50 years of Trócaire: How your support changed lives
27 Mar 20234 Min Read
For the past 50 years, Irish people have generously supported Trócaire’s work to help the world’s most vulnerable communities
The late Sally O’Neill, Trócaire’s Regional Manager for Latin America, with Digna from Honduras who featured on the Lent Box in 2011
Fifty years ago this month, the Irish people were stirred into action by devastating scenes of famine and flooding in Bangladesh. They responded with incredible generosity, donating £250,000 to the Catholic Church to deliver life-saving aid.
This outpouring of kindness inspired the Church to establish an organisation to support people living in the world’s poorest regions. In February 1973, Trócaire was born.
The new agency was mandated not only to feed the hungry, but to question why the hungry had no food.
Trócaire’s mandate was soon put into action as it campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. The organisation funded human rights movements and trade unions, while lobbying the Irish Government to condemn the apartheid regime.
Years later, Nelson Mandela thanked Trócaire: “South Africans have a long association with Trócaire, who have not only been staunch opponents of apartheid but have also initiated and supported projects in South Africa since 1977.”
The 1970s saw brutal conflict and human rights abuses in Latin America. Trócaire’s response to violations in Chile, Nicaragua and El Salvador defined its commitment to human rights work.
In El Salvador, the violent repression of farmers, students and church leaders by death squads acting under President Arturo Molina’s government drew Trócaire into one of the most dangerous emergency-relief programmes in its history.
The late Sally O’Neill, Trócaire’s Regional Manager for Latin America, recalled being in San Salvador. They were brought to a ravine where three bodies lay, still warm and wet with blood, their hands bound. One of the victims, a woman, was still alive.
While conflict took hold of Central American states in the 1980s, public attention shifted to Ethiopia, where famine killed almost one million people in 1984. Irish people donated £11.8 million to relieve famine in Ethiopia and the surrounding countries.
In 1991, Somalia was plunged into hunger, disease and conflict. There was no government, no local organisations, no infrastructure and a total collapse of institutions. We launched a £1million appeal to aid people inside Somalia. This money allowed us to rebuild clinics, schools and water sources. Today our Somalia programme is reaching over 220,000 people.
In 1994 there was the Genocide against the Tutsi, at least 800,000 Tutsis and thousands of Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists. Staff in Rwanda reported horrific scenes. Emergency Officer at the time, Mary Sweeney, was caught in crossfire as she returned from a hospital. She said: “I saw children as young as four or five with serious machete wounds. I spoke to women and children who had been badly injured, many missing limbs.” Trócaire was inspired by the determination of Rwandan people to pick up the pieces of their broken country. Our supporters shared Rwanda’s resolve and raised £6million to help the country rebuild. Trócaire developed projects in agriculture, health, trauma-counselling, education, community development, women’s development and human rights. Our medical programme served 200,000 people in southwest Rwanda.
In the new millennium, Trócaire joined the Jubilee 2000 campaign which led to reductions in debt for some of the poorest countries. But a number of catastrophic natural disasters reminded the world of their vulnerability.
On St Stephen’s Day 2004, the Asian tsunami killed over 250,000 people. Over the course of one-month Trócaire received a phenomenal €27 million in public donations.
A new issue also influenced our work in the new millennium: climate change. Communities we support are struggling to grow food in increasingly drought-prone conditions. Rainy seasons have become shorter, dry seasons, longer.
The effect of climate change came to a head in 2011 as drought swept East Africa and Somalia was again plunged into famine.
In more recent years Trócaire has responded to Cyclone Ida which hit Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019. And in the last year Trócaire has been responding to the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa including Somalia, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Currently, Trócaire is supporting its partner Caritas Internationalis in its response to the Syria Turkey Earthquake, with an appeal to the Irish public.
Much of Trócaire’s work today involves developing ways for rural communities to cultivate their parched land, while demanding that rich industrial countries acknowledge their responsibility for the problem.