Focus: Social Justice and Radical Hope in a Global Pandemic

Three Comhlámh staff members, Sive Bresnihan, Caoimhe Butterly and Mark Malone asked if it were possible to have radical hope and show solidarity with social justice issues during a global pandemic, when people are experiencing such challenging feelings. 


Mark Malone, who is Comhlámh’s communications officer, started the discussion by noting the number of deaths from Covid-19 and he reminded the listener that these were real people who were mourned by families and friends around the world.  He then asked his colleagues to begin to think about how it was possible to still show solidarity with social justice issues when everyone is living in a time of such grief, fear and anxiety. 

Caoimhe Butterly was the first to try and answer this.  Caoimhe is working on a European funded project for Comhlámh called Working for a Better World which aims to provide psycho-social supports to people working directly with people applying for international protection, in several European countries. Caoimhe is also a trainee psychotherapist, so it came as no surprise that her first concern was the general mental health of people.  She noted that people were struggling to manage feelings of grief, loss, anxiety, fear and uncertainty and that many people were experiencing trauma.  However, she was encouraged to see that people were being open about their worries and their vulnerabilities and were, perhaps, more willing to discuss these issues than normal.  She was also positive that as we are all going through this crisis together, (albeit subjectively and with unique pressures and challenges) we will all have an opportunity to go through a healing process together too.   

Caoimhe was hopeful that the experiences people are having now, might make it easier in the future, to show a greater empathy with those who are seeking refuge or applying for asylum. People are now experiencing how it feels to have life decisions taken out of their hands and to have even daily routines restricted and controlled, and she very much hoped that we would be able to use these feelings in a positive way, in the future. 

Sive Bresnihan is Comhlámh’s education and training officer and she develops and delivers training courses on global citizenship.  She wondered if this pause on busyness and activity could be an opportunity for people to reflect on the structural inequalities in society and their place within it.  She asked us to think about the benefits we enjoy in this society, and our embeddedness and complicity in it. She warned that these questions and answers might not be easy to work with, but hoped that the compulsory silence might be a time to do it. 

Further reading: 

Buzzwords and Fuzzwords:  Deconstructing Development Discourse (2007).  Andrea Cornwall: 

Gesturing towards decolonial futures:  (a number of contributors, including Vanessa Andriotti): 

Focus is an audio project from Comhlámh, the association of returned development workers and volunteers.  Produced and hosted by Mark Malone, Focus is a mix of documentaries and and interviews. Over time it takes a varied look at issues and themes around global inequality and talks to people involved in different ways in challenging inequality and injustices wherever they are.