Today, I returned to the US after a week in Ireland. My links to the Emerald Isle date back to 2009 when I studied international human rights law at the University of Galway as a US-Ireland Alliance George Mitchell Scholar. That experience paved the way for a career in international development and humanitarianism with Trócaire, one of Ireland’s main international NGOs.
While back, I joined sixty people from around the world at a training session that qualifies us to serve on Ireland’s rapid humanitarian response roster. Should a crisis or emergency arise that could benefit from our skills and experience, we can be deployed to UN agencies to support.
I was blown away by the level of knowledge and expertise among the roster members. Many have worked on major conflicts and environmental disasters across the globe, helping those who are coping with catastrophic shocks. Several said they were eager to get to Gaza and support in whatever way they can.
I hold deep respect for humanitarians and the courageous roles they perform. I’m devastated to see that more than 100 UN workers have been killed in Gaza to date and that humanitarian work has been rendered so difficult. I asked fellow roster members if they knew how many workers from local humanitarian organizations have been killed, but this figure has been difficult to track. “They’re on the run,” one colleague with experience in Gaza said. “Nowhere is safe.”
It seems so simple to me. All innocent people (children and adults) matter, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or what they believe in. Violence has not resulted in freeing hostages and has led to more death and destruction. Humanitarian workers are needed now more than ever, but they have become targets even when they should be protected under international humanitarian law. Their right to life must be safeguarded, and I believe we must do everything in our power (including by securing and enforcing a ceasefire) to ensure that they can deliver their life-saving work.
During the training, word got out that I had published a book. I had brought several copies of Deficient with me to give to friends, and it seemed like every day someone new was asking if they could get a signed copy. Before long, I had run out. That meant my suitcase would no longer be over the weight limit (phew) and that a bunch of humanitarian workers who are working on crises like Ukraine and Syria would be reading Deficient. That’s pretty awesome!
Free time is something one rarely gets during an emergency, but reading is one thing we can do to escape from reality. When I lived in Sierra Leone during and after the Ebola crisis, my Kindle Paperwhite was a godsend, especially since prolonged power outages were common. It afforded me the chance to get outside of my stressed-out brain, if only briefly. I hope Deficient can fulfill a similar role for other humanitarian workers.
In addition to sharing Deficient with new colleagues, I mailed copies to old friends who have inspired me over the years with their passion, knowledge, and experience.
One colleague I couldn’t share Deficient with was my former supervisor, Sally O’Neill, whose photograph I saw displayed at the EPIC Irish emigration museum in Dublin. Sally passed away a few years ago in a tragic car accident in Guatemala, along with three other people. As saddening as her death was, I choose to remember the positive – her laughter, stories, and the buzz she generated whenever she walked into a room. She worked in Latin America and the Horn of Africa, and she was once a translator for Óscar Romero. She would have been the first person to get her hands on Deficient, and she would have chased me down for my signature. How I wish I could do that for her now.
After the humanitarian training, I made the rounds to a few Dublin-based independent bookshops that are worth visiting. The Winding Stair is on the River Liffey, next to a restaurant of the same name. The bookshop feels like this cozy little cavern from an earlier era, with all of its old city charm. Liz, who works there, asked for copies of Deficient, but I had already run out. I’ll be mailing a few over soon.
I also dropped by Dubray Books (a lovely store recommended by the Irish writer Natasha Fennell), Book Upstairs (a favorite of one of my colleagues), and The Gutter Bookshop, which is a bit smaller than the others but has a great selection. All the shops are within walking distance of one another, and each has a unique personality and charm. There are many I wasn’t able to get to inside and outside of Dublin, but that’s okay. I know I’ll be back! In Ireland, there is a deep appreciation for the written word and physical books. I think that’s why so many independent bookstores can succeed in such close proximity and in competition with larger chains. The demand for books is high, and there is great loyalty to the indie shops.
Ireland has felt like a second home for a long time. I have borne witness to how it has changed over the years, with landmark decisions on gay marriage and sexual and reproductive rights. The population is also becoming increasingly diverse, and many of the Irish people I know are welcoming that. Deficient was very much inspired by these kinds of changes and the idea that progress is possible. Change may occur more slowly than some of us like, but it can happen.
I left Ireland feeling a bit more hopeful and one year older (and hopefully somewhat wiser). After Thanksgiving, I’ll be getting ready for my next book trip to Nepal, which I look forward to sharing on the blog and social media. I’ll be keeping everyone posted!