By Chime Tenzing
DHARAMSHALA, India, 12 May 2010
Richard Moore, the founder and director of the Children In Crossfire, was in Dharamshala in early May to give a motivational talk to the students of the Tibetan Children’s Village School.
In 1972, when Moore was 10 years of age, he was blinded by a rubber bullet fired at point blank range into his face by a British soldier. Amazingly, from childhood to the present day, he has never allowed bitterness to stunt his development. “I learned to see life in a different way,” is how he describes his remarkable acceptance of what, for most, would be a devastating trauma.
Chime Tenzing of Tashi Delek 90.4 FM radio caught up with Mr Moore:
Chime Tenzing: You lost your eyesight when you were 10 years old, shot by a rubber bullet in your hometown Derry in Ireland. Some years ago you contacted the soldier whose shot caused your blindness. Today you are good friends with him, and you even brought Mr Charles with you to Dharamshala. What inspired you to divert your energy into building compassion towards the person responsible for your blindness?
Richard Moore: I think there are a number of reasons why I wanted to meet Charles and develop a form of relationship or friendship with him. First of all, I know Charles shot and blinded me but it was during the conflict in Northern Ireland. When I was ten years old it was 1973, and northern Ireland was very violent place — an unusual place to live, and also an unusual place to be a soldier or a policeman. So sometimes in unusual circumstances unusual things happen and certainly Charles fired a rubber bullet that blinded me, but this is something that would never happen in a normal society. So in some ways I have always felt that to a certain degree the individual is responsible, but also the society in which we live has to take some responsibility as well.
The other thing is: If you think about anger and bitterness, who does it affect most? if I had been angry with Charles, and that had developed into a type of hatred, then it would only have affected me, not Charles. Then I would not only be the victim of the troubles of war, I would also be a victim of my own hatred. For that reason I am delighted that I never had those emotions of anger or bitterness.
Probably more important is, Chime, my mother and father never had any bitterness or anger. I never heard them say an angry word. So I think for those reasons I never had anger myself.
Tenzing: Many people regard you as a living role model for forgiveness and compassion. Despite all the hardships associated with loss of your eyesight, you have never let this hold you back. Instead you have shown the world how to swim against the tide. How do you manage to do this?
Moore: I think of my blindness in a metaphorical way: You can take away someone’s eyesight, but you can’t take away their vision, and all of us have vision. The vision could be what you want to be when you leave school, what would you like for your children, and so on. I was blessed to the point that I had a vision, to do the work with the children in Crossfire, in all the parts of the world. So if I am a role model it’s because of the generosity and kindness that I have received so much and as a result of which I can use my role as an example to help others.
Today and tomorrow, and for the rest of my life, I will always need help. Throughout my whole life people have helped me in various aspects of my life. I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the help that I am receiving and because I am at the receiving end of that generosity, I think it has the impact on me that I would like to help others.
Tenzing: His Holiness the Dalai Lama always refers to you as friend, role model and a hero. In his forward to your autobiography, “Can I give my eyes” he had written “I encourage people across the world to read what Richard has to say?” How did you actually meet His Holiness?
Moore: I met His Holiness for the first time in the year 2000. He came to Derry and it was at the early stages of the peace process. His Holiness expressed a desire to meet some victims from the troubles. I was invited as one of the committee members to organise that visit. I always remember the day when His Holiness arrived in Derry with great fondness because you know his energy, his spiritualism, came across very strongly. He spoke to the victims for about two hours and at one point of time he talked about forgiveness, and when I listened to him I remember thinking “That is exactly how I feel.” I said, your Holiness I just wanted you to know that all of what you said about forgiveness, that’s how I feel.” So then I was invited to sit beside him at a meeting afterwards and His Holiness asked me to tell him my story. He told me he would like me to come to Dharamshala to speak to the Tibetan children to share my story with them, and I suppose that was the beginning of my friendship with His Holiness.
Tenzing: His Holiness attributed to the loving and caring nature of his mother, the development of a compassionate heart in him. Who in your case is behind the development of such a big heart?
Moore: I will agree with His Holiness: my mother and father first of all. My parents were two wonderful people. They were very religious and they were non-violent, but they were living in a violent society. They tried to keep a warm, caring and loving home. They tried to keep us away from violence as much as possible. Then in a very short period of time their whole world was turned upside down — that safe home they tried to keep was smashed with the blinding of their ten-year-old son. But they still kept their faith, they prayed a lot, and they showed me nothing but compassion and generosity. So their example of forgiveness and compassion for me is wonderful. As well as that of my community — back in the 70s in Ireland, we didn’t have trauma counselling or anything like that. Your community and your friends were your support network, and that’s who supported my family and that’s who supported me. So I believe it’s from there also that I get my compassion.
Tenzing: About a decade ago you founded the charity Children in Crossfire, that helps poor children in Africa, Latin America and Asia. How does it help?
Moore: Over the last 14 years Children in Crossfire has worked in various ways in various countries, Asia, Africa and Latin America as you’ve mentioned — and also countries like Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Columbia, Brazil, Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea and Gambia — from small projects to larger projects. We have supported projects that provide access to clean water, food, medicine, education, aid programmes — all those types of things. Over the last few years we are focused specifically on children in Ethiopia and Tanzania. I am working with children where they lack basic resources, so what we are trying to do is help build capacity to these communities to give the skills that they need, to give them the resources and the funding to ensure they have enough food, have access to education.
Most importantly we try to give them their dignity and give them their place in the world because when you think of it, poverty is not an issue of charity: poverty is an issue of justice. All these children are asking for is their basic human rights. If we look at the United Nations rights on the convention of children, there is a set of rules, a set of basic rights that were designed over 60 years ago, that should apply to everyone on the planet — the right to education, right to be protected from abuse, right to be protected from violence, the right to home life and so on. For many of the children that I have met in Ethiopia and Tanzania, those basic rights are being ignored on a daily basis.
And of course I am here in Dharamshala with the Tibetan community in exile and that for me is a reminder of how people’s rights are being abused on a daily basis. I can see it here. So with Children in Crossfire, at one level, you know, we might be providing food or education. But ultimately it is important that we restore and recognise the rights of those children wherever they are in the world.
Tenzing: How did you get interested and who motivated you to take up charity work?
Moore: When I left university I became a businessman, and I worked and ran my business for 14 years. But I was always getting involved in community issues. This was in the 1980s when the troubles were at their height, and there was no peace process. I used to organise itineraries for international visitors coming to Ireland to meet politicians or to meet the victims of the troubles. And there’s an organisation based in Dublin in Ireland called AFRI: Action from Ireland. AFRI was very much involved in justice issues globally and we used to organise events throughout Ireland for people from Ireland to attend, to highlight issues in different countries like apartheid in south Africa, hunger in Somalia and things like that.
I remember going to those events and feeling motivated, and I also realised that I may be blind, but there are children in other parts of the world who have their eyesight but didn’t have what I had. There weren’t the opportunities and choices that I have, a community like i had. All those things I think, encouraged me and I began to feel that I could use my experience of being shot and blinded and the positive outcome from my life, to be able to help other children who may not have a voice. So then I decided to sell my business and set up Children in Crossfire.
Tenzing: Who has been your biggest support or source of encouragement in making the _Children in Crossfire_ a successful organisation? What are the challenges you encountered in running the organisation?
Moore: The people who inspired me are people like the Dalai Lama. Being here at this moment and seeing what he has achieved in the last 50 years in his lifetime is absolutely incredible: creating some level of stability for the Tibetan community, opportunities for Tibetan children, a safe haven for for Tibetan children and the monks — and then you look at the contribution the Tibetan community has given in turn around the world. Look at the contribution the Dalai Lama has given around the world; I mean he is revered everywhere in the world, he is loved everywhere in the world. And what is he known for? He is known for compassion and for his message of peace and forgiveness. So it’s people like him that have encouraged me.
There are other people, like one of our leaders in northern Ireland, a man called John Hume, who is a Noble laureate. John grew up streets away from my home and I believe he brought the peace process to Ireland and when you think of the Irish conflict, well it has been going, some would say, for 800 years. The present war lasted for 30-odd years and then we had the campaigns in the 50s where was the worst resistance. Then we had the eastern rise in the 1960s and all the rebellion then. The northern Ireland or the Irish-British problem has been there many centuries but it took John Hume, a Derry man who grew up in my city, who brought the things to an end. So if you think of the Dalai Lama’s humble beginning, if you think of John Hume’s humble beginning, and those other leaders throughout the world — Martin Luther King — all had humble beginnings but they were powerful men in their lifetimes and beyond, and they brought with them significant changes. I think people like that are examples that no matter how insignificant you might feel you are, yet you can bring about change in a significant way.
Tenzing: Dharamshala is the exile of many Tibetans; it’s the home of many Indians and also people from the West. Since you’ve been here a few days, what have you been doing here besides meeting His Holiness and giving a great speech at the TCV school?
Moore: On Tuesday, the day I arrived, I went to the Transit School and spoke to the children there. Yesterday I went to the TCV school which was the biggest event that I have spoken at in my life. Today I met with His Holiness and also yesterday I met with the director of the TCV School, to explore ways in which Children in Crossfire can support TCV school and Tibetan children. Tomorrow I’ll go to Delhi and will be speaking at an event there that night. So primarily what I have been doing here is speaking at these events that the Office of His Holiness has organised. Also I have been learning about Tibetan culture and meeting Tibetan people, hearing their stories about their experiences in Tibet themselves and why they left. And looking at ways in which Children in Crossfire can get involved in future in helping children here, refugees from Tibet. And that’s what it’s been for me.
Tenzing: Tashi Delek 90.4 FM is the first community radio station here in Dharamshala. Interestingly you are also instrumental in bringing community radio to your hometown Derry three years ago. What effects does the radio station have on the community? As Tashi Delek is quite new, do you have any good advice for us for the future?
Moore: My Drive 105.3fm community radio station, based in Derry/Londonderry, that I started is equally new — about year and half. I think community radio is a fantastic initiative. In the northern Ireland context you have the BBC, you know you have many commercial stations on our doorsteps. Community radio brings something different. First of all, it provides services to that specific community for the entire time it’s transmitting. You can’t underestimate that in terms of reaching out to communities, because newspapers are read by one community or other, newspapers can’t be read in the car when you are driving, and depending on your political persuasion you may or may not buy certain newspapers. So newspapers are very useful but they have limitations.
Radio knows no boundaries, radio reaches out to people’s homes and communities. It doesn’t matter if there’s walls or big fences, radio reaches through, so it’s a good way of communicating. It’s a good opportunity for the community to dialogue with each other, to share information and to have a bit of fun as well.
Radio provides opportunities for young people and other people of the community to become part of the radio and learn about radio, to understand the whole process of making a program, everything from planning to editing to final cut. It also provides opportunities to examine issues in their community in a different way from any other process. For example in northern Ireland we have young people who live in different communities and who are in conflict with each other — it may be they don’t understand each other. If we invite those people to make radio programs, first of all they begin to work with each other, and they not only begin to learn about each other, they begin to examine the issues in their community that affect them. Soon through that process they began to understand they have much more in common than differences. So for me community radio is a very significant media tool that will help in various ways. I wish your station every success and maybe in the future we can consider sharing programmes.
Tenzing: Richard Moore is not just a successful business man and the head of a great charity organization. There is also another side of you — the passionate musician for example. How did you find that passion for music?
Moore: [chuckles] I think music is one of the most uniting factors in the world. I think music reaches across all boundaries. In my experience, musicians are almost like a different group of people. Often politics and divisions don’t seem to affect musicians. They just want to share the music and sing and play together. Just after I was blinded, I myself developed a real interest in music. One of my brothers got married and he had a party at his new wife’s home. After the reception, there was that guy playing guitar there, and when they took a break he brought the guitar down and sat it on my knee. And I thought “God I want to learn the guitar, I must learn the guitar,” so he started teaching me. I had various teachers over the years, and for me music became a social outlet. You know when you are a musician you stand out in a crowd, don’t you. People will gather around you, and then you start to play in a pub, and you think you are going to be a pop star someday [laughs]. So I done all of that, I met fantastic friends through music, I had some wonderful experiences through music. And, music for me is like photographs, you know when I hear a certain song it conjures up some memories and reminds me of times of my life. Music is also a great thing to help you relax. For me anyway, you know I’ll be very busy, probably no busier than anyone one else, but when you have had a busy day you come come and put on your favourite artists and relax back and it helps you unwind. So for me music is a very important part of my life.