“Great to be with ye again boys, I brought the beer.” This is the first line of the video that started a manhunt here in the Concern office. While sifting through the archives on the occasion of our 50th anniversary, we came across a film made by Concern’s own Mick Doheny back in the day. The stars of this film were undoubtedly two freewheeling Irish easy riders, complete with bandanas, flowing manes, and cool shades.
We put the word out on Twitter (and through the good old grapevine) that we’d love to find these dashing dudes and have a chat.
The mysterious duo
Back in the 1970s, Bangladesh was in turmoil. After suffering a war and then famine, people were struggling to survive. Although Concern was a relatively new organization, they took on the challenge of aiding them. Back then it was a 100% volunteer organization. Many young Irish people went overseas with Concern after college to help out before embarking on their career paths. Turns out this was the case for both Pat and Peadar.
In the mid-70s Patrick O’Reilly and Peadar Lafferty were both studying engineering at University College Dublin. They ventured to Australia with friends during the summer vacation of their second year and there they caught the travel bug. After graduating they decided to hit the road again and put their engineering skills to good use. Forty-plus years later, their memories are clear and sharp.
An adventure in Bangladesh
“The first thing that struck me (about Bangladesh) was the color. When you were in Ireland you just saw black and white photos of the crisis. It was a very colorful country. Also, the people were just like the people at home – good, bad, indifferent, interesting boring, funny, loud. Even though we live worlds apart we were similar.” — Peadar
When they first arrived in Bangladesh it was a bit of a culture shock — the heat, the poverty, the crowds, and the smells. But they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and got to work straight away. There was an established band of Concern volunteers already there, so Pat and Peadar fitted in easily.
“Concern gave us great support. There were about 40 people out there… so there was a framework in place that you slotted into. There was a nice cycle of people and we all became great friends.” — Pat
Flooding in Bangladesh is common and it often washes the dirt roads and other infrastructure away making travel difficult for millions. This put Pat and Peadar’s engineering skills to the test. The two lads traveled around the Bangladesh countryside, designing and overseeing the building of roads and bridges.
“Because it floods so much in Bangladesh we had to build the roads 10 feet above the rest of the land. We had locals helping us dig embankments and putting the dirt in the middle to build the road up.” — Pat
On one particular project, they built a series of concrete bridges and high dirt roads to link fishermen and farmers to the railway, allowing them better access to markets.
“We used the Suzuki 125 — it was a great trail bike… With the motorbikes, you had more freedom to move around.” — Peadar.
One perk of volunteering was that Pat and Peadar got to dash about on motorbikes — looking like a mix between Hells Angels and the Beatles. This was not only the most fun way to get around but also the most practical.
The two were staying miles away from where they were working and most of the roads on the way there had been washed away. Some of the terrain was so tricky that even a four-wheel-drive vehicle would struggle. So motorbikes were an essential piece of kit for the volunteers. They could weave in and out of the embankments and avoid obstacles along the way.
But the young lads were not complaining about their commute. While hurtling down the rural paths with the wind in their hair, they got to experience a lot more of the Bangladesh countryside than they would have in the back of a 4×4.
Work hard, play hard
It was not all work and no play — the volunteers had fun together. In the evening they would socialize and let off steam with their comrades. This included singing songs and recalling stories from home.
“It was like a war sitcom — serious and mad. We worked hard but we also had good craic (fun).” — Peadar
This was very much the essence of 1970s Concern. Grassroots, roll-your-sleeves-up, good old-fashioned work — but with some fun on the side. Decades later, both have stayed in contact with people they met in Bangladesh and feel they have a special connection with their fellow volunteers.
“You could only speak about what you saw in Bangladesh to people in Ireland for so long. They would glaze over… So the people who went to Bangladesh hung out quite a bit because they could talk about their shared experiences. It didn’t matter whether they went out to Bangladesh before you or after you, you still had that connection. Also, it was very likely that you knew someone, who knew someone or that you had heard about each other.” — Peadar
A family affair
Peadar still has a deep family connection with Concern Worldwide. He met his wife, Clare Chamberlain, while he was volunteering in Bangladesh, although they didn’t get together until 13 years later.
Not only is his wife connected, but now his daughter is, too. For the last 9 months, Lucy Lafferty has worked for Concern as a nutrition advisor in Burundi in eastern Africa.
“She is a very independent-minded woman… and she was brought up knowing about Concern and the work it does.” — Peadar
“Concern was an obvious place to look for opportunities given its reputation in the nutrition domain. In 2010 I visited the Concern office in Dhaka and met some of my parent’s old colleagues; the stories, friendships and challenges they recounted planted the seed and definitely encouraged me to pursue a career in the field” — Lucy
Humanitarianism seems to run in the family.
A lifelong lesson
Although Pat now lives in Canada and Peader lives in Ireland, they have stayed in touch. Both ended up working as engineers for local authorities. The trip changed both their lives for the better in more than one way. It influences who they are today.
“It was a great learning experience, it opened your eyes and you appreciate what you have a lot more. Intense poverty wakes you up to what is important and makes you count your blessings.” — Pat
Straight after their Bangladesh adventure, Pat went on to volunteer in Ethiopia with Concern under the legendary Fr Aengus Finucane for 6 months. Peadar has been back to Bangladesh twice — once to attend the wedding of his Bengali friend’s daughter.
“[Once you have volunteered in Bangladesh] you’re never settled and it’s very hard to have a narrow point of view when you have experienced something like that… you are less glib about what’s going on in the world… more hopeful.” — Peadar
Their only regret is that neither of them has kept up motorcycling!
“I don’t think I’ve touched a motorbike since I have left Bangladesh.” — Peadar
“I have been on my wife’s scooter, but I don’t think that counts” — Pat