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As we mark the halfway point of this milestone year in Concern's history, CEO Dominic MacSorley reflects on his recent trip to Haiti to thank staff for their tireless efforts.
We are now more than halfway through 2018, a year where Concern has been marking 50 years in operation. What started as a small volunteer-led response to famine in Biafra has grown into an organisation that reached 27 million people last year.
That’s an incredible achievement but it would not be possible without the dedication of the thousands of staff who have worked at home and overseas with Concern over these decades,
When we started this year I was determined to use the occasion of the 50th not only to reflect and plan for the future of Concern, but also to visit as many of our teams overseas; to celebrate their achievements, to listen to their concerns, and to recognise the longest serving male and female staff members in each country.
Louise Supple, our Director of Human Resources, is travelling with me on this tour and she is taking the opportunity to have focused discussions, in particular with female staff, about gender, equality and safeguarding on the country level.
Last month, I began by visiting the Concern team in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Our sole country of operation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has suffered more than most small nations. It has not only been rocked by hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and drought but also by poverty, violence and a lack of access to food, water and education.
It was a difficult, tragic and extremely challenging time but it was also incredibly inspiring to see the resilience and the community spirit of the ‘first responders’ – people with little reaching out to those with less. My first meeting with the Concern Haiti staff, who were survivors themselves, was in the courtyard of the office. I didn’t need to ask if they were ready to start work, they had each showed up wearing their Concern t-shirts.
In 2016, Haiti was struck again, this time by Hurricane Matthew, and again our teams kicked into action. When I visited that time I was accompanied by Nellie Kingston from our SURGE team, who led our response.
Five hours behind Ireland, I remember clearly Nellie interrupting our conversation for a few minutes to talk to her kids at home on Skype, reassuring them that she was OK and she was then straight back into the conversation with me.
It struck me, as it has so many times, how working parents somehow switch in and out of parallel lives, multi-tasking across time zones.
Haiti may be defined by natural disaster but our work goes beyond emergency response. It is the site of some of our most innovative programmes, particularly our urban programming. In the notoriously violent slum of Grand Ravine, teams are deeply embedded to ensure we reach the most vulnerable sections of the population and to help improvement the living environment of neighbourhoods in the area.
This pioneering urban resilience building work has been recognised for its ingenuity and effectiveness and when I visited the team, they spoke about their ambitions to expand on the programme’s success, assuming we could access additional funding.
Sadly, Haiti is not a priority country for development funding and many organisations are struggling to keep their operations running, but in my meetings with UNICEF and the European Union, they signalled that Concern’s hard earned reputation has put us in a great place in the country going forward.
That is essential, because some of these communities have an incredible amount of obstacles to overcome and long term development investment is needed in order to build resilience to the many shocks they face. It was heartening to meet with the Haiti staff who are carrying out this work, to see a team that seamlessly transitions from development programming into emergency.
That dynamism embodies the dual mandate of Concern- to respond to humanitarian emergencies and to work with the poorest of the poor. In that respect, it was the perfect place to start.
Keep up to date with Dominic and his tour of our overseas offices on Twitter.