Richard Moore’s uncle was one of those killed in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 1972, and four months later he experienced victimisation directly.
Walking home from his school in Derry on May 4, 1972 past a British unit stationed to protect the RUC, a soldier fired a rubber bullet that struck Richard between the eyes, permanently blinding him.
Richard cried that night for the loss of his eyesight. Only 10 years old, he was frightened.
And yet, one of the remarkable things about Richard is that, even as a young boy, he was never angry or self-pitying. He remarks that his attitude toward his blindness is a product of the way his devout Catholic parents raised him and his siblings.
“I remember once one of my brothers was in the kitchen talking to my mother shortly after I was shot, and he was very angry, and he said to my mother, they murdered my uncle, they blinded Richard, it’s time to get back,” Richard says. “And I remember my mother saying, look, if you want to help Richard, go in there and help Richard, but you’re not helping Richard by hurting somebody else. And, to me, that was the message that held in a very implicit way in our house.”
Having watched his parents attending Mass every day and never showing anger or bitterness toward anybody, even the British soldiers at the height of the Troubles, young Richard learned to turn to compassion more quickly than to anger.
He also recognises with hindsight that his friends and his community helped him cope with his lost eyesight. Even though he faced the inevitable challenges of blindness, Richard felt that thanks to the support of those in his life and community, he was able to “lead a reasonably normal life”.
For example, because Richard was no longer able to see to steer a bike, friends would run ahead of Richard and tell him which way to go.
“The impact of losing my eyesight was cushioned by the support and generosity and love and care that I received from my family, from my friends, and from the local community, and as a result of that, I think I didn’t have the excuse to be as angry as I could’ve been,” he says.
On a 2007 BBC documentary entitled ‘Blind Vision’, Richard met and befriended the man who shot him, a former British soldier named Charles Innes. Talking about the experience, Richard again reiterates how forgiveness taught him by his parents has benefitted his life.
“It just shows you what is possible when you experience the gift of forgiveness. It is possible to meet someone who you could perceive as an enemy or perpetrator or victim and meet them as a human being,” Richard says. “Charles isn’t a bad person. I think he’s done something terrible, but Charles isn’t a bad person.”
And their friendship did not end in front of cameras. Though they don’t meet each other often as Richard lives in Derry and Charles in Scotland, they catch up on a regular basis and have plans to visit one another soon. And Richard says their friendship has moved beyond the obvious incident that brought them together.
“The incident really is what brought us together, but I think that our friendship is not just about the incident now,” Richard says. “That may have been the reason we met up, and that may have been the reason we were brought together, but we’ve moved beyond that. We’re friends.”
But Richard’s compassion extended further than relationships in his own life.
Richard got a license for a community radio station in Derry, Derry’s first, called Drive 105 so he could give back to the community, as well as relax with something he loves: music. The radio station is meant to give the community a voice it didn’t previously have, and it combines Richard’s loves of recording, radio and music.
A guitarist himself, Richard also has a folk band called Long Tower Folk Group that plays at Mass weekly. He and his wife, Rita, have both participated since 1980.
Yet a larger project tugged at Richard’s heart.
“I became very interested in children who suffered or are suffering from poverty, and I just felt that those children were at the bottom of the scale when it came to human rights and when it came to the need to be protected,” Richard says. “There are millions and millions of children who are being denied basic human rights every day of their lives, things they don’t have to be denied, like access to food, access to water, access to an education.”
Even though Richard himself suffered as a result of the Troubles, he felt he had been lucky because of the support system he had and the opportunities that enabled him to live normally despite lacking vision. These impoverished children, however, had considerably less.
“Partly because of my own experience as a child and how lucky I felt with all the opportunities I had in life, even as a blind person, I gravitated toward issues that affected children,” he says. “I kind of felt that I could be a voice for children that didn’t have a voice, and I kind of thought I could use my story as an example of how any child, given the right support and the right opportunity, can really make a difference.”
And so, drawn by his compelling passion, Richard started a charity called Children In Crossfire with the intent of helping impoverished children.
The charity primarily operates in Tanzania and Ethiopia, providing access to clean water, food, and education to children and the surrounding community.
In Tanzania, Children In Crossfire operates an education programme with an emphasis on early childhood development instructing teachers how to educate preschoolers, telling parents how to start educating their children while they are young and in the home, and getting communities to see early education as a priority to get children to eventually be able to grow up and have control over positive change in their communities.
They’ve also partnered with Tanzania’s Ministry of Health to combat childhood cancer.
In Ethiopia, they’ve renovated a hospital ward to help feed children suffering from malnutrition and work to increase awareness on how to properly nourish a child so that fewer will experience malnutrition.
They’ve worked to provide clean water to rural communities in recognition that young girls who have to fetch the water and who are most likely get sick from the water are disproportionately absent from schooling because of it.
The charity has also gone into the Ethiopian community of Addis Hiwot, purchased 60 apartments to relocate families in squalid conditions, gave children fortified, nutritional food, opened a preschool, and started to establish a community credit scheme so small businesses can take out loans.
And Children In Crossfire is at work at home in Ireland and in Britain too, aiming to develop compassionate students who understand the systems that create and sustain poverty.
In the TIDAL program for Teachers in Development and Learning, teachers learn new methods to encourage children to learn about how they can be compassionate and encourage change in the world as active global citizens.
Children In Crossfire also developed a play called Not My Problem that explores local and global issues using the stories of citizens of the North. The play calls on the audience to recognise what their role in aiding these issues’ decline can be.
While Richard’s proud of all of the work Children In Crossfire has done, he feels particularly close to the memory of a project he worked on in Gambia.
“In Gambia we ended up training and resourcing hundreds of teachers to help with visually impaired children in a classroom, in a place where visually impaired children didn’t normally go to school,” he says. “The success of that program wound up being 600 children over a couple of years being integrated into school.”
Though Richard acknowledges he grew up with more resources and more opportunities than many of the children helped by Children In Crossfire, he related to these kids in that they were visually impaired and they needed extra resources to get the education every child deserves.
“That particular project reminded me so much of my story because, at the end of the day, when I was shot and blinded in 1972, the integration of a blind child into a normal school wasn’t a done thing,” Richard says. “Today, integration is a big thing. But back in those days, it wasn’t. The facilities and the resources weren’t there in my school for me, and that’s why I’ll always say, if it wasn’t for the teachers and the people around me, I wouldn’t have been able to get an education and go to university.”
Just as Richard extended his parents’ attitude of forgiveness to Charles, he wanted to extend his teachers’ and his friends’ willingness to help him to these children who needed help to get an education.
“When I went to Gambia, these visually impaired children admittedly were living in much more difficult circumstances than I ever had been, they were living in abject poverty, but I saw something that allowed them to be brought into the school network, to receive an education, and I met children who were as excited as I was just to be treated normal and their parents were so delighted,” Richard says.
After 20 years of working with Children In Crossfire, when Richard looks over the successes of giving 100,000 children access to preschool, having providing 290,000 people food for a year in Malawi when there was famine, and providing access to safe, clean water for millions of people, he sees successes not for himself, but for the organization as a whole and for the people who made him the person who was who went out and started this organization.
“The person that I am, the work that I did, the personality I have, was affected by my parents, my friends, and my community, and as a result of them, all I ever wanted to do was give back some of the love and compassion and caring and opportunity that they gave to me,” Richard says.
At the core of Children In Crossfire , Richard explains, is a sense of compassion that enables volunteers, patrons, etc., to be able to empathise with children they may never meet who may grow up on a whole other side of the world. And that sense of compassion which Richard learned from friends and family has done a lot of good.
“Children In Crossfire are the result of the example that they gave me, and the result of that is that there are many millions of children alive today who have access to education or have reached adulthood or are healthier because of the example of the love and compassion that I’ve received,” Richard says.
“So, I’m proud of that, not for me, but for the people in my life that made the difference.”
Richard dreams of a day where an organisation like Children In Crossfire would not be needed because all children would be sufficiently provided for, but until that day, he says, Children In Crossfire “will continue to respond.”
“I hope that Children In Crossfire can have the resources to respond to as many children in the world as need our help. Obviously our resources are limited, so at the minute we work in Tanzania and Ethiopia, but through the support of people here in Northern Ireland, we will be able to reach many more children,” Richard says.
“Our plan, really, is to make sure as many children have access to an education, a preschool education, and all the barriers that prevent them, the lack of resources, the lack of schooling, the lack of food and water, that we can deal with those issues so that children can have access to a preschool education, so that ultimately they can take control of their communities, and blossom, and contribute to their own societies in the way that you have to yours and the way that I have to mine.”
After being shot and blinded unexpectedly at the age of 10, while simply walking home from school, Richard’s life could have turned out very differently. He could have been embittered that he, an innocent child and not a fighter, had something so precious taken from him. And yet he calls himself a fairly happy blind man.
“There are some things you can’t explain. The fact that I lost my eyesight the way I did, the fact that it was so dramatic, and really, everyone would understand if my response and the story was very different, everyone would’ve understood me being angry, everyone would’ve understood me giving up and sitting in the corner, but my life is very positive,” Richard says.
Richard attributes the compassion that ran through his household growing up and that runs through and operates Children In Crossfire now to something greater than himself and greater than the people he loves. He attributes it to Faith.
“I realise my personality has something to do with it, I realize opportunity has something to do with it, but I also realise there’s something above that that played a big part in my life, and I think it was faith.”