Trócaire Blogs

 

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.
 

July 19, 2016

South Sudan Update: Trócaire supports emergency aid for people forced from home

As a ceasefire holds in South Sudan, Trócaire is supporting emergency aid for people forced from their homes.

As a fragile ceasefire holds in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, tens of thousands of people are now homeless; either sheltering in church and UN compounds, living in forests, or displaced to surrounding rural areas. 

Trócaire is getting food, clean water, sanitation and emergency supplies to people sheltering in church compounds with our UK partner, CAFOD. 

                                                           People in South Sudan pass a military tank as a ceasefire holds in a blog by Trócaire. Trócaire is supporting emergency aid.


An estimated 36,000 people forced from home

The renewed fighting has made an already challenging situation worse.

The UN estimates that more than 36,000 people have fled their homes and that the death toll has reached more than 300, including scores of civilians. 

Church authorities believe that around 15,000 people in Juba have taken shelter in churches or other religious buildings.

Fighting broke out on 7th July 2016 and lasted for four days between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar. President Kiir and Vice-President Machar announced a ceasefire which came into force on the following Monday.

"Their suffering is ours"

Our local partner, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala from the Catholic Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, was in Juba at the start of the outbreak of fighting.

“My heart and my prayers goes out to the families of those who died so violently and to those whose lives have been forever changed,” he said. “Their suffering is ours.”

The South Sudan Council of Churches, of which Bishop Eduardo is a member, has called for peace and for the current ceasefire to be respected, calling on the political leadership to do all it can to build peace and reconciliation in the country.

Trócaire and CAFOD will continue to help people in South Sudan to recover from this latest outbreak of conflict. 

July 18, 2016

The movement to stop burning fossil fuels

By Antoin McDermott

Trócaire’s ‘The Burning Question’ campaign is part of a global movement of organisations and individuals who are demanding an end to the fossil fuel era and a faster move to a cleaner, more sustainable future. 

global divestment figures

View full infographic

Everyday, Trócaire staff working in developing countries see the devastating effects of climate change, which is driven to a large extent by the burning of fossil fuels in more developed countries.

They are witnessing increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like droughts and floods, the loss of crops and livelihoods, and the increasing threat of hunger and malnutrition. 

So where did this movement to end the fossil fuel era start, how big is it and how successful has it been so far?

The birth of a movement

The movement originated in 2012 from a climate action organisation based in the US called 350.org

One of its founders, Bill McKibben realised that a campaign was needed to break the bond that had developed between fossil fuel companies and politicians as it was preventing political action on climate change. 

He saw that by campaigning against investments in fossil fuel companies, a stigmatisation of these companies’ practices would arise, making it hard for politicians to support them. 

The campaign really took off when McKibben published an article for Rolling Stone magazine called ‘Do The Math’ in which he explained how 80% of known fossil fuel reserves would need to stay in the ground in order to prevent the worse effects of climate change. 

He explained that to ensure that the fossil fuels remain in the ground we have to stop investing in the companies taking them out. The article went viral online.

The movement catches fire

McKibben took ‘Do The Math’ on tour like a rock band would, with strobe lights, musicians and celebrities. 

He called on the crowds to start what had been named ‘divestment’ campaigns after the successful anti-apartheid divestment campaign in the 80s. 

He asked them to push their colleges, churches, charities, and pension funds to stop investing in the top oil and coal companies. 

The impact was immediate. In just three days after the tour started Vermont College announced it would divest. 

By the end of November 2012, one hundred divestment campaigns had started. 

And by the end of 2014, that number had become more than a thousand. 

The campaign took off in the UK under the ‘Fossil Free’ banner in 2013. It has now become the fastest growing divestment campaign in history.

Big wins

There have been a number of big wins in this global campaign:

  • In September 2014, the heirs to the Rockerfeller withdrew all the fossil fuel investment in the $860 million Rockerfeller Brothers Fund.
  • Syracuse University committed in April 2015 to divest its $1.18bn endowment and to seek new investments in clean energy technologies.
  • In the same month, the Guardian Media Group divested its £800m fund.
  • In May 2016, the District of Columbia government in Washington D.C. announced that its $6.4 billion pension fund has fully divested from its direct investments in 200 of the world’s most polluting fossil fuel companies.

Notable supporters

The campaign also has a number of notable endorsers including former president of Ireland and UN envoy on climate and El Nino Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Ban Ki-moon, Barack Obama, Al Gore, 
actor Leonardo Di Caprio, actor and comedian Russell Brand, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and actor Tilda Swinton.

Where is it today?

Today, the approximate value of the institutions divested from fuels is $3.4 trillion, with well over 500 institutions in total divesting. 50,000 individuals have also divested about $5.2 billion.

Jamie Henn of 350.org recently said that “when we started fanning the divestment flames we had no idea what a wildfire would quickly spread around the world. People instantly understood the power of challenging institutions to put their money where their mouths are.”

You can be part of the movement

In Ireland campaigns to divest are happening in a number of colleges and other institutions with some successes, but what would give a really big boost to the campaign would be if the Irish government was to divest its investments in fossil fuels. This is Trocaire’s campaign. Sign up to our petition here.

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