At this time of year, it is important that we remember the power of compassion, and the importance of those who choose to act in the face of suffering. Permit me to tell you the story of two nurses who were determined to never look away.
Beth Jackson, a nurse from Donegal, volunteered with Concern in Ethiopia during the devastating 1984 famine. The experience of witnessing such extraordinary suffering compelled her to do something more when she returned to her home town of Ballybofey.
With the support of family and friends in neighbouring Stranolar, she started the Twin Towns Action group. Over the years it has raised over €1m for those most in need around the world.
At the same time as the Twin Towns group was starting, I began my first job with Concern in the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. One of my house mates was Shelia, a phenomenal nurse from Cork.
Shelia went home after her assignment and I had not seen or heard from her since those early days — that is until last week.
Unexpectedly I got a Christmas card from her, telling me all her news. Like many of the nurses who returned to Ireland after working with Concern, she went into public health nursing, continuing the experience of community work.
What struck me most though was the fact that Sheila’s card did not have the usual Christmas greeting. Instead, it wished me a “Happy anti-racist Christmas”.
It reminded me that compassion knows no borders; it is not confined to a time in life, to one worthy cause or the other. It can be focused on particular groups, and in our line of work we focus on life in extremis — on those living at the sharpest end of hardship and survival.
But compassion is not a judgment of one over the other. It is not about either, or. It’s about a shared humanity.
Shelia and Beth, like most of us, inherently care about social injustice at home and abroad. It is this compassion, this impulse to help address the suffering of others wherever they may be, which is actually at the heart of who we are as a nation. We must never lose this.
We live in a world where conflict and climate change have pushed the number of people in need to unprecedented levels, where levels of intolerance are growing across Europe and the US, and where here at home a rise in homelessness, particularly in Dublin, has driven a record demand for services.
It is vital that we retain our compassion and our commitment to never look away.
The Irish public remains our biggest donor and enable us to never look away.
We never forget this and on behalf of Concern, I want to sincerely thank you, the Irish public, for your time, your engagement, and your generosity this year, and through the years. Your support is true solidarity in action, and for that, we thank you.
52-55 Camden St
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 20 December 2019.