Before retiring in 2015, Trócaire volunteer Tony Devlin did not think he had the time to serve his community, even though he wanted to.
“I suppose all through the years I was interested in [volunteering],” said Tony. “It’s a responsibility that all of us who are lucky enough to live in the first world have toward those who are less fortunate.”
“When I retired,” he said, “I finished my paid working life and had sufficient time to get involved more directly. I’d always had an admiration for Trócaire because of the work they do for justice.”
Since then, Tony has found a sense of fulfillment in volunteer work. “Volunteering is incredibly rewarding in itself,” he said. “Sometimes you can feel like the world is a very selfish and materialistic place, where people have no time to help each other.
“When you talk to people…when you engage with them, you realise that they respond,” Tony explained. “Once these issues of justice and human need are brought to people’s attention, they don’t turn their backs on them. Their generosity and compassion become very visible.”
Born and reared in Dublin, Tony grew up in a near-universally Catholic and Christian environment.
“I’ve always had, and thankfully still have, a basic faith in Jesus Christ,” said Tony. When he began wondering where his volunteer work would align with his own ethos, Trócaire was the right fit.
Tony’s work with Trócaire consists mainly of awareness-raising events and education modules at schools, where he helps young people to be more aware of the struggles others are facing.
“If you’re looking to find the most honest, idealistic, and uncompromising people, it’s usually children between eight and 10 years old,” he said. Through his work with schools and students, he has found younger people to be the most responsive, and most active, in engaging with the issues he presents.
“They love being involved. They’re just like little sponges for this stuff, they’re very open to it,” Tony said. “And to some extent, we need to set up a programme where that innate desire they have can be harnessed. And once they become activated, they become demanding. They’re great little apostles.
“They understand, in a very simple sort of way, that there are bad things you can do and there are good things you can do,” he said, “and they’re very willing to do them.”
With adults, however, Tony found a surprising difference. “It becomes more difficult with people who are older because we make fewer compromises and are more settled,” he said. “We feel we have more to lose.”
According to Tony, taking the “conscious step” toward generosity, even when it seems to risk personal disadvantage, is where faith comes into play. For him, faith and justice are tied together.
“The opposite side of faith and charity is justice; one goes hand in hand with the other,” he said. “It’s a value system. It’s about friendship for the other, love of the neighbour, concern for the poor and the disadvantage of those in trouble. It’s not necessary to have a Christian deity or any other faith, but it certainly helps to bring it into your own, to know this work is important.”
Tony also volunteers once a week with Crosscare, a Dublin diocesan social service programme, where he helps facilitate their migrant and refugee service.
“It’s really about trying to help them find their place in the Irish setup, especially with things around immigration rules and such,” he said. “My job as a volunteer is to greet them as they come in, find out what their needs are and line them up with one of our workers.”
Tony has seen evidence of the increase in homelessness on the ground. “When people are ultimately granted permission to remain, they can’t get out of direct provision because they can’t find anywhere to live,” he said. Until they are approved to stay in Ireland, migrants and refugees are unable to work.
“They have to find a job and a place to live all of a sudden, with all of the disadvantages of living in a strange country and having lived in a more-or-less institutional setting for years,” said Tony. “This is a way for them to get a foot up the ladder.”
Tony also enjoys volunteering for a group that not only handles injustice on an individual level but beyond.
“I like the fact that Trócaire is not just looking to help those who are in difficulty but also to ask why they’re in difficulty and what can be done about that,” he said.
According to Tony, the best way to get involved in volunteer work is to start small, even if it seems like there are not enough hours in the day.
“There’s always enough time to do the important things, and it doesn’t take much time as you think,” he said. “Take a small step. Do one thing.”
When it comes to young people, Tony feels the next step is continuing to cultivate the “innate” desire children have to do good by encouraging gratitude.
“We are always unhappy about something,” he said. “But things that parents and teachers can do is cultivate this sense of gratitude, how fortunate we are that this is the country that we have.
“From there it’s a small step to say, ‘Well, shouldn’t justice be available to everyone?’”