Follow this guy

I recently found out that this guy is on twitter. I know him. His name is Dominic McSorley. He’s an aid worker. He works for Concern, an Irish famine relief organization whose mission is “to help the poorest of the poor” . they really live up to this by the way. They’re in Haiti right now. What they do is go into disaster areas and ask the question “who are suffering most? Who are the least likely to get help?”. And help those people. It’s a great idea for an aid organization.

Dominic had a great story that illustrated this principle. He was in Rwanda after the Hutu/Tutsi genocide in the 90s. Following the Concern guiding principle, he went in and found that those accused of genocide were stuffed into overcrowded prisons and had to rely solely on relatives to bring them food. Consequently the prisons were surrounded by squalid shanty towns filled with the relatives of the imprisoned. This was the community they chose to help. Part of Dominic’s job is flying in before everyone else and assessing the situation. So he ended up in the basement of one of these prisons. Alone with a clipboard and a single prison guard. With hundreds of quite possibly murderous eyes upon him. Lots of tension. Oh, and there’s just a single light bulb to light the whole the basement of the prison. And right when he’s starting to feel a little uneasy, and Dominic is unflappable, the fucking light bulb blows!

I know this because I spent two weeks traveling around Ethiopia with Dominic and a New York-based London- Jewish fashion photographer. It was the basis for a great but dark sitcom.

Dominic is originally from Belfast. He studied law and was about to launch into a very lucrative career in law when he volunteered for Concern in the 70s and got sucked into the whole helping-your-fellow-man racket.

The three of us were documenting Concern’s work to help raise funds in the USA. When I tell people I spent two weeks in Ethiopia working for a famine relief organization, I get this admiring look from people. And because I am a shallow and worthless advertising parasite, I don’t get THAT look too often. So I lap it up. But the truth is we had a blast in Ethiopia. Dominic was a great host. Ethiopia is a huge country (5 times the size of texas) and isn’t at all like the media image. It’s a lush and fertile country. I actually heard stories of TV news crews purposely filming starving kids on rocky/sandy spots so it would conform to the “desert” image that conveyed misery and lack of food. When just out of frame was lush greenery.

There had just been a famine in Ethiopia when we arrived. And all the starving people had either been rescued or died at that point. So there weren’t too many of the stereotypical starving famine kids around. They had either died or gotten nutrition. Being a shameless ad guy I thought it would be a good idea to find a child whose physical state communicated the plight of the people. Not very original but I felt a desperate need to add value in some way. But it proved remarkably difficult to find such a child. They had all died or gotten food.

Then we found him. His name was Bedelu Goshin. He had survived both starvation and Tuberculosis. His life was saved by Concern. I was standing next to him. I’m sure he viewed us as we would aliens from another planet. The fashion guy from new york and the ad guy from Chicago, excited that we were finally getting the money shot. Bedelu was in bad shape.

Dominic subsequently led us around the slums of Addis Ababa, where we met students from schools funded by Concern, visited a skills learning center for former prostitutes, and finally to visit a 24 year old woman dying from AIDS she’d contracted from her cheating husband. She left four young sons to be taken care of by their grandmother, who was in her 40s. I remember shooting video in their tiny smoky cabin as she struggled to tell her story as she lay in bed dying. Her poor little sons standing obediently next to me. Their already hard lives about to be made immeasurably harder in just a few months when their mother died. I did the thing you’re never supposed to do as we left. I slipped the grandmother money. It was a truly tragic scene.

But this was a walk in the park for Dominic. He had seen much worse. He’d been in Cambodia in the 80s. Then on to Ethiopia. And El Salvador for the earthquake. North Korea. Back to Ethiopia. Burundi. Afghanistan. If it was awful, Dominic McSorley was there. It was hard not to draw comparisons between his life and mine. He: literally doing God’s work. Me: poisoning the culture with consumeristic stupidity.

And now Dominic is in Haiti. And was probably there the day after the earthquake. And now he’s on twitter. @aidwkr is his twitter name. Twitter is clearly his medium. He’s from Belfast so he’s funny. And acutely observant. it’s a glimpse into an amazing life. Follow him.

Oh, did I mention that Dominic just got an OBE from the Queen of England? He did.

3 responses to “Follow this guy

  1. I think this would be a great advertising angle. The heart wrenching feel good story mixed with the subliminal directive, but still giving value.

    Yes I will follow him.

    Beautiful Angle!

    As for the story I am sad to learn your such a great guy. I was hoping for someone diabolical who does crazy advertising experiments on small mammals. I spent 3 years doing outreach to homeless street kids in LA giving up 3-5 hours per week.. Your friend is a saint for dedicating his life. Cheers.

  2. what most people don’t understand is how professional the NGO category has become. it’s become a science. the old image of airlifting and frantically distributing food is out of date. Dominic and his compadres at Concern are more like engineers than the classic idea of do-gooders with sacks of flour on their shoulders.

    and believe me i’m still plenty diabolical Howie. i have a demonic laugh and everything.

  3. a bunny with a diabolical laugh!

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