the road. 

I’m too young to work at fixing a road, but I wanted to help. I started bringing drinking water to the men working on the road. 

I also got my cousins and friends to help. Now the road is fixed and we can get to school and the hospital. We can also transport vegetables to the market to sell them. I hope my story explains the difficult time we faced when the flood came.

Watch: Trócaire's response to flooding the Punjab area in 2014

Trócaire’s response was generously support by the Irish public.

August 15, 2016

Somali Government pledges to pass legislation banning Female Genital Mutilation

By Catherine M Waking’a, Trócaire East Africa

Trócaire and IFRAH Foundation, hold high level conference on female genital mutiliation in Mogadishu.

High level conference on female genital mutiliation in Mogadishu, July 2016

Every girl wants to live in a safe environment where her rights are upheld. 

Somali girls can speak little of this desire being met. 

Between the ages of 4-11 up to 95 percent of them will undergo circumcision otherwise referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

It is seen as a rite of passage and a cultural obligation. It is however a violation of their rights as young women. 

It is a form of Gender Based Violence (GBV).  Women and girls suffer long-term physical, psychological and health-related complications because of this harmful practice. It violates their sexual and reproductive health rights as well as their right to privacy and dignity. 

Once circumcised, the girls are considered adults and married off. In Somali society, the practice of FGM is an honoured tradition. Those who oppose it do so against the tide of public opinion.

FGM has been unconstitutional in Somalia since 2012, but no bill has been passed to ban it out rightly, and open discussion has remained largely taboo until recently. Notable support for bringing an end to FGM has been that of the country’s minister of religious affairs Abdulkahdir Sheikh Ali Baghdad, who has said it is a cultural practice that has no place in modern societies. 

Trócaire and fellow Irish charity Ifrah Foundation took part in a high level conference on FGM in Mogadishu, on 27 July, 2016.  The conference was organised under the Orchid Project.

The Ifrah Foundation was set up by Ifrah Ahmed, one of the world's top international FGM eradication advocates and activists and Somalia’s advisor on gender issues in the Prime Minister’s office. Ifrah came to Ireland as an asylum seeker at the age of 17 and is now a citizen. Ifrah herself underwent FGM as a young girl and is determined that others in Somalia will not experience what she did. 

One of the objectives of the conference was to alter the national perception and support a shift in cultural norms in order to bring up a generation that does not feel bound to conform to the practice and also gain the Somali prime minister’s public commitment and support for passing legislation banning the practice of FGM in the country.

The Orchid Project envisages a world free from FGM and working with like-minded organisations to achieve this goal. 

There is no specific law against female circumcision in Somalia and the practice remains widespread in both rural and urban areas. Women affected by FGM in this nation continue to suffer in silence. 

Besides shaping the development of a bill that will ban FGM in Somalia the conference also built on existing momentum for this effort by engaging with national and international experts. 

These undertakings will go a long way towards changing attitudes and supporting those who oppose this practice. 

Emphatically, the proposed bill will deter supporters of this practice by threatening legal sanctions but perhaps most importantly of all by reinforcing women’s right to the integrity of their bodies which is an inalienable human right. It will consequently promote and support social change.

Acknowledgement by the Somali federal government that this so called ‘rite of passage’ should be banned is essential. Cessation may take some time but the greatest motivation is that when it does end, Somali women and girls will be able to lead normal lives. 

In the words of United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, there is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, and never tolerable. During the high level symposium, the Somali government pledged and reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation in the country. 

It is time for community members to take action and support their government: a life free of violence is a basic human right, one that every girl and woman deserves. 

It is of utmost necessity that we all should not only respect women’s sexual and reproductive health rights but provide them with equal access to education, health care and representation in political processes which will in turn benefit societies and humanity at large.

August 04, 2016

Supporting women’s livelihoods in Ebola affected communities

Australia Aid logoStories from Trócaire project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program (DAP). Compiled by Maria Flavin, Trócaire Sierra Leone.

The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak that began in May 2014 had a severe and lasting impact on the West African countries it struck, including Sierra Leone. 

Not only did EVD claim nearly 4,000 lives, but it also had a devastating impact on the country’s economy, agriculture production and many other areas. 

Since March 2016, when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free, the people of Sierra Leone have been recovering from the loss of loved ones and the changes in their households and communities.

Ya-Koloneh Kamara and grandchildren

Ya-Koloneh Kamara and her two grandchildren in Yelisanda Village. Photo: Michael Solis

In the community Yelisanda in Bombali district, 42 people were infected with Ebola, and 39 of those passed away. Due to the high number of cases, this community was put under quarantine for 21 days in July of 2015. This meant that people were confined to their homes to stop the spread of the virus. 

“You could not even jump over this road,” Ya-Koloneh Kamara recounts, pointing from her home to a well only a few metres away. They were unable to access the water whilst quarantined and depended on the handouts of bottled water from NGOs. 

These restrictions impacted Ya-Koloneh’s livelihood as she could not go to her land to farm. 

As was the case with many farmers, Ya-Koloneh lost her agricultural produce during this period as she could not attend to her crops. Recognising this problem within communities, Trócaire’s partner Menna Women's Development Associates (MEWODA) provided support, including seeds and tools, for farmers to carry out backyard gardening in the confines of quarantine. 

Once the quarantine was lifted, and even later when Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free, the community of Yelisanda still had obstacles to overcome. 

Many people lost the crops that they depended on for their families’ livelihoods. They also had to carry on with life in the wake of the deaths of their family members and friends. 

Tensions were still high as blaming continued to occur, with people wanting to shift responsibility to those who they felt ‘brought’ Ebola to village. Each of these factors contributed to the community’s vulnerability.

As a result of the Ebola virus, Ya-Koloneh now provides for twelve people in her family. Her sister’s husband passed away during this period, which meant that her sister was left alone with five children to care for. Realising the intense pressures her sister was facing, Ya-Koloneh stepped in to care for the children.

“It’s difficult but I know I have to do this,” Ya-Koloneh said. “There are no other relatives”. 

This, in turn, intensified Ya-Koloneh’s already difficult situation of trying to provide for her existing family members. As a result of the economic strains on her family, her son, Daniel Kamara (then 17 years old) was forced to withdraw from his education.

MEWODA, with the support of a Trócaire project funded by the Australian High Commission’s Direct Aid Program (DAP), provided vulnerable women such as Ya-Koloneh with agricultural inputs and training. 

The support included seed inputs such as rice, groundnut and ginger, as well as farm tools including hoes, cutlasses, and harvesting knives. 

Moreover, training workshops were provided on basic agronomic skills and farm preparation which helped improve women’s knowledge to benefit their agricultural productivity. 

Through this support, 20 communities are set to increase their crop yields.

Trócaire believes in promoting agricultural practices that are sustainable, environmentally considerate and conducive to the resilience of vulnerable people living with poverty. 

One method of increasing resilience is through diversifying crops. Ya-Koloneh, for example, now grows a variety of produce including corn, cassava, okra, eggplant, groundnut and other vegetables, going above and beyond the expected results of the project. 

This increase of production meant Ya-Koloneh had the economic means to provide for all members of her family. It also meant she could send her son, Daniel, back to school to finish his education. The future is now much brighter for her and her family.

In a separate community, in the village of Macondeh, Gudie Kamara (47) is also one of the women farmers who benefited from the DAP project. 

Gudie Kamara and her two children

Gudie Kamara and her two children near the community farm in Macondeh Village. Photo: Maria Flavin

Gudie was responsible for supporting 11 people in her household (including 7 children). 

She and her family were living in a four-room thatch house where they suffered from illnesses like malaria, fever and dysentery because of the conditions of their home. 

For a long time, Gudie made it her priority to improve the living situation and health of both herself and her family. 

Lighting up with excitement at the chance to share her story, Gudie explained that the support of MEWODA has resulted in a complete change in the way she and her family are living. 

The increases in her crop production have resulted in her being able to sell surplus goods and renovate her home, constructing a new roof and greatly improving the living conditions of her family. 

Offering a wide smile, she said that through the support of MEWODA and the donors (Trócaire and Australian High Commission), she and her family have reached their goal. 

“I have never slept in such a comfortable and secure house!”

Gudie concluded by sharing her blessings with Trócaire, Australian Aid, and MEWODA for the meaningful help they have given to her and the community as a whole. 

July 27, 2016

Mary Robinson visits families hit by El Nino drought in Honduras

Mary Robinson arrives in Honduras today, where she will visit Trócaire projects that are helping families overcome the disastrous impacts of the El Nino drought. 

Honduras is the most vulnerable country in the world to the effects of climate change. There are currently over 1.3 million people in the country at risk of food shortages due to drought. 

Between 1980 and 2014, Honduras was affected by more than 50 natural disasters, resulting in 15,548 deaths. Annual economic losses due to climatic events are estimated at US$667 million (2.6% of GDP).

Mrs. Robinson is visiting Honduras as part of her role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Change and El Nino.

Thanks to the support of people all over Ireland, Trócaire is currently providing emergency support to 7,500 families - approximately 40,000 people - in Honduras. Our support targets the most vulnerable through food distribution, provision of seeds, irrigation and other methods aimed at improving food production and nutrition in the face of the drought.

Mrs. Robinson will meet with families in the Pespire region, where many young people have been forced to migrate because of the ongoing impacts of climate change. 

Over 85 per cent of the population rely on agriculture but the majority of farmers earn less than €400 a year. As droughts, storms and other extreme weather events continue to become more frequent, many young people are moving to cities or to the United States to earn a living. 

Farmers in Pespire say that climate has changed in the last 30 years. Temperatures are much higher during the day, it is raining less often and when it rains the amount of water that falls in a short period of time is high. Maize yields have dropped to less than 40% of the average yields in Honduras. 

As a result of the scarcity of available food, prices have gone up, especially maize and beans. At the moment the price of maize has increased in Pespire by 70%. 

The situation is tense and conflicts erupt because of water scarcity. In some communities there is hardly any water left for human consumption and in most places rivers and streams are too dry to be used for irrigation. 

This is a situation facing growing numbers of people in Central America. The humanitarian situation along Central America’s Dry Corridor has reached crisis levels, with more than 3.5 million people facing food insecurity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. 

Guatemala and Honduras have been the most affected. As a result, 2.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including food, health care, and activities to recover livelihoods and increase resilience. 

Mary Robinson last month visited Trócaire projects in northern Ethiopia, where people are experiencing food shortages due to the same El Nino drought that is impacting Honduras. 

Mary Robinson in Ethiopia with Trocaire

Mary Robinson visits a Trócaire project in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, earlier this month.


She visited one project in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia where Trócaire has been working with the local community to protect them against extreme droughts. 

By building irrigation and improving water management, Trócaire is helping to ensure people have access to water even when the rains fail. 

Globally, 60 million people have been impacted by the El Nino drought crisis but Ethiopia has been worst affected. Ten million people in Ethiopia are facing food shortages because of the drought. Thanks to the generous support of people in Ireland, Trócaire is supporting 600,000 people in Ethiopia with emergency relief. 

We are also responding in Honduras, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. 

These relief efforts are the incredible result of people in Ireland supporting vulnerable people overseas in this time of crisis. 

You can donate to the emergency appeal and give support to people who urgently need it. 

July 26, 2016

Damascus report: “I’ve no choice but to stay”

Trócaire’s Niall O’Keeffe, Head of Region – Asia and Middle East, writes about a recent visit to Damascus in conflict-torn Syria.

hai hamdi family damascus

I met with the Hai Hamdi family who moved to Damascus in February 2016 from rural Kobani in the north of the country because of the conflict there. Pictured are: Badia Mhemeed, Taghreed (2 yrs old), Jihad (3), Maher (9), Mahmoud (6), Ahmar (17) and Talal (12).

As we approached Damascus, we see a sprawling city covered in a haze from the sun and 40 degrees heat. 

Ten kilometres from the city we are moving slowly through a security checkpoint into the city. The checkpoint gives a sense of security and a belief that at least explosive materials are not being smuggled into the war torn city.

As we get nearer the checkpoint, however, we see the driver of a van hand the military official a bottle of ice water and being waved through without a check.  We re-think our sense of security.

On the surface, there is a normality about the city. There is traffic on the streets, people go to work, and restaurants serve traditional Syrian dishes. 

In the evening our hosts proudly show us around historical sites such as the Straight Street, referenced in the Bible, and the Umayyad Mosque with a tomb purportedly to hold the remains of John the Baptist. 

But as we walk around, our hosts point to what looks like a repaired pothole and explains that a bomb fell there.  A damaged building is pointed out – glass in the front of the building is shattered and some of the structure is destroyed.  And our hosts tell of other buildings which have been hit by bombing and some have been repaired. 

“It’s good to repair things if possible, it makes things look normal” our hosts tell us. 

We hear bombing in the distance. “The first time a bomb fell, we all stayed indoors for a day or two,” we are told, “but the last time one fell, we were back on the street in 20 minutes.  We have become used to it over the years.” 

Syria has 7 million people who have moved to other parts of the country for safety reasons and Damascus is one of the safest areas.  In the southern suburb of Jaramana, project staff say that the suburb’s population has swelled from 500,000 pre-conflict to an estimated 1,500,000 now. 

It’s a dusty area, visibly poorer than the city centre with block after block of apartments.  

Families who have moved to areas like this have often gradually sold off most of their belongings in the hope of getting through to the end of the conflict.  

Eventually, a displaced family usually has no belongings, no assets, and simply seeks a safe place.  For families who have nothing, Jaramana is one of the most affordable options. 

The Hai Hamdi family moved to Damascus in February 2016.  They are from rural Kobani in northern Syria, near to the border with Turkey.  They were farmers and while they weren’t well off, they made a living from their land.  Conflict had hit their village on and off over the past few years and they had previously come to Damascus for safety, but found it difficult to survive and had returned home. 

They travelled to Damascus again in February and this time found a room and decided to stay.  

The conflict had destroyed their home in Kobani and they were no longer safe, but leaving had its own problems and involved making payments for smuggling – going to Turkey was more expensive than travelling to Damascus, and the journey with its various stops and negotiations took a month.

Their new home in Jaramana is a shell of a one room apartment, unfinished and with no windows installed.  They pay SP10,000 per month (less than €20).  

Their room is no protection from the elements – temperatures frequently reach over 40 degrees in summer and less than zero in winter – but it is safe relative to Kobani. 

The children are attending school locally and Shawakh Hai Hamdi has got labour work in the market which covers the rent and some of their food needs.  But they continue to be dependent on support from others to cover some basic needs and particularly for ‘additional’ items such school copy books, clothes and medical needs. 

As we talked to the Hai Hamdi family, I hear more bombing which seems a bit closer than other bombings.  I look out the window but nobody else takes any notice of it.  

Two days before our visit, the town of Darayya nearly 20km to the south of Damascus, was heavily bombed shortly after receiving humanitarian aid.  

The Government of Syria was responsible for the bombing.  

One day before our visit, there were two explosions in the southern suburb of Set Zaynab.  The ‘Islamic State’ claimed responsibility.  We ask people if these two sets of attacks mark a shift in the conflict in the areas around Damascus, or an advance in one direction or another.  But no, each attack was simply making a statement –“‘we are here and look at what we can do”.

As a visitor in a war torn country, unsure of your territory, you don’t discuss politics.  So we discuss what people’s hopes are for the future.  

“I’ve no choice but to stay” is a regular response and we learn if the choice is because of a lack of means or stubborn desire to stay in their home country. 

Others talk about waiting and seeing if the situation improves – they survived the heavy attacks in central Damascus last year so maybe things will improve.  

They have jobs and can sustain themselves and their families.  But there is little certainty and no optimistic discussion of new plans to be achieved.  

While visiting one of the project centres, a colleague of theirs from Aleppo turned up at the door – she had gone from being a staff member providing support to vulnerable people in Aleppo to now being displaced and looking for support.  In our discussions, there is some mention of hope, but it is a dream, an abstract with no clear pathway.

Back in Lebanon and talking to displaced Syrians there, they feel angry and cheated that they had to leave their country.  Why should anyone be put in a situation like those we spoke to in Damascus?  

Being a refugee might offer safety, but it too offers little hope.  Syrians in Lebanon hope to return home someday, but can’t see any clear pathway to that goal either. 

 I ask their opinions of the Syria peace process (facilitated by the UN).  They don’t describe the international community and the UN as poor facilitators of the peace process – they angrily describe them as abandoning the Syrian people and being motivated only by self interest. 

The international community needs to significantly increase efforts and find a solution to this senseless conflict.

Learn more about Trócaire’s work supporting those displaced by the conflict in Syria.