Who is my neighbor? My neighbor is all mankind.
Concern was founded in Ireland in 1968 by a small group of extraordinary individuals who joined together to respond to the devastating famine in Biafra.
Images and reports of the crisis in Biafra were televised throughout the world, but had particular resonance in Ireland. The country had its own experience of famine that made the word itself strike a special chord with the public. But Ireland also had close links with Nigeria—and Biafra—through the thousands of Irish missionaries working in schools and hospitals there. Among these were two young brothers, Fathers Aengus and Jack Finucane.
Turning schools into refugee camps, setting up food distributions and emergency hospitals, the brothers worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of thousands caught up in the conflict. At the height of the crisis in the summer of 1968, it was estimated that 6,000 children were dying every week due to lack of food and medicines.
The Finucanes turned to their home country to raise awareness of the seriousness of the famine. The response was extraordinary. The people of Ireland immediately understood the urgency of the crisis, and united themselves to launch an appeal to raise funds, and find ways to deliver the supplies desperately needed.
From this appeal, “Africa Concern”—a non-governmental, non-denominational, humanitarian aid organization—was born.
Concern in Action
The goal of the Africa Concern appeal was to “Send One Ship” to sail from Ireland to Biafra loaded with relief supplies for the families in dire need. The public response was stunning, overwhelming, and unique in the history of Ireland.
Donations poured in from all over the country, and within three months, over a quarter of a million pounds had been raised. Africa Concern purchased a ship—the S.S. Columcille—and on September 6, 1968 she sailed for Sao Tome, a small island off the coast of West Africa. From this island, supplies were then flown into Biafra to avoid detection from the Nigerian government. These shipments continued, and then became nightly—a remarkable achievement in an environment of open conflict and in so little time.
Expanding to New Countries
Following the end of the fighting in January 1970, the situation in Biafra began to improve. However, the work of Africa Concern did not end there. Events in other parts of the world soon saw Concern spread its work. A cyclone disaster in East Pakistan and civil war and refugee problems in Calcutta became the next intervention for the organization, which ultimately became known as Concern Worldwide to reflect its global reach.
As the organization expanded over the years, the strength of public support—along with the efforts of committed individuals working on the ground with courage, passion, practicality, a deep understanding of the poorest communities and a respect for their dignity—that defined Concern’s response in Biafra and are what continue to define Concern today.
Concern Worldwide, Chad, 2007
Over 45 years later, Concern is implementing programs in 25 of the poorest countries in the world. Saving lives through effective emergency response while working to address root causes of poverty through long-term development, the organization now reaches 6.9 million of the world’s poorest. The core values of the organization remain constant: targeting extreme poverty through the delivery of high-quality, effective programs.