Offaly charity campaigner Ronan Scully has said people from Offaly and the wider Midlands continue to give generously to the Self Help Africa cause.
The organisation is hosting a Christmas Extravaganza Concert taking place on December 4 in The Tullamore Court Hotel and a number of church gate collections in Westmeath on the weekend of November 23/24.
On a recent trip to Kenya, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Ronan was joined by Vincent Cleary, owner of Glenisk Yogurt, businessman Paul Galvin and Self Help Africa CEO, Ray Jordan.
"We had the chance to trace the roots of the strong links that Irish farmers and Irish businesses have with Self Help Africa and, in particular, the support from farmers in Co Offaly, Co Westmeath and the Midlands when we visited communities that benefited from some of the very first activities that Self Help Africa undertook in Africa, with the backing of Irish farmers, more than 30 years ago.
"Agriculture was and remains vitally important to the lives of people and to the economy of Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and indeed to all of Africa. Nearly everyone you would meet depends on agriculture for their very survival. All visitors in the group noted the huge potential in farming and the transformational impact that it could have on millions of rural poor people who were born on the land.
"One highlight from the recent trip was when we met with representatives of the Kerringet Creamery Cooperative Union, a dairy and horticultural cooperative that traces its origins back to the '80s, when the Irish public, through the IFA and Irish Aid, supported communities affected by drought.
"Irish farmers responded by organising a shipment of 2,000 tonnes of seed potatoes to farmers in Ethiopia and, through the work of Self Help Africa, subsequently backed horticultural and irrigation projects in the same region of the country. Thanks to vital support from Self Help Africa throughout the years, the Kerringet Co-operative is now working with 10,000 local farmers, a lot of them women farmers, giving them access to markets and better prices for their produce.
"Today, Keeringet has its own processing, creamery, packing and transportation systems, sells milk and yoghurt and other dairy products in regional and national markets."
Ronan continued: "The vital role that Self Help Africa, through support from the Irish public like the many people in Offaly, Westmeath, The Midlands, the Irish Government through Irish Aid, the Irish Farmers Association and Irish business people, has played in transferring knowledge for the purpose of improving farm productivity is hugely impressive.
"It really is an illustration of the saying in action, that you should teach a person to fish rather than give them a fish. This is one of the reasons we are so thankful for this support from the people of Offaly, Westmeath and throughout the country that have held similar church gate collections and fundraising events during the year.
"I have worked almost all my adult life for charities whose role is to end poverty and suffering in poorer parts of the world. Many of the places I have worked and lived in – from Africa to Asia - during the last 27 years since I left my beautiful country of Ireland, make for a depressing read.
"Most if not all of the people, families and children I worked for and with along with my amazing colleagues in Self Help Africa lived below the poverty line in the slums, shantytowns that line the roads of many of the countries. The rush to the big cities is one of the biggest challenges facing Africa nowadays: with little prospects in their rural village, many young people leave the land and head to the cities in search of a better life.
"The fact is, they often end up living in slums, struggling to find work, and barely earn enough to survive. Through its work in rural Africa, Self Help Africa gives youth and families the opportunity of a brighter future right where they were born, on the land. We give them the skills to make their farms more productive, and to earn a living from their work, meaning they can provide food for their own family but also for the whole country.
"However, there are challenges. As we enter into the 11th month of 2019, the picture is difficult to watch, as rural poor communities, in the likes of Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda, Malawi and many parts of Africa, endured some of the toughest times they have experienced in many years particularly because of climate change and some political and internal unrest.
"The reasons for this are complex, but put simply, a combination of devastating floods and unseasonal droughts and unrest in East Africa which has left close to 25 million people in need of food assistance. Both local commentators and international observers blame the current crisis on global warming, and the inability of rural poor and vulnerable households to adapt to the impact of changing climate on their ability to produce the crops that they need to put food on the table, from one month to the next.
"As anyone who is involved in farming in Ireland will tell you, there are no guarantees when it comes to producing on the land and we have experienced our own hardships in Ireland this year because I believe the effects of climate change. Yields fluctuate all of the time, depending on the weather, while prices for farm commodities also go up and down, depending on the season, and numerous other factors.
"In Africa, it is no different, and today the changes in climate are putting more pressure, and more challenges in the way of vulnerable poor communities for whom the margins – between having enough and not – are narrow indeed," Ronan explained.
"More than half of the world's population lives on less than two euros a day. More than 1.2 billion people live on less than one euro a day. Almost 1 billion people across the globe, most of them children, live with hunger or malnutrition as a regular fact of life. They live in desperate poverty, which means they die younger than they should, struggle with hunger and disease, and live with little hope and less opportunity for a life of dignity.
"But poverty is not limited to the poorest countries. In our own beautiful country of Ireland, poverty is also persistent and pervasive. Clearly, it is experienced in different ways in different places. To be poor in our country is far different from being poor in parts of Africa or Asia, but poverty still diminishes the lives and undermines the dignity of many families who live in our midst.
"In Ireland, thousands of people live below the official poverty line. The younger you are in our country, the more likely you are to be poor, basically because we have kicked the debt from our excessive living and greed down the road so that the younger generation of today and tomorrow will have to pay for it. Children are the real wealth of all nations. They are the world's most precious human resource.
"As the saying goes, ‘a forest without young trees today will never be a forest tomorrow’. It is imperative therefore that a child born today in Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and indeed any part of Africa should survive, grow and develop to their fullest potential in order for African countries to have a prosperous future, indeed to have any future!
"Self Help Africa’s vision is to see an end to hunger and poverty in Africa. There is unquestionably a long way to go before we reach this ideal - before we reach a time when childhoods' across Africa will be work-free, well nurtured and safe from all types of abuse.
"In the meantime, although these children are part of the very visible legacy of a malfunctioning society, they nonetheless bear witness to the endurance and potential of the human spirit. Children in these poor countries cannot wait. They have but one humanity, one opportunity. That opportunity, that time is in the here and now. Their needs must be met today, not tomorrow. For children, tomorrow is too late. The littlest things can help make a difference. The fight against hunger and poverty in Africa - and in Ireland - is not anyone's responsibility. It is everyone's," Ronan commented.
"This is where the organisation I work for comes in. This year, with the support of the Irish public and Irish Aid, and some of the Irish Farming community with the help of rural Ireland through our nationwide church gate collections and people organizing fundraisers for us, Self Help Africa has worked with close to 3 million farmers across sub-Saharan Africa, helping them to adapt their farming techniques to cope with challenges such as climate change, and to make their farms more profitable in the long run.
"I am proud that the organisation I work for has been a contributor, and has played its part in helping the smallholder farmers of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya, amongst many others, to move towards a time where hunger and poverty will no longer be a part of their future.
"It is a long and slow road certainly, but it is a journey that is both richly rewarding and worthwhile for there is no better thing that you can do in life than to love and care for another human being in need whether that is someone in need in Ireland or in Africa or in any place in our world. We are so thankful to so many of the Farming community in Offaly, Westmeath and The Midlands for all their help and support and who raise much-needed funds for projects in Africa. Thank you to everyone in Offaly, Westmeath and the Midlands for their support now and always.
"If you would like to support our work why not organise with your family, friends or businesses to support our Westmeath Church Gate Collections on November 23/24 in various churches around Westmeath or attend our Christmas Extravagance Concert on Wednesday, December 4 in The Tullamore Court Hotel."
You can also make a donation, buy Lifetime and Christmas gifts and find out more about the work of Self Help Africa with its work by phoning 01-6778880 or simply sending whatever you can afford to Self Help Africa, Westside Resource Centre, Seamus Quirke Road, Westside, Galway or to Self Help Africa, Kingsbridge House, 17-22 Parkgate Street, Dublin 8.