"Sometimes key world events dominate our TV screens for long periods. Who can forget the famine in the Horn of Africa in the mid-1980s and the rise of Band Aid as a response from concerned people in the West?

Having started as a small organisation working with abandoned children in Vietnam and then to care for a large number of refugees from Cambodia, events in the Horn of Africa led to a huge shift for Cord in 1985.  I will never forgot arriving in Wad Sherife on the Sudan/Ethiopian border to research establishing Cord’s first refugee work outside South East Asia – the overbearing heat, the desert, the lack of shade and thousands upon thousands of makeshift homes made from packaging and rubbish. Words cannot describe the squalor and seeming lack of hope. One family in particular stands out, a young women with two small children. Her husband had been killed and she had lost her young baby in the famine. She had now fled to “safety” but to me it was hell on earth. Her story could have been repeated thousands of times.  It seems incredible that in just a few weeks we had a small team providing health care, skills training and helping people establish small businesses.

It marked a huge change and period of growth for Cord as we responded to the first Gulf War in Iraq and the genocide in Rwanda to name just two events. Ten years later Cord was no longer just a small agency in Indo-China but a major partner for UNHCR in 10 countries cross the world. Hundreds of people from the UK and thousands of local people and refugees worked together to provide essential services in the area of health, education and housing. Many more got involved by giving sacrificially and praying for those affected by war and disaster, as a demonstration of Christ’s love for the world.

However, perhaps an even greater shift was that we started thinking through underlying issues. Sadly, refugees not only lose their homes and have to leave their country, but they lose all control over their lives with choices being made for them without any consultation! Cord’s response was to seek to recognise that refugees were not just objects of pity, but people who needed to be included in responses that affected them. Over those years Cord sought to include refugees in new ways and became known for its community services programmes, where refugee communities worked together in initiatives to improve their lives.

The world is no different today - it is just the conflicts that have changed. I was privileged to be part of Cord’s history where we sought to provide basic services to so many refugees. However I am most excited that Cord has sought to understand that God is a God of reconciliation who longs for people to be reconciled to him and to each other. Finding ways for communities to talk together, weep together, learn from each other and model new ways of working together are exciting developments."

Martin Lee, September 2017.

This period in Cord’s history is one of huge growth and a shift from addressing the immediate needs of refugees to a more holistic and longer term approach. Working together with refugees to understand their needs, led to a more community-based programme of work that included providing the skills that would equip them for life outside the camps.

Cord continues to support the vulnerable and the marginalised and seeks to reduce poverty by reducing all forms of violence. The essence of love and compassion shared for those in refugee camps – remains at the heart of our work today.