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Aid workers overseas at Christmas: "I miss my family, but love my life in West Africa"

Aid workers overseas at Christmas: "I miss my family, but love my life in West Africa"
Story19 December 2022

Irish aid worker veteran Sinead Clear will spend Christmas over 5,000 miles away from home in Liberia – one of the poorest countries in the world.

The ace humanitarian has worked overseas in the sector for 17 years and has not been back with her family in Leixlip, Kildare for Christmas Day since 2018.

“I miss home, but love my life here in West Africa,” said Sinead, 41, from Liberia’s capital Monrovia where she works with the humanitarian organisation, Concern Worldwide.

“Thankfully, once there is good WiFi, I can video call family and friends in Ireland and have a good catch up.

“Many people celebrate Christmas here in sunny Liberia with some different traditions and sayings, such as ‘my Christmas on you.’

“There is a huge amount of important work to do and I am currently covering for a colleague as Concern’s Country Director, which means overseeing all of Concern’s operations in Liberia including our programme work.

Two women and two men smiling in group picture outside Concern office
Concern Liberia’s senior management team (left to right): Sinead Clear, Mathias Okoku, Joseph Odyek and Ciara Begley.

“It’s a very satisfying job in a beautiful country that does unfortunately have a lot of issues around extreme poverty and children being malnourished due in part to an economy weakened by 14 years of civil unrest, the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and the impacts of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on food and fertiliser imports.

“I’ve spent three Christmases already in Liberia, but this year I will take a quick flight with a Liberian friend to Ghana to explore and enjoy more of the region. The last time I was at home for Christmas was 2018.”

Sinead explained that she began her career in the humanitarian sector when she was a tourist in Thailand in 2005 after a massive tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean the previous year, which killed close to 228,000 people in 14 countries.

“My accidental entry into the sector followed the tsunami in Thailand while on a two-week vacation,” she said.

“I had to do something to help. I decided to join a volunteer organisation to support with the recovery efforts and ended up staying for two and a half years.

My accidental entry into the sector followed the tsunami in Thailand while on a two-week vacation

Sinead Clear - Concern Liberia

“I have since worked in Haiti during the hurricane response in 2008 and for the earthquake response in 2010.

“I also worked in Indonesia, South Sudan and Yemen and I had previously worked and lived in Liberia from 2015 to 2017 before returning in 2020 to work for Concern.”

Sinead said Concern – which is headquartered in Dublin - has been in Liberia since 1996 and is currently focused primarily on trying to improve Liberia’s growing food and nutrition crisis.

Tragically, 32% of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition (stunting or low height-for-age) and 71% suffer from anaemia, a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. 

A report this week revealed that 47% of households in Liberia are food insecure, meaning they cannot meet all of their food consumption needs.

Two women smiling in selfie
Concern Liberia's Country Director Sinead Clear with environmental assistant Alice Zazaboi.

Cooking fuel and petrol/diesel prices have increased by 40 to 60% compared to this time last year, and rice (the staple food) has increased by 15%

“Our work here continues because there are still so many in need of support,” Sinead added.

“No child or adult should ever suffer from hunger.”

Liberia, which largely depends on bilateral and development aid, has a similar population to Ireland ,with over 5.1 million people living in the country on Africa’s Atlantic coast.

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