But by remembering an event which directly affected the lives of our ancestors in Ireland, and which for many people here is the reason why they live in South Wales today, perhaps we can learn some important lessons, and convey to others some important messages, which will affect what we do with the rest of our lives.
Many people in Ireland prefer to speak of the famine as the "starvation". Whilst men, women and children were dying of hunger in Ireland, and on boats and ships bringing them over to South Wales and other places, many of the people who had the power to do something about it chose to do nothing. At the time there was plenty of food in the British Isles. Short term measures and long term measures could have been taken to alleviate the suffering. There could have been a fairer sharing of resources. Ignorance was not an excuse they could plead. Those with the power to do something chose to ignore the suffering. They were indifferent to it.
Today, famines are still a regular feature of our world. Some do not always reach the headlines. Hunger and hunger related diseases are killing people daily in this global village of ours. "More than a billion people on our planet live in extreme poverty" (DFID, 2001). At this very moment, a mother will be watching her child die, somewhere in the world, unable to satisfy the child's pleading look or cries.
This is a fact. We see images in magazines and on our TV screens regularly. Last week Oxfam predicted that rich countries' failure to meet the U.N. target of 0.7% of national income on aid will result in millions of child deaths. Using U.N. data on child mortality, the agency predicted that on current trends, by 2015, 10 million children a year will be dying before their fifth birthday, compared with a TARGET of 4.2 million.
But today, WE are the people who have the power to change things. Whether we like it or not, WE are the wealthy of the world. WE are the people who have more than our fair share of the world's resources. Yes, we have problems and inequalities at home, but on the world stage we are people with plenty of choices.
Our world is becoming more and more divided between the haves and the have nots. But through our choices we CAN change this. Through our choice to vote, through our choice to lobby our elected representatives, through our choice of purchases, through our way of life, we CAN bring about fairer structures and sharing of the world's resources.
But we can choose NOT to do any thing. By being indifferent to the suffering of so many people in the world, by thinking of our own comforts first and putting off thinking about the problems, we are making a choice. But is THAT the choice we want to be remembered for? "These are the people who chose to do nothing, even though they had the power to bring about change". Will this be our epitaph?
Many people in South Wales are responding already, and have made the choice to do something. Wales has many organisations which offer us the facts, raise our awareness and offer us ways of responding to hunger in today's world. As we remember the suffering of the Irish people in the famine of the 19th century, let it inspire us to be people of compassion for the poor and hungry in our world today, and people of action on their behalf. Let us be people who bring hope.
©: Sue Scanlon, CAFOD Wales, 17 March 2002.
Ceremony of Remembrance and Reflection 2002
Seremoni Goffa a Myfyrdod 2002
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