Dear Members and Supporters of Comhlámh,
We are very grateful for your ongoing support, encouragement and community, which helped sustain Comhlámh during the difficult second year of the pandemic. The effects have had a deep impact across the international development and volunteering sectors, affecting all areas of our solidarity-based work.
Since the end of 2020, we have been considering how our work is situated within a rapidly changing, emergent context, and how we wish to respond to this. This has helped to reaffirm our commitment to development education/global citizenship education approaches across all our activities. In 2021, we continued to consider issues such as climate justice, inclusion, decolonisation, and resilience. These themes will influence how we engage with people in Ireland and internationally over the coming years.
During the year, we undertook a significant evaluation of our recent Irish Aid-funded work. The findings clearly show a strong need and demand for Comhlámh to continue to support volunteer-sending agencies into what could be a very different future, through the values-led volunteering promoted by our Code of Good Practice. A notable example of this values-based engagement was the campaign to end volunteering in orphanages, which we were proud to develop and launch in partnership with Code members towards the end of 2021.
Comhlámh also plays a unique role in supporting emerging modalities of global solidarity and active global citizenship from Ireland. While the pandemic temporarily halted international volunteer placements, members of the public remained interested in and committed to examining the links between local and global justice issues. Our training and education programme offered people new opportunities to dig deeper into the challenges that society is facing.
By supporting and encouraging learners to build skills, capacities, and dispositions, we aimed to cultivate sustainable activism. This was achieved during the year through a focus on an education process that works to build stamina, resilience and integrity for long-term global citizenship and activism.
The devastating pushbacks against people trying to seek international protection in Europe were ongoing in 2021, including a growing attempt to criminalise the humanitarian work of migrant solidarity responders. As the Irish Association of Development Workers and Volunteers, we expressed our deep concern at the situation unfolding at Europe’s borders and stood in solidarity with responders who are facing criminal charges for their humanitarian work. This was accompanied by work with partners across the EU to develop psychosocial supports for responders: at a launch to coincide with International Volunteer Day 2021, President Higgins referred to these as “a greatly important tool in enabling those who arrive on our shores in search of shelter and safety to look to the future with hope.”
Despite the difficulties posed by lockdowns, travel restrictions and limits on meetings, our member groups continued their crucial work. The issues they are focusing on were increasingly relevant during the pandemic, a stark reminder of the ways in which the very unequal distribution of power, resources, and wealth across the world links directly to our lives in Ireland. Vaccine inequality, women’s leadership, unjust global trade deals, the conflict in Palestine, how we welcome people seeking international protection in Ireland: our members and supporters have helped nurture and shape discussions about these issues at local, national and international levels.
During 2021, a number of our colleagues moved on: we were sorry to say goodbye to Gareth Conlon and Mark Malone, and happy to welcome their replacements, Julia Haimlinger and Aga Wiesyk. Another massive change happened at the end of 2021, when our colleague Sandra Byrne and our head, Mark Cumming, announced their departures. Sandra has left a strong legacy including the revised Code of Practice and her innovations on safeguarding and child protection. Mark led the organisation for over nine years – we are very grateful to him for his integrity, unwavering commitment to social justice, and belief in the importance of development education, which were so fundamental to shaping Comhlámh and helping to steer the organisation through the pandemic. Our sincere gratitude to Mark; and we are delighted to welcome his replacement, Caroline Murphy, who takes over from him in May 2022.
(Acting CEO, May 2022)