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Tim Dunwoody and Therese, a woman he met on  a Christian Aid trip to Rwanda in 2005.

Chicken costumes, Pigeon Peas & 75 Years of Inclusion

Former Youth & Schools officer Tim Dunwoody shares his memories of Christian Aid Ireland.

Published on 18 March 2021

Gareth and I were struggling to get into two bright yellow chicken costumes. My line manager, Deborah, had suggested this although I noticed that she wasn’t putting a costume on herself.

I was now starting to feel a little bit silly but there would be thousands of other people at the Trade Justice march through London’s main streets so we wouldn’t be noticed too much. Hey, maybe there’d be lots of people dressed as chickens. 

We were changing in a back room of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster and, when ready, asked how to get to the main march. “Just through that door”, came the reply. Out we walked and, with perfect timing, took our place at the front of the march. Just one of the many strange situations I found myself in during my four years with Christian Aid as its Youth and Schools Officer.

I had left a teaching career to join Christian Aid in 2002. After working in Zimbabwe as a Methodist Church in Ireland mission partner, I had set my sights on working in international development although it took a few years to get there.

I learned a lot during my time with Christian Aid. I learned not just about the injustices in the world but also some of the better ways of tackling them.

I will forever be grateful to Christian Aid for exposing me to how the world really is and for helping me more fully appreciate that my life with all its comfort and security is not actually normal. “Normal” in the world in fact typically means hardship, discrimination, fear, hunger, abuse and lack of hope. “Normal” is not seeing your dreams fulfilled or feeling safe.

 

Tim Dunwoody at the 2005 Trade Justice March in Westminster

I discovered that, where there is injustice, it is local people who are best placed to identify the problems and possible solutions.

I also learned that the starting point for engaging with poverty is to engage with the people living it. They deserve much respect for their resilience. I was shown that what really needs to happen are structural and policy level shifts so that the world functions in a much fairer way for all people.

I also, disappointingly realised that large portions of the Bible are rarely taught; that I am told much more about the comfort that God offers me, rather than the challenge to be a comfort to others. To say the least, I grew hugely in my understanding of God and my Christian purpose in the world.

It was a privilege working with young adults, especially the volunteers at Summer Madness in the Christian Aid venue, 'The Journeyman Inn'. It was, essentially, a barn without walls, and a very cold place to be.

These were young people who were serious about changing the world, who showed compassion and gave their time, skills and prayers for others. They were far ahead of where I had been at their age. The handful that I occasionally bump into, 20 years on, continue to serve others and protect the planet through their careers and in their spare time. They were a talented and mature bunch. They inspired me.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

- Philippians 2:3-4.

I would imagine, if asked, most current and ex-staff members will say that meeting partners have been some of their most memorable experiences. Many partners passed through the office and told their stories. I also had the amazing opportunity to travel and see work in Malawi and Rwanda. First-hand experiences stay with you much longer.

Such strategic visits were a balance of challenge and inspiration. The challenge was in witnessing the lives of people at the bottom of the economic and social ladder and the inspiration was found in how many of these people had brought change with the help of Christian Aid’s wonderfully innovative and hardworking partner staff. With me, I brought church and youth leaders and, together, we learned and explored issues that had previously seemed rather remote.


Two meetings stay with me. In Malawi in 2003, I was being shown an irrigation project, having already visited literacy, animal husbandry and AIDS work. I remember clearly Mrs Piri proudly showing off the ‘pigeon peas’ she was harvesting, the group growing cassava and a farmer who had produced a veritable Garden of Eden whose plot was now where other farmers were brought to see what was possible with a bit of learning and a lot of hard work.

We had been walking along the irrigation channels when suddenly, out of the tall maize plants, emerged a man with a machete. He had a tattered red shirt and he was not smiling. He had not been with our party up to this point I was genuinely terrified.

He was then introduced to me as Mukangs, the Chair of the irrigation committee. Mukangs went on to proudly demonstrate the simple but ingenious way that the irrigation channels could be broken and mended along their lengths in order to water any part of the fields.

Tim Dunwoody with Mukangs, the Chair of the irrigation committee at a Christian Aid project in Malawi, 2003.

In 2005, in Rwanda, I met Terese. A beautiful woman who, with her husband, had fled their land during the genocide and, when they returned, literally with nothing but the shirts on their backs. For the first year they lived in what had since become the goat shelter. I peppered Terese with questions about goats, profit, the children’s schooling, collecting water etc. Probably not taking a breath. She never gave the impression of enjoying the experience. I got up to leave. I was conscious that it had all been very one sided. I had the pen and paper, I took the pictures, I asked the questions. I asked myself how I could better connect with her.

Suddenly I took out my digital camera. I knew I had a photo of my wife and children on it. I showed it and a smile came to Terese’s face at last. We pointed and named my family and she hers. The connection had been made. We were both parents and by association had all the same concerns and hopes for our children.

Lesson learned? We are all the same, only our circumstances and opportunities differ. The sooner we realise that, the sooner we will understand and accept each other and, perhaps, the more compassionate we will be towards each other.

Tim with Therese on his 2005 trip to Rwanda.

Tim with Therese on his 2005 trip to Rwanda.

I am proud of Christian Aid’s commitment to inclusion of ‘the other’. Christian Aid recognises the value of everyone: beneficiaries, partners, volunteers and staff. People are not categorised by gender, religion or denomination or any other label.

Another encounter in Rwanda was with Assumani, a 38 year-old farmer. The partner involved was the Baptist Church of Rwanda (UEBR). He said, “When the Baptists came, they were not looking for Baptists. They were looking for people in need”. Christian Aid is very good at embracing what we have in common and being willing to work with everyone and provide help to everyone with no strings attached. This is probably the biggest influence that my time with Christian Aid has had upon me.

Christian Aid challenge us all to use our political voices to demand change... They blaze a trail that others follow.

I also admire Christian Aid’s commitment to advocacy on the political stage. It goes beyond the projects and programmes on the ground and tackles the systems that put people into poverty and keep them there. Christian Aid challenge us all to use our political voices to demand change. They don’t mind being unpopular in doing so. They speak truth to those who don’t wish to hear it and they encourage normal people to leave apathy behind and to take up the cause. They blaze a trail that others follow.

75 years is no mean feat. It’s a shame that the wide-reaching impact of Christian Aid’s work, the life-changing results for families like Mukangs, Therese and Assumani’s that go far beyond development metrics and statistics, can never be fully measured. Suffice to say that I am glad to have contributed a tiny little bit, knowing that I took out much more than I put in.

I continue to work within international development with The Methodist Church in Ireland and am pleased to partner in work with Christian Aid Ireland where, for me, it really started. Happy birthday.

Tim Dunwoody

Youth and School Officer

Christian Aid Ireland, 2002 - 2005

 

About Tim

Tim worked as Youth & Schools Officer for Christian Aid Ireland until 2005, before taking on the role of World Development Officer for Irish Methodist World Development & Relief.

He takes a strong interest in global partnership and sustainable development, and is guided by his Christian faith to pursue justice and equality in the global community.

Tim Dunwoody, World Development Officer at Irish Methodist World Development & Relief.

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