A Giant Among Humanitarians

Aengus Finucane in Haiti.

By Tom Moran, Contributor
August / September 2014

Tom Moran writes that his involvement with Concern Worldwide began with Aengus Finucane, the Limerick-born priest who founded the Irish relief organization.

As Chairman of Concern Worldwide U.S., I have traveled to almost a dozen countries where we work in as many years – from Afghanistan, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Haiti. It was on a recent visit to Haiti that I was reminded that every time I make the journey to these extremely poor and vulnerable communities, I am walking in the footsteps of a giant. In 2008, Haiti was the very last country that Father Aengus Finucane visited in his remarkable lifetime, and his legacy was unmistakable in Concern’s work there.

Aengus truly was a giant among humanitarians. As a young missionary in Biafra, he famously laid a “19-stone tackle” on a gun-wielding bandit attempting to steal aid supplies like the former rugby standout he was. But his true magnitude as a person was measured across a 40-year span beginning in Concern’s very earliest days in 1968; extending into the 1970s, when he became the first country director in Bangladesh for the growing secular, international non-governmental organization; the 1980s, when he was named Chief Executive; the 1990s, when he would be the driving force behind the establishment of Concern Worldwide U.S.; and finally, the new millennium, when despite advancing age and failing health he remained committed to living Concern’s mission, spreading awareness, raising funds, and doing his part to ensure that the organization would continue to save and change millions of lives. This will be Aengus’s legacy.

Since 1968, Concern has been providing immediate safety nets to those beset by disaster, and building ladders out of poverty in the world’s poorest countries. Last year, ongoing development programs delivered impact and innovation, while emergency responses helped save lives in Syria and Lebanon, the Philippines and at the very end of 2013, South Sudan. In all, our 3,000 staff members reached some seven million people in 27 countries, and of the nearly $30 million raised here in the U.S., 92 percent went directly to programs.

One of Aengus’s favorite quotes was by the Indian poet Tagore: “Build bridges by your lives across a gaping world blasted by hatred.” I was reminded of this call to action on a recent visit to Afghanistan, in many ways a symbol of a world blasted by hatred.

At the Concern-supported Khashai Dun School, high in the mountainous district of Rustaq, the future can be seen in the eyes of nine-year-old third-grader Sediqa. They lit up as she told us she intends to be a teacher when she grows up – like most of the girls in her class. It’s the kind of dream that would not exist but for Concern’s work.

The harsh reality is that girls in most of Afghanistan must leave school at age twelve, but it’s a process, and Concern is committed. I’m placing great hope in Sediqa and a generation of women who will read, write and do basic math, and want to ensure those skills are handed down to the next generation of girls. Change will come in Afghanistan.

This ethos of being undeterred by harsh realities and helping the poorest and most vulnerable transform their lives was embodied by Aengus, and it continues to define everyone who works for Concern. I am proud to have a part in it.

Tom Moran is Chairman, CEO, and President of Mutual of America and Chairman of Concern Worldwide U.S.

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