Concern Worldwide has paid tribute to the extraordinary generosity of the people who have helped in its fight against global hunger and poverty over the past 50 years.
Founded in 1968 in response to devastating famine in the breakaway state of Biafra, Nigeria, Concern is now one of the largest international aid agencies in the UK and the biggest in Ireland.
A special reception was held in Dublin last night, where Irish President Michael D Higgins acknowledged Concern’s extraordinary contribution to overseas humanitarian aid spanning half a century.
President Higgins said: “Through your work you crafted a vital bridge between the Irish people and some of the poorest people in our world.”
“I would like to thank Concern most profoundly for all that you’ve achieved not just for the work that you’ve done but for the work you continue to do. It is so important.”
Concern UK’s Executive Director Rose Caldwell, who’s from Co Antrim, paid tribute to the incredible generosity of the public who have helped the organisation to reach many millions of people since its foundation.
She said: “The response of the public to help others facing war, famine and disaster has been remarkable. It’s that extraordinary generosity and open-heartedness to act to alleviate the suffering of others and improve their lives that has sustained Concern over the past five decades.”
From the beginning, a group of volunteers, led by a young Dublin couple, John and Kay O’ Loughlin Kennedy, had a bold, inclusive vision that brought supporters from all backgrounds and corners together.
Their efforts opened a new chapter of ambitious humanitarian relief that was both compassionate and professional, supported by communities and volunteers. In the first year alone, they raised the equivalent of £3.5 million to send a ship-load of vital supplies to the starving population of Nigeria in what was the largest relief operation to ever come out of Ireland at the time.
The vessel, Columcille, set sail from Dublin Port on September 6, 1968 and arrived off the coast of São Tomé 23 days later, where pilots flew consignments of aid into the war-torn country which helped save thousands of lives.
Karl Vekins, who was among those who attended last night’s event, was just 16 when he spotted the ship at the quayside and decided to join the crew as a cabin boy.
“I was intrigued and eventually I found out that they were looking for crew. I had just finished my Junior Cert and was just going to go on the vessel for six months and continue on with the Leaving Cert then. It didn’t quite work out like that!” he recalled.
“The people who set it all up were so farsighted. Can you imagine nowadays? Just going out and buying a ship, loading it with cargo and bringing it down to West Africa. It was an incredible experience.”
Concern has a number of events planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the organisation including an event at Stormont in May and an international conference on conflict in Dublin in September.