About Us

 

With over 40 years of experience, Comhlámh supports people through their journey in international development work, both as development workers and volunteers. Volunteering plays a key role in strengthening civic engagement, promoting social inclusion, deepening solidarity, building resilience in the face of multiple humanitarian challenges and ensuring widespread participation in development.

 

We believe there is a greater need than ever before for ordinary citizens and people’s organisations, to become critically involved in the thinking and action needed to plot a new future by testing out alternative models of development and ways of living.

 

 

Who We Are

Comhlámh was set up in 1975 by Irish returned development workers, who defined the organisations principle objective as, “to enable persons who have rendered services overseas in developing countries upon their return to Ireland to bring to bear their own particular experience in order to further international development co-operation.”

Membership was subsequently extended to all those who see their work in a global perspective and support our aims.  Comhlámh members have always seen overseas development work and volunteering as part of a broader commitment to global development and solidarity. Many of the causes of global inequality, poverty and oppression have their origin in the industrialised countries and can be addressed by education and action.

Comhlámh now considers the stakeholders that we work with as our community, which is made up of our members, development workers, volunteers, volunteer sending agencies  and those interested in development and global issues.

 

 What’s Our Community

Our community is made up of our members, volunteers, development workers and volunteer sending agencies.

Members of Comhlámh pay an annual membership fee because they believe in, actively engage, deliver and support the work of Comhlámh. Members are typically volunteers, returned development workers and activists who believe that the causes of global inequality, poverty and oppression have their origin in the industrialised countries and can be addressed by education and campaigning.

They see continuous engagement as an essential element of the volunteering continuum and draw on their personal experiences to fuel that engagement. Membership benefits include copies of publications, events and discounts on courses and events.  Members can also be those seeking a career in development, students studying development issues or other courses with application in a development context.

 

 

Volunteers – are people who are making the informed decision to work overseas for a period of time, from days to years, in a voluntary capacity.

We assist volunteers to:

  • learn more about overseas volunteering, global justice and development issues
  • meet and network with other people; and
  • up-skill and learn about how they can encourage more reflection on development and global justice issues amongst their family, friends and colleagues.

 

Development workers – are those people who have worked overseas in a professional capacity.

We assist development workers  to:

  • engage in post-return debriefings and other forms of one-to-one support
  • identify how the work for social justice and development  can continue ‘at home’;
  • network outside of their  workplaces;
  • nurture their own critical thinking around development
  • share their experiences with other like-minded people; and
  • think about their future direction post-return.

There is a broader constituency of people supportive of Comhlámh’s work and activities. They engage with us on development issues, global justice, social justice and human rights (for example 2,500 elink subscribers, attendants at the First Wednesday Debates etc).  They have the potential to become more engaged as part of our community and ultimately as members.

 

Thinking of becoming a Comhlámh member? Tap here.

Almost 1.3 billion of the global population of 6.9 billion live in ‘extreme poverty’, i.e. defined as living on less than 1.25US$ a day. Those deemed to be living in ‘poverty’, which is defined as living on less than 2US$ a day, number 4.9 billion.

 

That’s 71% of the world’s population living in ‘poverty’. Under the guise of the so-called ‘Washington consensus’, a neo-liberal model of development has seen a greatly reduced role for the state in advancing development objectives. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen at national, regional and global levels.

 

We live in a world were economic ‘common sense’ demands an aggressive deregulation of the market and privatisation of public services. Under the guise of free trade, agreements have been imposed on countries of the global south that have served to undermine the sovereign rights of these countries to decide their own development paths. Instead of states working to progressively realise the human rights of their citizens in line with their international human rights obligation, the state has, in many cases been in retreat.

 

The Great Recession of 2007, the quickening impacts of climate change and related complex humanitarian emergencies, rising inequality, the endless arms race, the ‘war on terror’, forced global migration, the rise of xenophobia are all pointers to a deeply flawed model of development. There is a need for alternative models to be brought forward that can bring about a just society, locally and globally. Models that refuse to compromise the sustainable future of the coming generations. An historic realignment is needed.

 

Never before has there been such a need for communities, ordinary citizens, people’s organisations, i.e. civil society, to be facilitated to occupy the critical thought-spaces  and collective action to discern a new future, and to test alternative models and ways of being. All this with a view to creating a sustainable, equitable, and just society, locally and globally.

 

 

 

We are motivated by the following values.

 

Critical voice

More than ever a critical voice is needed to challenge the stereotypes of the Global South and to question the dominant narratives of our time. We aim to be a critically reflective voice, speaking out on areas where we have experience and insights informed from experiential learning and partnerships with civil society in the Global South. We don’t have all the answers so we actively encourage people to question.

 

Authenticity / integrity

Society is crying out for integrity from all our institutions, whether public, private sector, not-for-profit or faith-based. We strongly believe in what we do: we work with conviction, in a manner that is open, honest and inclusive in our dealings with our partners and stakeholders. We aim to ensure what we do is in keeping with our values.

 

Social Justice

We strongly believe that the current eco­nomic model is unjust, oppressive and exclusionary and needs radical change. We commit ourselves to work for social justice where there is greater fairness in terms of outcomes in society, with a genuine respect for diversity and greater popular participa­tion in decision-making.

 

Equality

We believe that all are equal, but require differing supports to ensure effective par­ticipation in all aspects of society

 

Activism / empowerment

Society needs a critically engaged citizenry. We believe that we all have a voice and that with skilful facilitation and support, people can be helped to take action on the world about them. An active citizenry needs time for conscientization1 but also the skills and experiences of taking action. Through our rootedness in development education practice, we facilitate the agency of our members and the wider community of volunteers and development workers in our sector.

 

Diversity

We value the diversity of opinions and perspectives in all the working groups and membership groups we operate through: we believe in working slowly to ensure that all are heard and that decisions taken respect the views of all. We will redouble our efforts in the coming years to ensure that perspectives from migrants and refugees from the Global South inform our perspectives.

 

Independence

Civil society is under increasing pressures to dem­onstrate its legitimacy as a separate and independent space of reflection and action. Comhlámh provides such an independent space for reflection, discus­sion and action on any areas of work that members choose to engage with.

 

Nurturing

We have seen too much burn-out of committed vol­unteers and development workers: we are committed to providing a supportive environment and support­ing members and those we work with the skills and practices that will sustain them in their work.

 

Legitimacy (credibility)

At a time of great questioning of the legitimacy and credibility of not-for-profit organisations, we re-com­mit ourselves to the highest standards of governance, operating out of a culture of maximum transparency and openness and engaged with all relevant codes of practice on governance.

 

Sustainability

The current fossil fuel economy and the pursuit of endless growth are not sustainable: there is a need for a dramatic reduction in consumption in the Global North to prevent runaway damage occurring from climate change. We are committed to acting in ways that are congruent with this.

  1. Conscientization focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, reaching new levels of awareness of op­pression and becoming part of the process of changing the world.

Vision

Our vision is of development workers and volunteers working in solidarity for a socially just, equitable and sustainable world, locally and globally.

 

Mission

Our mission is to nurture, guide and mobilise development workers and volunteers to work for social justice locally and globally.

 

Objectives

 

Ojective 1 – Inform

Key Initiatives

  • Raise awareness of the potential of responsible, responsive volunteering to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs;
  • Engage with sectors of the public who are considering international volunteering to ensure they are fully informed about good practice in volunteering and can place their volunteering experiences within the wider context of global development;
  • Utilise the stories and testimonials of returned volunteers and development workers to deepen public understanding of the development agenda;
  • Develop the Code of Good Practice ‘Supporter Network’ across organisations in the Republic and Northern Ireland who will act as multipliers of our messaging on responsible, responsive volunteering;
  • Continue to develop and grow our online presence through innovative social media campaigns reaching out to targeted online communities;
  • Host key public debates and workshops on various development topics including the ‘First Wednesday Debates’ as a way to connect local and global development issues.

 

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh is recognised in Ireland as the leading voice on good practice in international volunteering;
  • Various online communities have access to critical resources on responsible volunteering allowing them to make informed choices about getting involved in volunteering.

 

Ojective 2 – Educate

We will provide training and education that support good practice in international development work and volunteering.

Key Initiatives

  • Develop innovative on-line courses to deliver pre-decision and pre-departure training programmes, including through collaboration with EU partner organisations;
  • Provide comprehensive pre-departure and post-return training for individuals and groups working and volunteering in the Global South;
  • Build the capacity of sending organisations to deliver pre-departure and post-return training, including through collaboration with EU partners and partners from host organisations in the Global South;
  • Develop new partnerships with third-level placement programmes (e.g. medical electives) to ensure those involved can situate their placement within the wider context of global development;
  • Strengthen and grow post-return development education courses that support the continued engagement of individuals in action for development.

 

Expected impact

  • We are recognised both nationally and internationally as expert providers of training and education for volunteers and development workers;
  • Our work with professional placement programmes influences and mainstreams good practice in how placements are set up and conducted;
  • Volunteers and development workers are equipped with the skills to continue their action for development when they come back from the Global South.

Ojective 3 – Support

We will lead the ongoing development and implementation of good practice standards for volunteer sending agencies (VSAs), to ensure responsible, responsive volunteering at all stages of the volunteer continuum.

Key Initiatives

  • Continuously reflect on and develop the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies, to include good practice identified by VSAs in Ireland, as well as international practice;
  • Manage a robust Code audit process that supports the demonstration of good practice by Code signatories;
  • Support organisations to improve their practice through continual progression in relation to Code compliance;
  • Engage with emerging VSAs to ensure that they are aware of the Code and supported to become signatories;
  • Coordinate training, capacity building, mentoring, and peer support for VSA staff in their learning and development on all aspects of responsible volunteering for development;
  • Grow the common voice of Code signatories to promote the role of volunteerism in the achievement of the SDGs.

 

Expected impact

  • The Comhlámh Code of Good Practice supports and leads Irish VSAs to implement responsible, responsive volunteering that places host communities at the heart of practice;
  • Tangible improvements are made to Code signatory agencies’ policy and practice, with growing numbers of signatories achieving Core Compliance and Comprehensive Compliance status

 

Ojective 4 – Nurture

We will provide a supportive environment for those we work with to help sustain them in their work.

Key Initiatives

  • Build capacity of VSAs to support their volunteers into active citizenship when they return from a placement;
  • Engage with relevant organisations from around the EU to learn from their practice with returnees, and to share knowledge from Ireland;
  • Identify and work with new groups of volunteers and development workers who are mobilising to address humanitarian issues emerging within the EU;
  • Protect the social insurance and public service pension rights of volunteers and volunteer development workers;
  • A range of supports including debriefing, critical incident debriefing, counselling and career services are sign-posted or provided to returned volunteers and development workers post placement.

 

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh services are promoted and accessible to all returned development workers and volunteers;
  • Comhlámh responds to emerging needs in a rapidly changing sector and provides innovate responses to needs as they arise.

 

Ojective 5 – Innovate

We will contribute to and lead the development of research, policy and practice on volunteering for international development, which will inform our advocacy work.

Key Initiatives

  • Collate an annual statistical overview of international volunteering from Ireland that provides a profile of volunteers’ work and identifies key emerging trends;
  • Coordinate Irish VSAs to promote the role of volunteers in achieving the SDGs;
  • Actively participate in the Forum-IVCO network, sharing and learning on good practice in international volunteering for development;
  • Contribute to the development and evolution of pan-EU initiatives such as the European Solidarity Corps and the EU Aid Volunteers Initiative, including through advocacy work with international partners;
  • Collate practice on the role of volunteering in humanitarian contexts, and advocate for standards of good practice in humanitarian volunteering within the EU.

 

Expected impact

  • Comhlámh is seen as the leading independent voice and source of information on volunteering for development/humanitarian work from Ireland;
  • Comhlámh coordinates common responses and position papers that assist Irish VSAs to advocate for the role of international volunteering in achieving the SDGs.

Ojective 6 – Activate

We will provide a dynamic space for our membership to take action for change on a range of global justice issues.

Key Initiatives

  • Inspire returned development workers and volunteers to join Comhlámh and become active in the association;
  • Support and facilitate member groups throughout the island of Ireland to progress their work on global justice issues;
  • Improve range of supports and secure budgets for Comhlámh’s membership groups to undertake the production of publications and resources, the running of development education courses and advocacy initiatives;
  • Organise social gatherings for members in Belfast, Dublin and other locations as opportunities arise;
  • Host the ‘Solidarity’ meeting space for development / country solidarity agencies active across a range of global justice themes;
  • Work to build linkages between our members’ activism and those working in Ireland on social justice issues.

 

Expected impact

  • Membership groups are actively raising awareness and engaging in development education and advocacy on a range of global justice issues;
  • Comhlámh is seen as a leading space within which people from the international development/humanitarian sector can come together and organise around issues of concern.

 

Over the years Comhlamh has had a major impact on a very wide range of activities.

  • Promoting responsible, responsive international volunteering through the development of a Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations. Over 40 volunteer sending organisations have signed up to the Code and an external external auditing process was developed to monitor implementation of the Code by signatory organisations.
  • Continuing to be the voice of development workers feeding into the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs to ensure that the social welfare rights of development workers are fully protected
  • Providing valuable, high quality support services to an increasing number of recently returned development workers and volunteers each year, which have assisted many individuals to overcome the challenges of resettling home and supported continued engagement with development issues in Ireland.
  • Acting as an important focal point for overseas development workers, volunteers and activists by providing opportunities and avenues for networking and staying engaged with development issues and action for global justice in Ireland
  • Holding workshops on issues including Trade Justice, Climate Change and its impact on developing countries, Overseas Development Aid, and Campaign planning
  • Supporting global justice activists’ education, campaigning and policy work through the successful development of the Bloom Alliance with the DDCI, LASC and the Africa Centre
  • Supporting people to discuss issues related to development with their TDs and MEPs, such as trade justice, the aid budget and climate change and ensuring that 6 out of 12 Irish MEPs are committed to speak out on trade justice
  • Producing resources to support teachers to tackle diversity and global issues with their students – including our Diversity through the Arts resource
  • Supporting teachers and their students to use images responsibly by producing Images of the Global South booklet
  • Producing Ireland’s leading magazine on global issues, Focus Action for Global Justice, with over 100 issues.
  • Produced 31 issues of the INDEX newsletter for the Irish Development Education sector to support critically reflection, discussion and sharing within the sector 2004 – 2012
  • Initiating the very popular and engaging public forum on development topics,’The First Wednesday Debates’ in Dublin
  • Seeing two of its activist groups develop into fully-fledged independent organisations: Banulacht and Integrating Ireland (now Integration Centre)
  • Starting the first fair-trade coffee and tea imports and sales
  • Standing a candidate for the Senate
  • Campaigning on mercury soap, apartheid, debt, trade, pharmaceutical multinationals, images on development, the EU Common Agricultural Policy, CETA asylum and refugee rights and more;

 

The next chapter of Comhlamh’s history is over to you!

Head of Comhlámh

 

Over the last 20 years Mark Cumming has worked in international development for a range of state, NGO and church development organisations. He has lived in Kenya and Rwanda, where he worked on community development and human rights programmes. Most recently he worked as an advisor on governance and human rights with Trócaire. Mark is a long-standing active supporter of Comhlámh since becoming a member 22 years ago. Contact him at mark@comhlamh.org

 

Volunteering Quality Officer

 

Sandra Byrne is the Volunteering Quality Project Officer. She facilitates the Code of Good Practice network of Volunteer Sending Agencies that are deeply committed to improving the standards of global volunteering, based on values such as solidarity, sustainability, partnership and equality.  Sandra offers capacity building support to the agencies through self-audits, review processes and training and mentoring initiatives. She also guides agencies who wish to become Code supporters. Sandra has a background in community development, human rights and child protection. She can be reached at sandra@comhlamh.org

Information and Support Officer

 

Ruth Powell is the Information and Support Services Project Officer.  She provides information to the general public about the diverse range of volunteering options accessible from Ireland.  She also provides support to returned volunteers and development workers through the variety of services that we offer.  Ruth volunteered in Mongolia with VSO, and Tanzania with UCDVO.  She completed her MA in Development Studies from Kimmage Development Studies Centre in 2010, and has been working at the Irish Aid Centre since 2012.  She can be reached at Ruth@comhlamh.org

 

Training and Education Officer

 

Sive Bresnihan is the Training and Education Officer. Her work includes the organisation and facilitation of training sessions for prospective Volunteers, trainings in ‘Be the Change’ and ‘Skills for Dev Ed’ and support for members groups. Sive started out in the field of Arts and Drama, before moving into the fields of development and, latterly, adult education. All these turns have shaped an ever strengthening commitment to non-formal education and organising as a force for change. She can be reached at sive@comhlamh.org

 

Volunteer Engagement Project Officer

 

Gareth Conlon is the Volunteer Engagement Project Officer (maternity cover), mainly working with volunteers and development workers on their return through hosting the Coming Home Weekends, the What Next courses, and supporting Volunteer Sending Agencies for the coming home part of their volunteer trainings. He can be reached at gareth@comhlamh.org

 

Programme Manager

 

Dervla King is programme manager, working on the delivery of Comhlámh’s strategic plan. A key part of this is ensuring that the organisation’s vision of volunteers and development workers working in solidarity for a just, equitable and sustainable world is reflected in all activities. Dervla works in particular with Project Officers responsible for the areas of volunteer engagement, volunteer quality, training and education, information and support, and research. She can be reached at dervla@comhlamh.org

 

Finance Manager

 

Elena García is the Administration and Finance Manager. Her role is to manage and develop the finance and administrative functions of Comhlámh in support of the goals of the organisation. She can be reached at elena@comhlamh.org

 

Organisation and Programme Support Administrator

 

Silvana Socci is the Organisation and Programme Support Administrator. She is the contact for all Comhlámh courses, membership enquiries and accounts payable and receivable enquiries.  She is also responsible for the office I.T. and general office administration. She can reached at silvana@comhlamh.org

 

Communications Officer

 

Mark Malone is in charge of communications within Comhlámh. He oversees branding and design, manages our online presence across website and social media platforms, traditional press work and audio-visual production. With a background in local/transnational social justice and grassroots campaign work and community organising, Mark has a keen interest in the use of communication tools and social technology for collective struggles. He holds a Masters in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism from NUIM. Contact him at markm@comhlamh.org

 

Communications Intern

 

Stella Legradi is the communication intern of Comhlámh and she supports the EC funded Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid project – EV4U program. She takes care of design, publishing and any digital multimedia, graphic or website design with social media support. She completed her degree in Digital Multimedia by the National College of Ireland and she holds a master in Diplomacy, Security and International Relations by the Tel Aviv University. Previously she was working in the refugee protection field in Israel, Palestine and Ireland. Stella can be reached at stella@cohmlamh.org

 

Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid – Project Officer

 

Áine Lynch is the Project Officer for the EC funded Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid project. As part of the European Aid Volunteer Initiative (EUAVI), her role is to support the capacity building of organisations, who are deploying and/or hosting volunteers and to build capacity in local and international volunteering standards. She completed her MSc in Humanitarian Action from UCD in 2011, has previously served as an EU AID volunteer in Tajikistan and most recently worked in Lao PDR with UNICEF. Áine can be reached at aine@comhlamh.org

 

 

BOARD MEMBERS

 

Ciaran Burns

Ciaran is a qualified Chartered Accountant with 25 years’ experience as a Finance Director.  He is a partner in Ardstone Capital, an Irish based real estate investment manager and developer with operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Germany.  Previously he worked with Friends First, GE Capital and KPMG in a variety of financial management roles.   He has worked as a volunteer with GOAL in Sudan and subsequently volunteered with the organisation in Dublin.  He is a non-executive director of several funds involved in real-estate investment.  He is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and member of the Institute of Directors.

 

Patrick Dempsey

Patrick qualified as a solicitor in 2006 in Dublin.  After a year of practising law in London, he left to study for a Masters in International Human Rights Law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway. He subsequently interned at the UNHCR Representation to the European Institutions in Strasbourg, before joining the World Food Programme as a consultant in January 2011.  He spent the next six years there in various different countries working in a number of different roles (including two years in Syria and Malawi during the Southern Africa emergency), with an eventual focus on cash and voucher programme management.  He is one of the co-founders of Ireland Says Welcome.   He has also volunteered with ‘A Drop in the Ocean’ in Lesvos.

 

John Durcan

John’s background is in the technology area, he holds an MSc in Data Science.  He is currently working with Enterprise Ireland as a Senior Technologist where he carries out technical assessments on the R&D funding applications, specialising in the area of machine learning. AI, Cyber Security and Blockchain. He is part of the Rapid Response Corps with Irish Aid as an information manager Officer (IMO).  He has been deployed to Bangladesh with the World Food Program (WFP) and the Global Food Security Cluster to assist as part of the Rohingya Crisis response team from October 2017 to January 2018.  He has worked with VSO in Eritrea for 3 months and Papua new Guinea for 7 months.

 

Marie-Therese Fanning

Marie-Therese worked as a Programme Manager in Comhlámh for approximately five years from 2005 and is currently working as the Office & Human Resources Manager at Misean Cara.  She has been involved in Comhlámh supporting development workers through debriefings and career coaching.

 

Michael Hanly

Michael  has worked for over 20 years in international volunteering and development including Concern Worldwide, Vincentian Lay Missionaries and currently Edmund Rice Development. He has experience in programme and donor management of NGO overseas programmes, strategic planning and organisational development. He is an active member of the Comhlámh Ireland Says Welcome group, and was previously a staff and board member of Comhlámh in the 1990’s

 

Lucky Khambule

Lucky  is from South Africa where he had a career in the insurance industry as an administrator and customer service manager. He was also involved in other community development with youth and the elderly. Currently he is an organiser, campaigner and activist for the rights of asylum seekers, migrants and refugee communities in Ireland. He is one of the founder members of the group called MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland. Lucky served in Cork City Council as Public Participation Network member on social inclusion in 2015.

 

Chris O’Donoghue

Chris  is a founding member of Serve in Solidarity Ireland set up in 2003. He has worked as a fundraising and events manager for SERVE.  He has a background in human rights and youth work with experience of international safeguarding training.  He has been actively involved in the Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies with Comhlamh since its inception and planning in 2006. He holds a BA in international studies from Kimmage Development Studies centre.

 

Morina O’Neill

Morina has worked in the development sector for over twenty years. Her work includes both development education and policy and research work over that time, including with Comhlámh 1995 – 1998 and 2002 – 2004.  Most of her experience has been with membership-based organisations. She has been a development worker in Central America and served on a number of Boards including the Irish Aid Advisory Board,  Fairtrade Mark Ireland and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland. She has also worked in a consultancy capacity with development organisations on strategic planning processes and evaluations.

 

Mary Purcell

Mary has a long track record with Comhlámh and a great deal of experience in international development and the management of NGOs. She has been associated with Comhlámh since the 1980’s after working as a volunteer development worker in India. Since then she has worked with Christian Aid, Trocaire, Irish Aid and Progressio Ireland in various capacities. She is currently teaching a Human Rights course in UCD and a Development Studies course in Ballsbridge College.

 

Ellen Regan

Ellen is a primary school teacher currently studying for a PhD, researching the life histories of Irish female international volunteers in the mid-late twentieth century in UCD.  She has worked in Malawi, India and Haiti as teacher trainer and education consultant. She also has experience of facilitating pre-departure trainings and leading student volunteering programmes.