It’s been 50 years since the horror of starvation in Biafra played nightly across black and white televisions in Ireland.
Fifty years since an ordinary Dublin couple, John and Kay O’Loughlin Kennedy, started Africa Concern in their living room and, in doing so, defied the odds to make a difference.
1968 was a very different time in Ireland, when only the church or state managed anything of scale and yet, despite having no experience, John and Kay mounted a fundraising campaign that went on to raise the equivalent of €60m.
That money channelled desperately needed relief supplies into the experienced and strong hands of those on the ground, people like Aengus and Jack Finucane whose courage and leadership went on to shape and build the organisation.
What John and Kay managed to do, and what the Finucane brothers continued to do, was to tap into the conscience and generosity of a nation that itself had experienced the brutality of starvation and conflict.
Their approach marked a move towards a modern Irish humanitarian response, bringing together public support and on-the-ground response and recovery, paired with a relentless focus on the poorest and hardest to reach.
To this day, it is the cornerstone of Concern’s work and it is what I learned when I joined back in 1982.
It is why I ended up in some of the toughest, most challenging contexts in the world, including Kosovo, Darfur, Rwanda, and many more.
In every one of these places, I have snapshots of people, faces and moments of time that sum up both the horror and humanity of war.
People like the incredible Martha, who I met in South Sudan.
One of 2m people driven from her home by the brutal conflict, Martha arrived at the Concern centre with her severely malnourished child.
With the help of our local staff, her youngest was healthy within weeks.
Martha went on to study at night, taking all the training available, and is now helping to run the centre.
I was there at a great time.
A peace agreement was in place and Martha and the team were able to leave the camp and join Concern’s 50th party.
Looking radiant in a long red sparkling dress, that evening she danced for the first time in years.
These are the people you take with you, that inspire you.
And today we need that inspiration.
In this, our 50th year, we are calling for a resurgence of humanity — one that challenges the politics of isolationism, of indifference and intolerance.
Humanitarian aid at its best embodies a very human response of love and care, a force for good against the cruelty and devastation of war and disasters.
The most powerful reminder of this force is the testimony of those who have received aid, recovered and rebuilt their lives and also, the people who have contributed to making that possible.
These include the thousands across every community in Ireland who support our work and people like Uzo, a keen runner, who ran the Dublin Marathon for Concern in 2018.
Uzo’s family originally came from Biafra and it struck me as a great example of the generational journey that Concern and Ireland have gone through.
Like John and Kay in 1968, and every person who has supported us this year and throughout the last half century, Uzo was taking a stand against indifference.
This year has brought home to me just how important our values are, values which are rooted in the Irish experience.
They have imbued us with a compassion and a confidence that others can overcome the scourge of conflict, hunger and poverty.
Fifty years ago, we believed we could change the world. We still do.