Sitting in a camp in northern Myanmar, surrounded by people who have had to flee their homes due to violence, there are constant reminders of how far you are from home.
This is a remote part of a country that was until recently almost entirely cut off from the outside world. The sights and sounds are very different from what we are used to back in Ireland. One thing is familiar, however: the names of the people.
Standing outside one makeshift home is Patrick. At the home next to him is Mary. In every camp we visit, we meet people with Irish names; people who have never travelled beyond their province of Myanmar but who are named after the people who have for many years delivered education and healthcare to them.
People in that region have benefited enormously for decades from the support of Irish people. Many of them name their children in tribute to our country.
It is just one example of how Irish people have had an extraordinary impact across the world and how our country and our flag are known for the goodwill they inspire.
Trócaire's Nicaragua team get ready for St. Patrick's Day by showing their colours.
When I lived in Uganda and Zimbabwe, where I oversaw Trócaire’s projects, nothing gave me more pride than seeing the Irish flag proudly displaying on posters and billboards outside projects that had transformed people’s lives.
I would visit communities where water wells and irrigation systems were allowing people to grow food. People would ask me where I was from and when I replied their eyes would immediately smile.
For families living in these communities, the Irish flag came to represent hope. It often flies at projects that are giving families a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.
Trócaire is enormously proud to be partnering with the Ceann Comhairle’s office and the Thomas Meagher Foundation to build even stronger links between the Irish flag and our projects overseas.
The Ceann Comhairle’s Africa Project is supporting our work in northern Ethiopia, and the Foundation has generously come on board to support those efforts. Communities we work with in northern Ethiopia are impacted by very severe droughts, so with the help of the Ceann Comhairle Office and Thomas Meagher Foundation we are building irrigation and other systems to improve water access.
The Irish flag itself is a powerful symbol of what Trócaire works for across the world. The green, white and orange represents peace and co-existence between people. Trócaire brings that message to the communities where we work; communities who have often suffered enormously because of conflict and where healing and mutual respect is needed.
I have just recently returned from South Sudan, where over three million people have had to flee their homes due to conflict between political leaders. The conflict has led to a famine in parts of the country, with the lives of millions of people hanging in the balance over the next few months.
How badly people in South Sudan need the message of hope Ireland’s tricolour signifies.
Ireland is a small country but our flag is known around the world as a symbol of peace, hope and compassion.
Trócaire works with the poorest communities in the poorest countries on Earth. Many of these people would never have heard of Ireland were it not for the support being given to them.
They do not know much about Ireland, but what they do know is that Irish people are filled with compassion and generosity.
When we look at our flag today, we should take enormous pride from that fact.
This article was originally published in The Peoples' Flag supplement published in The Irish Indepenent on March 16th, 2017, in association with The Thomas F. Meagher Foundation. Read more about the Ceann Comhairle Project for Africa.