History of Afri
1975 – 1980
Afri was founded on September 1st 1975 when Sean McFarren SDB called a meeting of a group of friends and initiated the organisation under the name Aid from the Republic of Ireland. Afri’s aims and objectives were to create awareness about the plight of the poor of the ‘Third World’ and to fund projects overseas, but also to be involved with the issue of poverty in Ireland.
1980 – 1990
The 80s began with a major re-evaluation of Afri’s work. Obstacles to development, such as the political and economic relationships between the developed world and the underdeveloped world and the arms trade, were identified. The following quote from Eisenhower was cited: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed’.
There was also an increased commitment to addressing poverty issues in Ireland (the Afri office was then located in the north inner city parish of Sean McDermott Street within a marginalised community). The International Conference on World Peace and Poverty in 1982 represented the launch of the ‘new’ Afri, now meaning Action from Ireland. An exhibition on the effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was purchased and displayed by Afri. The St Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign, a symbol of opposition to the arms trade, became a national campaign in schools throughout Ireland, having been instigated by young people in Derry and launched there by Sean MacBride in 1983.
Afri’s new approach involved seeking ways of linking issues in Ireland with issues in the Developing World, such as supporting the Dunnes Stores strike in 1984, when staff were sacked for refusing to handle ‘the fruits of apartheid’. Afri set up a meeting between the strikers and Desmond Tutu on his way to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which upped the international profile of the strike, as did a trip to South Africa by the strikers and their subsequent arrest and deportation. This extraordinary saga ended after nearly two years with victory for the strikers when the Irish government intervened and banned the importation of fruit and vegetables from South Africa.
The Afri newsletter Peacemaker was launched with an emphasis on poverty in Ireland and overseas. Afri was active in the campaign to oppose US President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policies (and protested his visit to Ireland) as well as the campaign for the release of Niall O’Brian and the Negros Nine from prison in the Philippines. During this period Afri also supported projects in Ethiopia, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, India, Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Guatemala, Philippines, and Chile.
Afri personnel took part in preparations for the UN decade on Women and attended the 1985 Nairobi Conference on that theme, while Afri also supported and organised visits to the Greenham Common peace camp.
We were active in the Nicaragua Must Survive Campaign and were involved in hosting the visit to Ireland of Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto and Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist Charles Liteky. During this period the television documentary ‘Arming Ourselves to Death’ was commissioned by Afri and shown on primetime television, and we also took part in the campaign to oppose ratification of the Single European Act on the grounds that it advanced European militarisation.
1990 – 1999
Afri’s Great Famine Project was launched to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the height of the famine in Ireland and continued through the 1990s with walks, exhibitions, publications and the marking of famine burial places throughout the country. Among those who took part were leaders of the Choctaw nation of American Indians whose ancestors gave a donation of $US170 for famine relief in Ireland. The invitation by Afri to the Choctaw was a way of expressing gratitude to the Choctaw for an act of generosity which happened only sixteen years after their own ‘trail of tears’ when half their people died following their forcible removal from their ancestral homelands in Mississippi. A plaque was unveiled in Dublin’s Mansion House during their visit to commemorate this event. Other participants in Afri’s famine project included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-war activist Brian Willson, leaders of the Maya people from Guatemala, and journalist John Pilger.
In 1992 Afri organised the visit of Oglala Sioux Indian, Joann Tall, and Brazilian Indians as part of the 500 Hundred Years of Resistance campaign. Joann Tall visited and planted a tree at the birthplace in Kilinkere in County Cavan of General Philip Sheridan, who had risen to the rank of General in the US Army and had been particularly brutal to her ancestors among the Plains Indians. She was welcomed by members of the Sheridan family, who apologised for the activities of their ancestor.
In the 90s Afri was active in the campaign to oppose the first US Gulf War and was also involved in the launch and support of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign, while supporting other campaigns such as that of the Debt and Development Coalition. Afri was also instrumental in setting up and funding Ogoni Solidarity Ireland, which focussed on the exploitation of the Ogoni people of Nigeria by their Government and the Shell Oil Company. Afri’s first Kildare Conference, now known as Féile Bríde (justice and peace conference), took place under the title ‘Brigid: Prophetess, Earthwoman.’ Afri staff went to South Africa for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela at the invitation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Afri supported organised exposure visits – mainly for activists on ‘Third World’ issues – to the North of Ireland. Following a conference entitled Militarisation and the International Arms Trade, organised by Afri and the Centre for Research and Documentation and held in Crossmaglen, Afri began to do research into the arms trade in Ireland. This resulted in the publication of the Links Report which identified, for the first time, companies based in Ireland that were involved in making components for the international arms trade. The report led to a campaign to end Irish involvement in this trade.
Following the collapse of the IRA cease-fire in 1994 Afri was involved in setting up and supporting The Table Campaign, which called for dialogue as the way forward. Afri also protested the JFK Warship visit to Ireland and the visit of President Bill Clinton. Afri organised events to highlight the continuing erosion of Irish neutrality, and hosted a visit by the Paez Indians from Columbia, to highlight the problems being caused by Irish company Smurfits on Paez land in Colombia.
1999 – 2004
The campaign to oppose Ireland’s involvement in NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ (PfP) involved public meetings around the country and a meeting with the Taoiseach at government buildings. Afri published a document entitled ‘Should Ireland join NATO’s PfP?’, which was widely distributed and read. Afri was also involved in the publication of Professor John Maguire’s book ‘Defending Peace’ and a ground-breaking report ‘What Price Peace’?, which looked at the growth of the arms industry in the North of Ireland in the wake of the peace process. We enjoyed a great success when we campaigned to oppose the military implications of the Treaty of Nice, which was rejected by the people (though accepted when cynically re-put to the people for a second time).
Afri also hosted a number of visits to Ireland by Michael Lapsley who specialises in the area of restorative justice, dealing with the consequences of trauma and violence and healing of memories, which led to a number of workshops in Portadown and Derry based on these themes. Michael Lapsley was also part of a human rights delegation, including Afri staff, which visited East Timor just prior to the election there in 1999.
A Just a Second campaign raised awareness about the arms trade by raising the equivalent of one second’s arms expenditure and using it to support projects promoting justice and peace. Afri’s Development Education programmes continued, introducing themes such as the negative effects of militarisation and alternative means of bringing about conflict resolution. Afri initiated the idea of a Hedge School in 2000, which took an ancient Irish educational format and applied it to the contemporary world.
2004 – 2009
The Afri Hedge School has now been established as one of our flagship events – a symbol of refuge and resistance to past and current oppressions. Among the contributors to the School have been former Irish President and UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. Music has been provided by Steve Cooney and Laoise Kelly together with the ‘Tower of Babel’ group (made up of students from among thirty nations represented at O’Connell Schools in Dublin).
The Hedge School has in recent years relocated to the Erris peninsula in County Mayo where a major conflict has been ongoing between the local community and Shell Oil Corporation regarding the manner of extracting gas and bringing it ashore in that remote but uniquely beautiful area. Themes such as ‘From Niger Delta to Erris Shore’ were taken up by speakers like Majella McCarron (a friend and co-worker of executed Ogoni Leader Ken Saro-Wiwa) and a presentation entitled ‘The Goat and the Flow Station’ in which Kevin O’Hara brought insights from over twenty five years of working to highlight the abuses caused by oil companies throughout Nigeria.
Choctaw tribal leader Gary White Deer presented the Second Choctaw donation to Ireland at a Hedge School, a gift of over €5000. The remarkable Sunny Jacob reflected on seventeen years in prison, many of which were spent on death row and in solitary confinement and how she maintained her strength of heart and ability to forgive throughout the long struggle to prove her innocence of the crime of which she was charged. In addition, Afri published The Price of our Souls (about the Erris issue) by Michael McCaughan and supported, with the French-based NGO Sherpa, a formal complaint against Shell on behalf of a local community group.
The Famine Walks during this period were led by, among others, Denis Halliday, Caoimhe Butterly, Brendan Forde, musicians Sharon Shannon and Andy Irvine, Owens Wiwa, Christy Moore and Erris activists Vincent and Maureen McGrath. Said El Bouzari from Morocco was also among the walk leaders highlighting the conditions of migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers, a theme which was continued in an Afri Easter Monday event which was called ‘Arrivals and Departures’ and featured a scene in which ‘Ireland’ welcomed the US war machine with open arms at arrivals, while simultaneously kicking out a vulnerable young African student through the ‘Departure’ gate which had been constructed outside Dáil Eireann. Sigma Huda, UN Rapporteur on human trafficking, also addressed the migration issue at Féile Bríde.
Susan George addressed Féile Bríde on the theme of her book ‘How the other Half Dies’. One reason why ‘the other half dies’ is as a result of lack of access to safe drinking water. Following a visit to Central America, Afri supported a project entitled ‘water as a human right’ in El Salvador. Among the coordinating team for the project in El Salvador was Therese Osborne, who wrote the following: ‘From the beginning, this project aimed at bringing the reality of ordinary people in El Salvador to the attention of ordinary people in Ireland, so that bonds of solidarity would be formed.’
We celebrated out 30th anniversary together with Comhlamh and Kimmage Manor at a gathering called ‘Solas’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also joined us for our anniversary celebrations during this period. Following the 90th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, which was marked by a display of military hardware by the Irish Government, Afri organised a contrasting commemoration called ‘A Show of Strength or a Show of Weakness’ in which we pushed a hospital trolley (symbolic of an under-funded health service) past the GPO.
Afri was approached by the well known comedian, campaigner and TV documentary maker, Mark Thomas to introduce him to a school with which he wanted to work on exposing the issue of ‘arms brokering’ in Ireland. Afri introduced Mark to Sr. Barbara Raftery and together we worked with Thomas and his Channel 4 crew as they filmed students from Scoil Chríost Rí in Portlaoise, who formed the ‘After School Arms Club’ to highlight the absence of legislation to control the arms trade in Ireland. The project was broadcast as an hour-long ‘Dispatches’ documentary on Channel 4. In addition we were involved in the formation of the Cluster Munitions Coalition in Ireland and have been supporting this campaign which resulted in a treaty to ban cluster munitions being agreed at an international conference in Dublin in May 2008. We also are members of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
Afri supported the Ploughshares Group as they went through three trials, following their action to disarm a US warplane at Shannon Airport in protest at the US war on Iraq. Their ultimate acquittal on all charges was a great victory, a source of encouragement and a cause for celebration. Another victory was the defeat of the EU Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in 2008 – Afri campaigned against the militarising and neoliberal elements of the Treaty.
Afri staff were invited to address the International Peace Bureau’s ‘Books or Bombs’ conference in Cairo. We published ‘A Decade of Betrayal: the Militarization of Irish Foreign and Defence Policy’ and our schools work continued with ‘education for liberation’ events for students throughout Ireland.
2009 – 2011
Afri recognises the extreme threat to our planet posed by the impact of global warming and climate change. We believe that this is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity and we lament the failure of Government’s – dictated to by Corporations whose only motivation is profit – to recognise and respond to this reality. We have added the term ‘sustainability’ to describe our priorities which now incorporate ‘Justice, Peace, Human Rights and Sustainability’.
The activities of Corporations, especially those involved in ‘resource exploitation’ continue to cause havoc throughout the world. For example, having supported the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta throughout the nineties, Afri soon found the issue coming home when gas was discovered off the west coast of Mayo. Quickly Shell’s familiar footprints were to be found all over the Erris peninsula as they attempted to trample the rights of another community into the ground. As in Ogoni, the local community rose up in resistance and the Rossport 5 ended up in jail for nearly 100 days as Shell attempted to bully the community into acceptance of their ways. As the numbers of marchers swelled on the streets Shell backed down and the men were released but the community continued to be demonised by Gardaí, Shell and the Irish State. Willie Corduff was beaten up by masked men in the Shell compound and Pat O’Donnell had his boat holed and sunk. Afri have been proud to stand in solidarity with this brave community in resistance and will continue to support them in the trying times ahead.
The theme of the 2009 Famine Walk was ‘Power concedes Nothing Without Demand’ and leaders included Willie and Mary Corduff as well as Philip Ikurisi from the Niger Delta. The introduction stated that the walk was a celebration of remembrance and resistance, ‘remembering those who are killed or injured in resource conflicts from Ken Saro-Wiwa executed by the State with Shell collusion in Nigeria in 1995 to Willie Corduff, beaten by Shell security with State collusion in 2009. In the spirit of Frederick Douglass, the famine walk will again issue its compelling and just demands of the forces of power – locally and globally- ‘Power concedes Nothing Without Demand – it never did and it never will’.
As Ireland began GM potato trials we highlighted the issue through information packs and by making it the theme of our famine walk.
More recently as the prospect of fracking becomes an ever more likely reality Afri has sought to help spread the lessons of Rossport to the people likely to be affected by fracking from Leitrim to Clare and other counties besides. We have also brought the experience of other communities such as the people of Bhopal in India to bear in this context. A meeting in Manorhamilton entitled ‘Bhopal – the legacy and the leaks; lessons for Leitrim’ featured two survivors of the Bhopal disaster telling of their experience at the hands of the ruthless Corporation know as Union Carbide. We also commissioned a film by award winning film maker Dearbhla Glynn on this subject.
‘Seeds of Hope’, written by Clare O’ Grady Walshe and edited by Dervla Murphy was published by Afri in 2010. The book outlines the growing threat to our right to have access to seed diversity and choice – as has been the case for thousands of years – without undue interference from government or the private sector. It argues that the activities of Transnational Corporations have to be curbed before farmers and consumers alike are denied their basic rights and that wars of aggression can no longer be used as cover for the rape and pillage of food sovereignty.
Having supported a ‘rainwater harvesting’ project in El Salvador we then developed a partnership with the Pastoralists Journalists Network on the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia in Northern Kenya. Abjata Khalif spoke at our hedge school in 2011 and we have worked with his organisation in promoting solar power, using local radio to challenge conflict in this very troubled area. This partnership continues.
BE THE REVOLUTION
John Monaghan of Rossport was among the speakers at the ‘Possibilities’ event organised by Afri, Children in Crossfire and Spunout.ie in April 2011. This event was attended by over 2000 people and was addressed by the Dalai Lama and Richard Moore as well as Rita Fagan, Ruairi McKiernan, Mary Robinson and incorporated music, dance, theatre, poetry and much more besides. It was a major achievement for three organisations to work together so successfully in organising an event of such magnitude.
As a Board member of the International Peace Bureau, Joe invited the IPB to Ireland for their annual meeting in 2012. They accepted the invitation and were also partners in our Hedge School that year, entitled ‘Joining the Dots: Disarmament, Development, Democracy’. The Sean MacBride Peace Prize was presented to two prominent women involved in the Arab Spring Lina Ben Mhenni who was present and Nawal El Sadaawi in absentia. We began a new partnership with the Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Network, whose founder and Director had attended our Hedge School in 2011.
We also organised the ‘Gathering of Solidarity and Challenge’ as well as ‘Ar Scath a Chéile: Sustaining Hope and Humanity’ in Glenamoy, Co. Mayo, in solidarity with the besieged community in Rossport, who were courageously standing up to Shell, the Irish State, the Gardai, private security and a range of spin doctors who were intent on forcing an unwanted high-pressure pipeline through the heart of their community.
We partnered with Benbo Productions in hosting two powerful productions written by Donal O’Kelly; Jimmy Gralton’s Dancehall and Fionnuala. The latter explored what happens when a ruthless multinational corporation such as Shell or Tamboran comes to town or country. A highlight was when ‘Fionnuala’ was performed at the gates of the Shell Compound as security watched on from inside.
A highlight of 2013 was the opening of the gates at Delphi Lodge to the Famine Walk. For the first two decades of the walk we had never approached Delphi Lodge, from where the people had been turned away in the Spring of 1849. It seemed like ‘the forbidden mansion’ and so we had begun or ended the walk at the edge of nearby Doolough. However, in 2013, we were contacted by Michael Wade of Delphi Lodge who invited us to end the walk that year at Delphi lodge. On a day of torrential rain, we walked to the gates of Delphi Lodge which were symbolically closed. Michael then opened the gates and welcomed the walkers “as should’ve been done all those years ago”. We carried names of people who had died on that walk in 1849 but also names of people who died of hunger in recent years. We entered the grounds and planted a tree and we also planted potatoes in an act that represented a moment of historic healing.
We invited the family of whistle blower Chelsea Manning to Dublin where they took part in a memorable meeting in Trinity College. The guest speaker was Gerry Conlon of the Guildford 4, who gave an outstanding speech – sadly one of his last public appearances – which can be viewed on our YouTube Channel.
We continued to support the people of Rossport and the Edinburgh Fringe award-winning play ‘Fionnuala’ , which dealt with this issue. Our Easter Monday event at the Dáil was entitled ‘Shamrock, Shame and Shannon’, and featured actors Raymond Keane, Dylan Tighe and Donal O’Kelly. The very dramatic tableau highlighted the obscenity of Shannon being used as a war-port for US wars of aggression around the world.
Among the highlights of 2014 was our hosting of Ireland’s first ‘food sovereignty assembly’ in Mayo on the eve of our Famine Walk. This felt like the completing of a circle – from commemorating the Great Hunger in Ireland, to linking it to contemporary issues of poverty and hunger, to examining the similarity of causes, to exploring solutions – which is what food sovereignty is about. We were delighted to work in partnership with ‘Food Sovereignty Ireland’ and Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology on this important initiative.
Another ‘completing of a circle’ was the opening of the gates of Delphi Lodge to the Famine Walk; for the second year in succession walkers were welcomed, as in 2013. But on this occasion a memorial to those who died on the original walk in 1849 (and those who continue to die as a result of hunger) was unveiled. It is now a permanent feature in the grounds of Delphi Lodge.
Our solidarity with imprisoned whistle-blower Chelsea Manning was expressed in a number of ways including the ‘Manning Truthfest’. This involved musicians, singers, artists and other Manning supporters going on a voyage to Wales (where Chelsea’s mother was born and where Chelsea spent formative years of her life) for a series of concerts, sessions, discussions and actions to highlight Chelsea Manning’s unjust imprisonment and to offer support and solidarity to her Welsh family. Solidarity through music, song, dance and theatre is something very special and the positive reaction of the family and supporters in Wales was a testament to the appropriateness of that form of solidarity
Achieving the significant milestone of our 40th anniversary was among the many highlights of 2015. We hope and believe that people and communities at home and throughout the world have experienced some benefit from the solidarity and support of so many people, channelled via Afri: our aim and our constant purpose over four decades. In doing so, we always attempted to remain true to our core values, to plough our own furrow and to act out of conviction and principle, even when it hasn’t been popular to do so. Afri’s ‘message’ is not an easy one, not one that tugs at the emotions or the heart strings, but one that advocates the urgent need for a radical change of direction in our world. All our work, in its many shapes and forms, is geared towards the same ambitious aims: tackling the scandal of war and militarisation and the refugee crisis that it creates; bringing an end to poverty and hunger and to our addiction to the fossil fuels that threaten our very survival and that of our planet itself.
2015 was replete with an extensive array of events all of which sought to educate, motivate, take action and raise awareness about key global-justice issues. Among the more satisfying elements this year was the work carried out over several weeks with students at Mount Temple school in the context of the Paris Climate Conference. Extraordinary work was done through workshops, seminars, music, song-writing and graphic harvesting, resulting in the making of a powerful short film by RoJ, which sent a clear and urgent message to world leaders gathering in Paris. A similar project was undertaken with páisti in Gaelscoil Cholmcille, based on the Pete St. John song ‘Waltzing on Borrowed Time’. These were inspiring experiences for all involved, which gave the lie to the idea that young people don’t care about the world we live in.
Another good initiative was the Food Sovereignty Proclamation which came about after the second Food Sovereignty Assembly organised by Afri in conjunction with Food Sovereignty Ireland in Mayo, on the eve of our Famine Walk. This initiative has brought a whole new dimension to the Famine Walk, which looks at causes, consequences and similar contemporary issues related to hunger. We focus on solutions to the corporate takeover of food through promoting locally produced food, whose primary aim is to feed people not to maximise profit.
The visit of Michael Lapsley, founder of South Africa’s Institute for the Healing of Memories, to Erris to facilitate a series of workshops was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition to provide support to the community there in ways beyond that already offered. It was an extremely interesting and intriguing experience for all of us who were involved, and feedback from the community seemed to justify our belief in the importance of this initiative. Another new departure was the publication of a booklet entitled ‘End the Scandal of Direct Provision’ written by ITB student Sakhile Heron during her internship with Afri. The issue of refugees and those caught up in the scandalous Direct Provision system was one we continued to pursue in subsequent years.
In 2016 Afri sought to rise to the many challenges that face people and planet against the backdrop of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising and the Proclamation’s bold assertion of the right to sovereignty as well as to cherish the children of the nation equally. Cherishing the children equally is ever more pertinent in the context of the growing crisis of homelessness here at home and the shocking experience of so many thousands of children forced to flee as refugees, often as a result of war and climate change. We must cherish not only ‘our own’ children but also those coming to our shores as refugees, some of whom end up trapped in the cruel limbo of direct provision. And sovereignty, in its true meaning of independence and freedom, is not only to be enjoyed by all global citizens – it also must apply to our seeds, our food and our energy sources.
A lot was done in the course of 2016 through our annual signature events and our educational programmes in schools, but an especially strong thread of collaboration with others ran through the year. One of Afri’s most important strengths is its ability to work with groups and individuals in a way that amplifies the impact of the action concerned. This is nowhere more in evidence than in the context of the gifted artists and musicians, most especially the inimitable Manning Street Preachers, with whom we worked throughout the year on a range of issues. The raw materials of the work of peace and justice are varied and sometimes surprising. They include: search engines and fossil fuel-free engines; Gortahork cabbage and heirloom squash seeds; Panama hats and Panama Papers; Bloomsday… but not Bombsday; birthday cakes and boycott calls; snake dances and taking chances; cellos, flutes, fiddles, pipes, guitars, amhrans, bodhráns and accordions.
All of our work is aimed towards achieving what Chelsea Manning explained as the reason for her courageous actions: “I wanted people to see the truth”; or, as was stated at Féile Bríde 2016, “living our way into new ways of thinking”. Perhaps one of the most important lessons of the year came from the head gardener in Glenveagh National Park, who said “the best way to conserve a seed is to give it away.”
It is appropriate to note how many of the campaigns we have supported came to fruition during 2017; such gains sometimes go unnoticed in a world that continues to face many trials and challenges. Who would have thought, for example, that we would be celebrating the release of the brave anti-war whistle-blower, Chelsea Manning? A legal ban on nuclear weapons was achieved through a campaign led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which Afri is a member. After a decade-long effort by ICAN, and 72 years after their invention, on the 7th July 2017 the United Nations formally adopted a treaty (The “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”) which categorically prohibits nuclear weapons. On a smaller but still significant scale, our solar lights campaign continued and was taken up by a second partner in Kenya – Development Pamoja. We released our Famine Walk CD, ‘Music from a Dark Lake’, fulfilling an ambition we had held for many years. Our ability to collaborate with others is nowhere more in evidence than in the context of the artists and musicians with which we worked over the years, many of whom are included in this CD. There were many other highlights in the course of our work in 2017 – among them the powerful words spoken by charismatic Walk-leader Donnah Vuma: “I am proud and inspired to be an Afri Famine co-walker with you all today; let us all continue to carry the torch for the whole world to see. Margaret Mead once said: ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
A four-month spell of sick leave in 2018, gave me, as Afri co-ordinator, a different and unusual perspective on Afri’s work. Among the valuable lessons learned during this period was a realization of the resilience of the organisation and the fact that Afri is not dependant on one or two people but that when necessary, other people step up, rally around and ensure that the work continues. In this regard, special thanks is due to Lisa, Nessa, RoJ, Larysa and Donal who not only ‘kept the show on the road’ but ensured that exceptional work was done during this period. Another significant and unusual event in 2018 was the fact that we moved office from 134 Phibsborough Road to 8 Cabra Road. This can be a source of upheaval in any organisation but it was handled with the usual systematic efficiency in Afri – special thanks again to Lisa, Marie and Larysa for this; and of course, to Rob, for 17 great years in 134! In our work we continue to tackle major themes and issues that confront us as a people and, especially those that confront and threaten our Planet. War and climate change are foremost among these but so also are the related issues of food insecurity and forced migration. The threads of these issues, and more, woven together, make up the tapestry of our year that was 2018. For example, Jimmy’s hall today, hosted by the Abbey Theatre, organised by Donal O’Kelly and supported by Afri and MASI addressed the realities of the deportation system as it operates in Ireland today. This was done in the context of a long run of Jimmy’s Hall, in the Abbey and was extremely memorable for anyone lucky enough to experience it. In relation to food insecurity, Afri has been instrumental in putting Food Sovereignty on the map in two regions in particular. Food Sovereignty is now part of the Geography curriculum in Maynooth University, where we were partners in the fifth Food Sovereignty event in 2018. Also in 2018, we joined with Feasta and GMIT in Castlebar to host a new initiative entitled ‘Food for thought’/Lón Intinn, which was billed as eve of Famine Walk, ‘Conversations on Cultural Resilience – Famine, Food, Energy & Culture’. Issues such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, climate action and food sovereignty were covered. This initiative arose as a result of a talk given by Joe to the Feasta AGM in 2016. In addition, we hosted a visit to Ireland by Nicola Peel, award winning environmentalist, filmmaker, speaker and solutionologist during which she participated in a series of meetings in Dublin, Longford, Galway and finishing up in the Eco Village, Cloughlordan, Co. Tipperary. Her talks focussed on the work she has done with communities in the Amazon since 2000. Our signature events – Féile Bríde, the Doolough and Carlow Famine Walks and the Hedge School – all linked to third level educational institutes in the relevant regions, attracted a combined audience of approximately 520 participants. The Hedge School was particularly successful in 2018. The theme was ‘Human Rights Activism’ and it reflected on 50 years of activism from 1968 to 2018. ITB Registrar, Dr. Larry McNutt, who was born and raised on the Donegal/Derry border made a link between the Civil Rights Movement in the North of Ireland, the US and the student uprising in Paris and elsewhere. We began work on ‘Lesson Plans’ for teachers to be used in conjunction with our excellent Resources: Exploring Global Issues Through Drama and Theatre; Pathways of Peace and Lessons from History. This work will be completed in 2019. We continued our ‘Just a Second!’ schools programme in secondary schools, funded by WorldWise Global Schools. We produced, with RoJ’s help, an excellent teacher training film, which was very well received. A teacher when asked to review it said it was an excellent resource and that ‘many schools would welcome sending it to their staff’. It would ‘also be good to use within teacher training colleges to introduce the idea of Dev Ed to trainee teachers’. Working with RoJ we produced a significant number of other films – including an interview with Sunny & Peter at Féile Bríde and a special film reflecting 30 years of the famine walk. These were uploaded onto our website and YouTube channel and provide a creative record of events and campaigns in which we are engaged. 40 years’ worth of Afri history, archived by Lisa and Marie Patten in 2017 was completed. Afri continued to work with our partners in Kenya to enable them to purchase solar lights for children, mid-wives and families there. Meanwhile, we continued to oppose PESCO and speak out in defence of Irish neutrality.
No one is too small to make a difference’, these concise but profound words from the inimitable Greta Thunberg pervaded and inspired our work in 2019. After decades in classrooms raising awareness about issues of global justice, human rights and climate change, it was heartening to see young people taking to the streets in such large numbers throughout 2019, while politicians and Corporations dither, delay and obfuscate, young people in Ireland and around the world got out on the streets and demanded action.
Such activity by young people was, undoubtedly, a highlight of 2019 but on the other end of the age range also was our work with Veterans for Peace members Tarak Kauff (77) and Ken Mayers (82) – following their arrest and imprisonment at Shannon Airport, because of their action aimed at highlighting the disgraceful misuse of that airport as a US military base. Our support for Ken and Tarak included organising a number of speaking events, at one of which €1000 was raised. They both also spoke and made a profound impact at our Hedge School in Blanchardstown in November.
We used every opportunity to highlight the fact that the Direct Provision system is ‘unfit for purpose’. This included a public meeting in Moville, County Donegal, organised by former Board members Rose Kelly and Donal O’Kelly and addressed by current Board member Donnah Vuma. We also made a submission on Direct Provision to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality. We hosted the launch of Clare O’Grady Walshe’s new book Globalisation and Seed Sovereignty in Sub Saharan Africa at the Law Library. This is a very significant contribution to the issue of Seed and Food Sovereignty and we are confident that its impact will continue to be felt in the years ahead.
In a similar vein we were pleased with the success of our two Food Sovereignty events in Mayo and Maynooth. In the process we’ve established a strong relationship with La Via Campesina through its European Coordinator Hanny Van Geel, as well as strengthening our partnerships with Feasta, the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology and the Geography Department in Maynooth University. The link with La Via Campesina was further enhanced when Hanny led the Doolough Famine Walk which has now entered its 4th decade. Other leaders were Oisin Coughlan of Friends of the Earth and songwriter Pete St. John who introduced his composition on Climate Change “Waltzing on Borrowed Time”.
Féile Bríde attracted a full house of over 150 people and our Hedge School had to be moved to a bigger venue due to the growing interest in Technological University Dublin (TUD), Blanchardstown. In addition, we officially launched an Afri Library in TUD Blanchardstown. We published our ‘Lesson Plans’ to be used in Schools alongside our educational resources: Lessons from History, Pathways of Peace and Exploring Development Education through Drama and Theatre. The Lesson Plans were well received and were used as the central core of our Teacher Training seminar in 2019. These Lesson Plans form one element of our awareness raising programme in secondary schools, funded by WorldWise Global Schools.
Our archives, incorporating over 40 years of Afri work, were accepted by DCU Library and are accessible there on request. Lisa and Marie Patten’s sterling work on these deserve special thanks and appreciation. Short films on human rights themes, made by RoJ on behalf of Afri, received nearly 20,000 views on our Youtube Channel. These included: ‘US Vets expose Government Complicity in War Crimes’, ‘A Human Perspective on Direct Provision’ and ‘Guardians…not Gardeners’ (filmed at Féile Bríde and promoting Biodiversity). We produced a postcard in opposition to the proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in the Shannon estuary, and opposition to this also featured in ‘Taste the Pure Drop’, a documentary made by RoJ and supported by Afri, looking at the issue of pollution on the Shannon and what we can do about it. ‘Taste The Pure Drop’ has since been added to the UN website in relation to their sustainable development goals. We continued to work with our partners in Kenya to enable them to purchase solar lights for children, midwives and families there.
2020 started off like any other – we sent out our Peacemaker newsletter, material for our ‘Brigid’ schools campaign and prepared for Féile Bríde, which came and went with its usual message of new hope and new beginnings. We had the Carlow famine walk and then everything changed as lockdowns, face covering, social distancing, PPE, flattening the curve and sanitising entered the lexicon and became the order of the day! The question then became how does Afri’s work continue in these challenging new circumstances. Things shifted quickly from working in the office to working at home, from meetings in person to meetings on Zoom and on Skype.
When Lisa suggested doing the Famine Walk online it seemed like an absurd idea but soon, it is no longer seemed like a strange or unrealistic concept. People have suffered from social isolation, sickness and sadly in some cases from the death of a loved one, during this period. But people also showed an admirable ability to adapt to new circumstances. Afri also showed dexterity and flexibility and became a ‘leader in the field’ in terms of working creatively online. Great credit is due to members of the Board for their support but especially to Larysa, who worked from Belarus for a number of months and RoJ, both of whom showed tremendous resilience, flexibility, and commitment throughout this whole period. We also acknowledge the contribution of Ruairi McKiernan who lent his considerable technological and social media skills to Afri for several of our events and activities
Another eventful and challenging year passed, book-ended by a pandemic at the beginning and Europe’s latest war soon after its end. The hope that many people held that the pandemic would provide an opportunity to stop and think and choose a different path was shattered by the news that another war had started following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. That the invasion came in the wake of unprecedented NATO expansion and build-up of weapons and has resulted in a proxy war between two nuclear-armed ‘superpowers’ is a deeply alarming development. The fact that the response of many in Europe, the US and indeed Ireland to this horrific war has been – not to work towards de-escalation and disarmament – but to prepare for more war, is disturbing beyond belief.
But despite the grounds for despondency in face of the threat of war and climate change, we must take heart from those who continue to resist war, to work for peace and to point us in a different direction, people like our wonderful patron, Desmond Tutu, who sadly passed away at the end of 2021. What an example he was of maintaining hope in the face of despair. Living through the darkest days of the iniquitous apartheid system in his own country, he nonetheless always chose the path of peace and celebrated the goodness and courage of people, seeing the beauty of our world despite all the problems that beset it. All of us who knew him in Afri were privileged and it was an honour to have had him as our patron for many years. We organised a memorable and very special online tribute in his honour and we will continue to draw on his example and his inspiration in the years ahead. In the context of the bleak global situation, Afri’s work continued and took on added significance as the relevance of themes we’ve worked on for many years became ever more glaringly obvious and critical; militarisation, war and climate change and their twin progeny of forced migration and hunger. A significant initiative in 2021 was the launch of the Downpatrick Declaration by Nobel peace Prizewinner Máiréad Maguire. This declaration, signed by leading peace activists in Ireland, North and South and in Britain, reminded the Irish and British Governments of the commitment they signed up to in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to use ‘exclusively peaceful means of differences on political issues’. Sadly, both Governments have failed spectacularly to live up to these commitments. Afri will continue to work all the more urgently to eradicate the war industry from the face of the planet; to tackle climate change; to ensure that people are not forced from their homes and homelands and to address the real needs of people for food, clean water, health care and education. It is in this context that our work of awareness raising, campaigning and education remains so important.