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.
Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley visits staff in Haiti. Photo: Concern Worldwide
More than just a cake
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,
Celebrating staff overseas
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.
Two decades of service : Recognizing the longest serving staff members with @Concern Haiti, Maculeau first joined the team in 1998-I stay because I trust the work of the organization ... pic.twitter.com/qBkQZ78ncR— Dominic MacSorley (@aidwkr) June 29, 2018
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.
First stop Haiti
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.
Starting with Haiti- Meeting with as many of our teams on the ground is a key part of the #Concern50th anniversary. Im updating updating them on key organizational plans but mostly I came to listen and say a huge THANK YOU to the @Concern Haiti 🇭🇹 team pic.twitter.com/UURwNOIOok— Dominic MacSorley (@aidwkr) June 29, 2018
Memories of crisis
There is a special feeling you get when you land in a country that you have worked in, especially when it was during one of the worst crisis in its history. I still have vivid memories of arriving in Port au Prince with Ed Kenny and Susan Finucane in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
Delighted to be here with @AineFay53 , last time we were in Haiti together was as part of the earthquake response team. Many of our Haiti staff from then are still with us. In a country that is frequently hit by natural disasters, this was by far one of the most devastating. pic.twitter.com/YKQWYPXZkD— Dominic MacSorley (@aidwkr) June 29, 2018
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.
Katya, our communication officer & Jean Francois from the finance department survived the earthquake, showing up the next day at the @Concern office (fortunately remained intact) to get back to work. Extraordinary dedication & commitment during extraordinary difficult times pic.twitter.com/Jd7cQBSH7N— Dominic MacSorley (@aidwkr) June 29, 2018
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.
Everywhere in @Concern there are people such as Maculeau & Annette who have dedicated their talents and energy in some of the toughest parts of the world for the betterment of others @Concern 50th anniversary #livingthevalues pic.twitter.com/DTQGPIyupp— Dominic MacSorley (@aidwkr) June 29, 2018
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.
Concern’s dual mandate
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.