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Concern musters aid for India quake survivors

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

Enjoying shepherd’s pie and a pint of Murphy’s is nothing unusual at O’Neill’s bar in midtown. But for Bob Thelen, a Montana-born Irish American, it was the last taste of hearty Irish fare for a long time.

Last Friday evening, Thelen left for Guajarat, the earthquake-stricken state in India. He is the latest addition to the ongoing Concern Worldwide relief work team already there.

"I know a little of India from previous work I did in Nepal," Thelan said at the Concern office in New York, where he received his final briefing, but admitted that it would take a few days to adopt to the new situation. His immediate task will be to accurately assess the needs of the people in the town of Bhuj, the hardest hit in the state of Guajarat, in terms of shelter rehabilitation.

A degree in construction engineering and a Master’s in International Agricultural Development have proved essential to Thelen’s career in relief work, which started with a stint in the Peace Corps in 1985. He also worked extensively in Cambodia for Concern.

A central plank of Concern’s relief ethos is maximizing the ways in which local people can help themselves after a disaster. Thus, as Thelen pointed out, there is no need for people to send blankets or clothing to India, a country that produces huge amounts of such materials every year. Instead, Concern’s Dublin-based director, David Begg, has committed the organization to raising $1 million for India within the next year.

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Thelen plans to spend one month in Guajarat, but this will probably translate into a longer stay. There is no structural expert there at the moment, so his knowledge will be essential in an earthquake zone.

By the end of the year, Concern will be operating in 27 countries around the world, some on a permanent basis. As founding member Father ‘ngus Finucane, a Mayo native, said, "We stay as long as there is a need."

Information on donating to Concern can be found at www.concernusa.org, or by contacting Siobhan Walsh, Concern USA, 104 East 40th St., New York, NY 10016; (800) 59-CONCERN; info@concern-ny.org.

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