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Charity boss ‘blown away’ by generosity of Irish people despite pandemic

Sightsavers chief executive Feargal O’Connell said the charity has exceeded fundraising targets for 2020, despite fears for the sector.

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Chief executive of Sightsavers Ireland Feargal O’Connell (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief executive of Sightsavers Ireland Feargal O’Connell (Brian Lawless/PA)

Chief executive of Sightsavers Ireland Feargal O’Connell (Brian Lawless/PA)

A charity boss has said he is “blown away” by the generosity of Irish people after fundraising targets were exceeded in 2020, despite the economic impact of the pandemic.

Feargal O’Connell is the chief executive of Sightsavers Ireland, which works to eliminate avoidable blindness in the developing world and promotes the rights of people with disabilities.

Appointed earlier this year, he feared the economic crunch of the pandemic would force him into job cuts at the charity but was bowled over as donations kept flowing in.

I think there was a feeling in Ireland of huge connectedness, that everybody was in this together. And an understanding that nobody is safe until everybody is safeFeargal O'Connell

He told the PA news agency: “Around March and April, we were fearing the worst.

“But what we call attrition, when we lose donors, it hasn’t come to pass.

“We’re really blown away by the incredible support.

“I think there was a feeling in Ireland of huge connectedness, that everybody was in this together.

“And an understanding that nobody is safe until everybody is safe.

“Irish people, it’s in our DNA, we’re very outward looking in terms of our generosity.

“I think our experience as a former colony, our experience with conflict and famine gives us empathy for what countries in the developing world are going through right now.

“Irish people responded as we know they do, with amazing generosity.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing however, with many corporate donors taking cost-cutting measures.

Mr O’Connell said: “Individuals are having a different experience compared to corporates and businesses.

“Especially as the second lockdown kicked in, it was really tough and they said they were having to review their charitable giving, which is completely understandable in the current context.

“It’s been a bit of a mixed bag in that regard.

“But overall we’re completely blown away by the support and we’re finishing the year in a relatively strong way.”

The delivery of services has proved more difficult, but Mr O’Connell is satisfied with what Sightsavers have been able to achieve this year.

He said: “We haven’t hit our targets, we aren’t where we want to be.

“But we have been able to perform pretty well under the circumstances.

“We’ve performed 1.2 million examinations.

“We’ve done around 140,000 eye-operations.

“We’ve trained 2,000 health workers.

“Given the circumstances we’re really happy with how programmes have adapted and performed.”

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Feargal O’Connell said the nation had rallied round (Brian Lawless/PA)

Feargal O’Connell said the nation had rallied round (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA

Feargal O’Connell said the nation had rallied round (Brian Lawless/PA)

While the mortality rate of the pandemic in low income covers has not been as bad as feared, the economic impact has been much more significant.

Mr O’Connell said: “Right across the health sector there was a real fear about how the pandemic would impact on low income countries.

“The direct health impact and the mortality and the number of cases aren’t what we feared.

“It will probably take us a couple of years to figure out why that’s the case.

“But the secondary impact is really, really troubling.

“Economies across the developing world are really struggling, because they don’t have the ability to borrow on international markets like wealthier countries have.

“The economic impact is affecting the food and the hunger situation, and on the health system as well.

“We had to really pivot to providing PPE supplies, really ramping up our water and our sanitation activities as well. Health system are still under a great deal of stress.”

Travel restrictions have limited Sightsavers ability to produce fundraising content, demonstrating their work in places like West Africa.

But Mr O’Connell is hopeful that 2021 will see that activity resume.

Donations can be made at www.sightsavers.org.

PA


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