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Concern in Afghanistan
Man on Afghan road, photo by Siobhan Lynam
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April 4, 2008
In 2002, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS followed Dominic MacSorley of the humanitarian aid agency Concern Worldwide and the group entered the battle to feed the starving people of Afghanistan and to make a difference in the rebuilding of a nation. At that time we interviewed MacSorley about what brought him into aid work.

Now, six years on, he's Emergency Director of Concern Worldwide and THE JOURNAL caught up with him on a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

>Dominic MacSorley will be answering viewer questions on our Blog.

"While every emergency is unique, there are always comparisons that can be drawn with other emergency operations. One refugee camp, sadly, is very similar to another."--Dominic MacSorley
Read our 2002 interview with Dominic MacSorley and watch the story of Concern in Afghanistan, "After the War."

Dominic MacSorley, Congo 2007 Q: How did you get involved in aid work?

A: I grew up in Belfast. I come from strong medical family. Father was a doctor, Mother, a nurse; four brothers all doctors; two sisters nurses. I never seemed to know what I wanted to do, except that I didn't want to study medicine. So I drifted into law. I studied at Queens University, qualified and practiced as a solicitor in Belfast for two years. It was an interesting profession but at the age of 25, I wanted to travel, wanted to get out of Belfast, away from the troubles, the depressed economy, the conflict all around me. Like most young, people I just wanted to see more of the world before I settled down. I saw an ad in the local paper for Concern looking for volunteers to work overseas for two years and I applied. I really only expected to do the two years but became very interested in the work. Quite honestly, I felt I found my niche and so I never went back to law.

Q: How did your background in Belfast influence your work? Do you feel that you have a deeper understanding of the people you're helping?

A: Only later did I make the connections between what I was doing and where I had grown up. It's ironic in a way that I went overseas to get away from 'the troubles', conflict and prejudice of Northern Ireland...only to end up in more extreme situations of conflict overseas Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, Kosovo, Afghanistan. On one level now I see that I was drawn to those situations and felt that I had something to offer from my own experiences. It gave me a deeper understanding of the brutalities of violence and the impact that this has on ordinary peoples lives. It also reminded me that there are no quick fix solutions to ending conflict, it can take decades to end not just the fighting but to bring about a cultural and attitudinal change. Also, we realized the importance of engaging an outside influence to broker peace negotiations (e.g., the US role in Northern Ireland). Interestingly we are now using the experience of conflict management groups from Northern Ireland to work with Concern, with different communities in Kosovo.

Q: What was your first experience in aid work?

A: I joined Concern in September 1982 and began working in the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand. There were over 350,000 refugees housed in miserable conditions. Concern was conducting a wide range of health, education, construction and social programs. I was responsible for supervising the Youth Training Centre that provided skills training, sports and education opportunities for the youth in the camp. It was the only project of its kind in the camps. It was a great experience. Concern stayed working with these refugees for the 15 years that they stayed in the camps and assisted with the repatriation program when they finally went back to Cambodia in the early 90s.

Q: Tell us about the organization Concern.

Concern Worldwide is an international relief and development organization, working in 29 of the poorest countries of the world. Concern is best known for its immediate emergency response capabilities and its long-term commitment to those most in need.

In conjunction with local communities, Concern's 2,500 experienced personnel implement a wide range of emergency relief and long-term development programs including food security, water and sanitation, credit and savings, agriculture and forestry, primary and adult education.

The recent 2002 emergency operations Concern has responded to include: food distribution and earthquake response in Afghanistan; emergency shelter in the aftermath of the volcano eruption in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo and famine relief in Malawi, southern Africa.

After my 20 years with Concern, I think what has kept me committed and loyal to Concern is its commitment to reaching out to the poorest people and our people are prepared to work in the most difficult of circumstances with poor people and our response to each emergency is unique to that situation, be it famine or war or natural disasters and the response to people is in a caring and very personalized manner, which is respectful of their well-being and dignity. Concern is also very strong on managing its funds in adherence to professional accounting standards with accountants in each field of operation. It's important to demonstrate our commitment to financial accountability to our donors and supporters and also our project beneficiaries. I like that all of our staff are mindful of delivering aid in a caring, but very efficient and effective manner. I guess what is first and foremost in my mind is I sign on to Concern's ethos which is based on a respect for the integrity, dignity and development of all peoples with whom we engage.

Q: Where else have you worked?

A: I have also worked in:

  • Thailand 1982-85
  • Sudan 1985
  • Thailand 1986-87
  • Somalia 1987-88
  • Cambodia 1991-94
  • Vietnam 1994
  • Rwanda & Democratic Republic of Congo 1994-97
  • Burundi 1997-98
  • Kosovo 1999
  • Afghanistan 2001-02
Q: Can you/should you compare those situations with Afghanistan today?

While every emergency is unique, there are always comparisons that can be drawn with other emergency operations. One refugee camp, sadly, is very similar to another. And regardless of the location, the level of services, they are unnatural. In human environments that strip people of their freedom and self esteem, one hungry child will display the same symptoms as another. But Afghanistan is unique in that its unenviable position as the world's poorest country has come about as a result of a combination of man-made and natural disasters. It has escaped few calamities 23 years of civil war, four years of drought, recurrent earthquakes, the entire population of women repressed and victimized, no proper functioning medical or educational services.

Afghanistan has also received much more media attention (post September 11) than many of the emergencies that we have been involved in, where hundreds of thousands of lives are lost or severely threatened. Be it an earthquake in India, famine in South Sudan, the years of civil war in Burundi, sadly, many of these emergencies do not get the attention or resources that they equally deserve.

>Read more.

Published on March 4, 2008.

Photo by Siobhan Lynam.

Related Media:
Sarah Chayes
Sarah Chayes, author and former journalist who has been helping rebuild Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime, with a look at the front lines of America's war there.

Christian ParentiChristian Parenti
Journalist Christian Parenti, just back from his fourth visit to the forgotten frontline, speaks to Moyers about the growing influence of warlords in government and the resurgence of the Taliban (June 8, 2007)

References and Reading:
Concern Worldwide
Concern Worldwide is a non-governmental, international, humanitarian organisation dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries.


BBC News In Depth: One Day in Afghanistan
"The BBC News Web site reported in detail on events in Afghanistan throughout one entire day back on 2005, in order to try to convey the fullest picture we could of life there ahead of parliamentary and local elections."

UC Berkeley Library: Afghanistan and the US
The Library at UC Berkeley has compiled a large number of Internet resources regarding many aspects of life and politics in Afghanistan, including: political parties and groups, rebuilding Afghanistan, voices of peace, effects of the recent war and the Taliban.

"As President Bush pledges another $10 billion to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, and a spring offensive is expected against a resurgent Taliban, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sam Kiley reports from the frontlines of the conflict, where dual battles are being fought to win the trust of the Afghan people and combat the extremists living among them. In the film, Kiley and his crew are granted unprecedented access to the outgoing British NATO commander David Richards who led 37,000 troops from 37 countries."

Center for Strategic and International Studies: "The Uncertain Metrics of Afghanistan (and Iraq)" (pdf)
By Anthony Cordesman, May 18, 2007.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is "a bipartisan, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C" that "seeks to advance global security and prosperity in an era of economic and political transformation."

Also This Week:

THE JOURNAL takes viewers on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to follow aid workers and local relief efforts that are bringing hope to a forgotten land. "The aid agencies are almost substituting for a social welfare system that hasn't operated in these areas for decades," says Dominic MacSorley, Emergency Director for Concern Worldwide, an international aid organization.

Dominic MacSorley answers your questions on our blog.

View a slideshow of images from The Democratic Republic of Congo by noted photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale. Also, delve into the history of the troubled land — a country almost one-fourth the size of the US.

Bill Moyers talks with the president of Bread for the World about the challenges of combatting hunger. Plus, online resources for aiding the hungry.

In 2002, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS followed Dominic MacSorley and Concern Worldwide as they aided refugees in Afghanistan. Watch the full program online.

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