Hope Initiatives International (HII) was established by Don Mullan on 9 June 2016 as the vehicle through which he will focus on a series of development, climate action, justice and peace, human rights and race amity legacy projects throughout the next decade. They include the following:
The name was chosen because it evokes the transformative power of hope in achieving lasting and empowering change.
The logo of Hope Initiatives International (printed in United Nations blue), depicts a dove soaring skywards from within an oak leaf. The oak leaf is the symbol of Mullan’s native Derry, Ireland, and the dove represents his lifelong commitment to the cause of Peace, Justice, Human and Environmental Rights.
Mullan first saw the symbol as a wall mural in Derry’s Bogside, painted by the world famous Bogside Artists and immediately sought permission to use it. The mural reminded him of a Matisse drawing with its continuity and fluidity. It’s power is in its simplicity.
Mullan was particularly moved by the mural’s location as it overlooked an area that was occupied by the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972, and from where they killed and wounded several of the Bloody Sunday victims.
The symbol was created by a local teacher, Fr. Neil McCarron, who taught at St. Columb’s College, a local school which produced two Nobel Laureates of Peace and Literature: John Hume and Seamus Heaney.
Mullan has been granted permission to use the logo from St. Columb’s College who pointed out that the logo is also used locally by the Derry Diocesan Directory, and it is embedded in marble on the floor of the Diocesan Office at St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry.
On 29 September 2017 Don Mullan received a WhatsApp text from a friend, 80-year-old Irish missionary, Fr. Pat Clarke CSSp, who has spent most of his life fighting for the rights of the poor in Sao Paulo’s favelas, and the indigenous peoples affected by illegal logging in both the Amazon and the remnants of Brazil’s Atlantic Rain Forests.
The text included a link to a short BBC documentary about Africa’s Great Green Wall. A wall, when completed, that would span the width of the continent of Africa, in the Sahel belt south of the Sahara Desert, aimed at halting the desertification of the continent, due to Climate Change. It was the first time Mullan learned of the initiative.
Mullan’s imagination was immediately set ablaze. For over a year he had listened with incredulity at the divisive proposal to build a wall along the southern border of the USA, to be paid for by Mexico! A wall with the specific purpose of keeping the poor of Central and South America from entering the territory of the United States.
Africa’s Great Green Wall, however, was different. A wall, which, if successful, will be ranked as a natural Wonder of the World. Mullan immediately recognized that this was a wall that all humanity could believe in because it had several noble objectives. However, he was surprised that, like himself, many had not yet heard of it, in Ireland and abroad, including senior politicians and civil servants.
Due to desertification, caused by Climate Breakdown, 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa may be forced to migrate during the next three decades. African nations have decided to take action with a project aimed at restoring degraded land.
The Great Green Wall will span 11 countries. It will measure 8,000 kilometers from east to west and will be 15 kilometers in depth. When completed it will be the longest living organism upon the planet.
“This is an historic moment.” he says. “For too long colonial powers and multinationals stole the resources of Africa and exploited its people. This is an African initiative that we can all be part of, the growing of a world wonder, that will be a symbol of transformative hope, not just for Africa, but for the entire world.”
You are encouraged to watch the short BBC video above. For further information on The Great Green Wall Project, click here.
Don Mullan is now a consultant with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD),pioneering the Great Green Wall and has forged important links with the African Union. He has been instrumental in helping to secure a grant of 1.2 million euros for a major inventory that is currently establishing exactly how much of the ‘wall’ has been created and how much more needs to be done to realise this epic project by 2030. Mullan is also an Executive Producer on the award-winning feature documentary ‘The Great Green Wall’, having procured the support of the Irish Government, the Laudato Si’ Challenge, and Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.
“The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project is a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The First World War – “The War to End All Wars” – lasted over four years and planted the seeds for WWII. It consumed the lives of an estimated 18 million people – thirteen thousand per day. Yet, there was one day, Christmas Day 1914, when the madness stopped and a brief peace, inspired by the Christmas story, broke out along large swathes of the Western Front.
The Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium, stands on a gentle slope overlooking the site of one of the most astonishing events of WWI and, indeed, world history. An event which the British historian, Piers Brendon, described as
“… a moment of humanity in a time of carnage… what must be the most extraordinary celebration of Christmas since those notable goings-on in Bethlehem.”
German soldiers had been sent thousands of small Christmas trees and candles from back home. As night enveloped an unusually still and silent Christmas Eve, a soldier placed one of the candlelit trees upon the parapet of his trench. Others followed and before long a chain of flickering lights spread for miles along the German line. British and French soldiers observed in amazement. As the night progressed they heard the sounds of Christmas carols drift across the gulf of No Man’s Land. A young British soldier, Albert Moren, near La Chapelle d’Armentieres, France, 12 kilometres from Messines, recalled:
“It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and… there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and then there were those lights – I don’t know what they were. And then they sang “Stille Nacht” – “Silent Night”. I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
German singing attracted almost as much attention as did the candlelit trees, which another soldier likened to ‘the footlights of a theatre’. Many British and French units were spellbound and reacted, as if an audience, with applause. Curious, some soldiers raised their heads. No shots were fired. Tantalizingly shoulders, trunks and eventually entire bodies stood above the trenches.
Troops on both sides began to inch closer and eventually met at the heart of No Man’s Land, surrounded by their fallen comrades. They shook hands and agreed a truce the following day.
Shortly after dawn on Christmas morning they met again, exchanging food and drinks, swapped cap badges and buttons, posed for photographs and showed one another pictures of their families and loved ones.
This extraordinary encounter continued throughout the day during which they held joint religious services and helped bury each other’s fallen comrades. Contemporary correspondence and reports from the period report several footballs were produced and a strong tradition persists that a regulation game of soccer between German and British soldiers was played with the German’s emerging 3-2 winners.
We do know that the Irish took an active role in the 1914 Christmas Truce. The regimental history of the 13th London Regiment, the Kensingtons, records:
We were a little embarrassed by this sudden comradeship, and, as a lasting joke against us, let it be said that the order was given to stand to arms. But we did not fire, for the battalion on our right, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, with their national sense of humour, answered the enemy’s salutations with songs and jokes and made appointments in No Man’s Land for Christmas Day. We felt small and subdued and spent the remainder of Christmas Eve in watching the lights flicker and fade on the Christmas trees in their trenches and in hearing the voices grow fainter and eventually cease.
Today, the debris of war, the mud, the wire and the thousands of corpses and wounded that inhabited the location of the Christmas Truce are but a memory. When Don Mullan first visited the site, close to the town of Messines and Ploegsteert Woods, Flanders, on 28 August 2008, only a small wooden cross memorialized the Christmas Truce. It stood on an embankment, dwarfed against a backdrop of a seven-foot tall maize harvest.
Unable to see the length and breadth of this part of No Man’s Land upon which one of the most moving encounters of human history occurred, Mullan asked permission to enter a nearby two-storey house. From an upstairs window he looked upon neat rows of maize stretching towards St. Niklaas Church, Messines, and the Round Tower of the Island of Ireland Peace Park, a kilometre or two distant.
As Mullan surveyed the site of this small but momentous and hope-filled moment in history, he imagined, by 2014, a Flanders Peace Field for the children and youth of Europe and the world. A field upon which, over and over again, that moment of humanity would be memorialised through the energy of the young. Thus was born the idea of The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project, which the 1984 Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, has described as:
“… a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
A Story for All Seasons
The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce has captured the imagination of people across the world. It is not simply a story for Christmas, but a story that touches people wherever and whenever they hear it, irrespective of the season. As such, this story has the power to attract people to French and Belgian Flanders 365 days of the year.
In his poem ‘A Carol From Flanders’, about the 1914 Christmas Truce, the poet Frederick Niven (1878-1944) concludes with an inspiring hope-filled aspiration which the region can help fulfil:
Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
The American Folk singer, John McCutcheon (1952 – ) states that he first learned about the 1914 Christmas Truce from a backstage janitor during an interval in a Birmingham, Alabama, concert hall in 1984. He states: “I was so taken with the woman’s story, I wrote the entire song “Christmas in the Trenches” during the intermission of my concert that night.”
The popular song is now the subject of a beautifully illustrated book, written by McCutcheon and published by Peachtree, USA (2010). In his Author’s note, McCutcheon echoes the sentiments of the poet Frederick Niven:
I first thought I would only sing the song and tell the story during the Christmas season. I soon learned it deserves –no needs–to be told 365 days a year.
Don Mullan argues we need to grasp the fact that we have an opportunity to develop, unquestionably, the most powerful and hope-filled story of World War I. A story that can help to make French and Belgian Flanders (between Armentieres and Messines) one of the great peace regions of the world.
It is a story that touches people everywhere and which has the seeds of optimism and inspiration that our world so desperately needs today. It is a story that is laced with the spirit of humanity, human kindness and goodwill: a story for children, youth, young men and women, the middle-aged and old.
At a time when the European experiment is under enormous stress due to economic and political upheaval, and neo-nationalism is on the rise, Mullan believes the 1914 Christmas Truce is a story to remind the world, and especially all Europeans, of the trauma of two world wars, of our common humanity and our post conflict commitment to a shared future.
It is a sacred story and we have a duty to embrace it with great reverence and respect. It is the story of a seed, planted by ordinary soldiers and low ranking officers, in the fields that Messines and Armentieres overlooks – inspired by the first Christmas – that we must now take and tell:
365 days a year – to… speed the time when every day Shall be as Christmas Day.
The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project
Inspired by the spontaneous Christmas truces during WWI, Don Mullan’s Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project aims to create a major centenary legacy through the following initiatives:
1. To create a UNESCO World Heritage Site in French and Belgian Flanders, in memory of the 1914 Christmas Truce;
2. To create, with the support of senior academics from the universities of Galway, Penn State, Aberdeen and Harvard, a Centre for the teaching of Human Empathy;
3. To create a major visitors center, likely around St. Nicholas Church, Messines, Belgium, that explores the religious, cultural and trans-national elements of the 1914 Christmas Truce and its relevance for today;
4. A UNESCO and UNOSDP backed Flanders Peace Field in an area to be agreed in consultation with communities representing French and Belgian Flanders, aimed at drawing the youth of the world to explore and experience the role of sport in building a better world;
5. An international UNESCO sculpture trail, inspired and led by the Anglo-Irish artist, Andrew Edwards, and his internationally acclaimed Christmas Truce Monument, linking participating French and Flemish communities.
Much work has already been invested in the realization of this project, with crucial groundwork already done. Considering its Irish roots, a patron of the project, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has described the initiative as:
“… a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
Two relevant documents that outline work already undertaken and accomplished are the following (with particular reference to the 2014 Centenary Report – Christmas Truce Project, which has several supporting links to relevant articles and references):
On 11 November 2018 the centenary commemorations of WWI will come to an end. It will mark the conclusion of over four years of commemorations across the world.
Commemorations are primarily focused on remembering the past. Hope Initiatives International (HII) is primarily concerned about legacy. How do we remember in a way that is empowering and in ways that are infused with transformative hope?
HII has two major WWI legacy projects that it will pursue during the current decade:
‘Mercy – Trócaire is a public art project inspired by an actual story involving a young Dublin soldier in the British Army, seriously wounded during the 1918 German Spring Offensive, and who maintained his life was saved by a metal crucifix given to him in 1915 by his mother, and a young German officer.
The Background Story
James Burke was born in Dublin in 1896. He is a first cousin of the late Fr Tom Burke, a co-founder of the annual Irish Young Scientists Exhibition.
In 1915, aged 19, he enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Before leaving for the Western Front, his mother gave James a small metal crucifix which he carried with him throughout the war. James fought in many of the major campaigns, including the Battle of the Somme.
On 21 March 1918, in the opening stages of the German Spring Offensive, 22-year-old James Burke was seriously wounded outside St. Quentin in Northern France. The German attack was so overwhelming that British units were forced to retreat, leaving their dead and wounded behind.
The bullet that wounded James Burke hit the right arm of the metal crucifix that his mother had given him and was deflected over his heart. James, nonetheless, was seriously wounded. There are varying accounts of how long he lay wounded, ranging from one to three days. However, the two details that remain clear are (i) James always attributed his survival to the crucifix and (ii) the humanity of a young German officer.
James told his family that as he lay seriously wounded, the young officer came upon him and showed enormous compassion. He lifted James and carried him to a field hospital where his wounds were treated and bandaged.
James spent the remainder of WWI as a prisoner of war in Stendal, Germany, close to Berlin.
Much of James’ war memorabilia has survived, including the crucifix which bears the indentation of the bullet. The body of Christ is worn smooth, likely clasped and rubbed during times of prayer and anguish throughout the three years James was in the trenches. On the back of the crucifix James etched the years 1915 – 1918.
James returned from the war with great devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (affectionately called ‘the angel of the trenches’ by Catholic soldiers). He married Teresa O’Connor of 4 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 4, and lived there for the remainder of his life. He worked as a cinema usher at the Deluxe Cinema on Camden Street (the original entrance of which still survives) and died at the age of 56. James and Teresa had a daughter, Ethne, and a son, Gary. Gary Burke was the godfather of Margaret Beatty, the wife of Don Mullan.
James’ son, Gary, died in 2003. Before he died he entrusted his father’s war medals and memorabilia to Don and Margaret Mullan.
The artist who will likely be commissioned to create this monument is Andrew Edwards, part of the Irish Diaspora, born in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Mullan has worked with Andrew on three major monument projects:
(i) Gordon Banks, Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent (2008) unveiled by Pelé and Archbishop Desmond Tutu;
(ii) 1914 Christmas Truce, Messines, Belgium (2014) unveiled by the Mayor of Messines on Christmas Eve 2014;
(iii) Frederick Douglass, University of Maryland, USA (2016) unveiled by Nettie Douglass, great great granddaughter of Frederick Douglass.
Andrew is a master craftsman with the ability to breathe life into bronze. His attention to detail is extraordinary.
WWI James Burke – German Officer Monument:
Having discussed the idea and concept with Andrew Edwards, he took inspiration for the monument from Le Bon Samaritan by Francois Sicard in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, part of the Louvre Museum complex, as the story evoked the parable of the Good Samaritan as described in the Gospel of Luke 10: 25-37. Sicard’s monument, coincidently, was unveiled in 1896, the same year that James Burke was born in Dublin.
Accompanying his initial maquette , which he describes as a ‘rough draft’, Andrew wrote, on the 4 May 2013:
There are many things emerging from this study as always happens, unsurprisingly as sculpture is a language – which reveals through re-presentation of a story into it, the same new insights as a verbal language translation often reveals. For instance, in placing Private Burke into the arms of the officer, I wanted to show the struggle and determination to bear the weight (and intense cold, fatigue and adversity in general). The bracing of the half dead soldier’s legs against the supporting knee of the German soldier, as if just lifting him ready to advance, creates the most wonderful pieta – and as we know there is a resuscitation (resurrection) to follow, and indeed a rebirth of faith made available to all viewers. (Photo: Andrew Edward’s Maquette ‘Mercy – Trócaire’)
Two weeks later, on 27 May 2013, Andrew wrote:
… after studying my finished maquette (attached), which was an interpretation of your account largely instinctive, I see a different responsibility required by our words. Dr King, in his “I’ve Been to the Mountain top” speech said: “And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Mercy – Trócaire
As part of a WWI legacy project, Hope Initiatives International intends creating a major public sculpture, inspired by an act of mercy during WWI involving Private James Burke and a young German officer. The project will have the following aims:
The sculpture will be created in a public space over a period of six-weeks, which will be open to visits by schools and the general public;
The making of the sculpture will be broadcast on the worldwide web, so that people from across the world can observe and participate in the process of its creation;
The project will seek private and crowd funding with all excess funding being donated to Trócaire Development Project (75%) and the initiatives of HII (25%).
The project aims to link Ireland, Germany and France in a triangle of amity. Ultimately, the monument will be produced in triplet and unveiled in Dublin, Berlin and Saint Quentin, France, as part of a WWI UNESCO legacy project to encourage the teaching of human empathy.
The project will have an accompanying book to be written by Irish author, Don Mullan, the originator of the idea.
Haiti’s history is inspiring, yet it is the poorest nation in the Western World. Why?
Haiti is yet to be properly acknowledged for its seminal role in ending slavery worldwide through the astute and courageous leadership of one of the great unsung heroes of humanity, Toussaint Louverture. Haiti also changed the course of USA history by forcing Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to relinquish interest in the Louisiana Territories, following his defeat by the Haitian people.
Haiti’s poverty was a punishment, imposed and compounded in the immediate aftermath of the Haitian Revolution which saw it become the first black Republic in 1803. Haiti’s victory was viewed as a threat by four superpowers in the region whose economies were being fueled by the slave trade: France, Spain, Great Britain and the United States of America. All four conspired to lock Haiti down and prevent it from opening trading agreements with its neighbors, effectively depriving the Haitian economy of oxygen.
Twenty-two years later, with Haiti severely weakened, France returned and under threat of war, forced Haiti to pay a Reparation Tax of 150 million gold francs, to former French slave owners. There was little mercy shown, and the Haitian people had to endure, for more than a century, externally imposed austerity, stretching across several generations, from 1825 to 1947. Therein lies the primary cause of Haiti’s poverty and why it is the poorest nation in the Western World today.
An additional injustice perpetrated against the Haitian people was the abduction of their leader, Toussaint Louverture, having been invited to peace negotiations. Toussaint Louverture was taken prisoner and transported to France where he died in solitary confinement at Fort de Joux in the Spring of 1803. The remains of Toussaint Louverture have yet to be repatriated from France to Haiti.
Hope Initiatives International, in collaboration with international academics and activists, will launch the following two major projects aimed at highlighting Haiti’s contribution to the ending of slavery and encouraging a review by France of the historic injustice of the Reparation Tax:
An international symposium on the historic contribution made by Toussaint Louverture to the ending of slavery, with the aim of establishing an international commission of inquiry to:
(i) Establish a chain of custody of the person and remains of Toussaint Louverture from the moment of his abduction in the Fall of 1802 until his death and burial at Fort de Joux on 7 April 1803;
(ii) Seek accountability from France concerning the whereabouts of the mortal remains of Toussaint Louverture today;
(iii) Support the Haitian people in their historic request for the repatriation of the remains of Toussaint Louverture to the Haitian Pantheon.
To build an international coalition aimed at encouraging France to repay (from 2025 – 2147) the modern equivalent of the 150 million gold francs (later reduced to 90 million gold francs) it imposed on the people of Haiti between 1825-1947, as reparation to former French slave owners. It is estimated that in today’s currency, Haiti was forced to pay approximately US$22 billion to France over a period of 122 years.
Dr Smith had learned of Mullan’s work to highlight the connection between Frederick Douglass – the man whom many African Americans consider the father of the US Civil Rights Movement – and the ‘Irish Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell.
Mullan had first come across Frederick Douglass while developing the Great ‘Famine’ Project (1984-1996) and included reference to Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland in his presentation: ‘Ireland: 5000 Year in 20 Minutes’ which he co-produced with artist Robert Ballagh in 1996.
Following the publication of his memoir ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave’ in 1845, Douglass was encouraged by the abolitionist movement to leave the USA for his safety. He travelled to Ireland and Britain for two years, during which he promoted his book and the cause of ending slavery in America.
Douglass was aware of Daniel O’Connell and had the opportunity to encounter him on one occasion in 1845 at Conciliation Hall, Dublin. While the encounter was cordial and O’Connell invited Douglass to address the crowd, there is no evidence that both men ever met again. However, the encounter was to considerably alter the trajectory of Douglass’s future commitment.
In 2011, in advance of the visit to Ireland of the USA’s first African-American President, Barack Obama, Mullan re-published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave to mark the historic occasion, in both softback and as a limited edition hardback. The foreword to this edition was written by the President of Ireland, Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, with an epilogue by the Chief Executive of Concern Worldwide, Tom Arnold.
Mullan’s introduction charts key correspondence between Douglass and the head of the American Abolitionist Movement, William Lloyd Garrison, following his encounter with O’Connell. Mullan demonstrates how Douglass’s thinking was influenced by O’Connell’s address that fateful evening. Mullan argues that the greatest gift Ireland gave to Douglass wasn’t simply welcoming him as an equal human being, but the fact that having arrived as a single issue campaigner, Douglass departed a determined internationalist. For the rest of his life, Douglass fought, not just for the ending of slavery in America, but, like O’Connell and Ireland, for the oppressed worldwide.
Mullan’s 2011 edition of the Douglass Narrative was awarded a 2012 Nautilus Book AwardsSilver Medal. Mullan’s introduction to the edition may be accessed by clicking here.
Dr. Smith and the National Center for Race Amity later invited Mullan and Hope Initiatives International to partner in an ambitious project with the working title: ‘Two Men Meet Project’. It is a multi-disciplined race amity project inspired also by the unique relationship between Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. The Two Men Meet Project aims, in four key areas, to build on the transformative hope with which a young Frederick Douglass left Ireland in 1846, greatly inspired by Daniel O’Connell. The Project aims to:
Renew the fight for Civil and Human Rights at a time of growing neo-nationalism;
Emphasize our common humanity through stories of race amity and ‘The Other Tradition’, especially through the story of the O’Connell and Douglass encounter in Ireland;
To make the future wellbeing and recovery of Haiti a special cause, in keeping with Frederick Douglass’s love and respect for the Haitian people, in particular, the founder of the 1st Black Republic, Toussaint Louverture.
To gather the elements of the project around a major piece of public art, entitled ‘Two Men Meet’, depicting the encounter of Frederick Douglass with Daniel O’Connell in Dublin in 1845, for the cities of Boston and Dublin. When accomplished, the monument will, simultaneously, be the first monument depicting Frederick Douglass in Europe, and Daniel O’Connell in the Americas.