I am always happy to present myself as a Biocultural Diversity Conservationist and National Geographic Society Global Explorer, writer and photographer.  For me, Biocultural Diversity Conservationist, best describes the core of my work and life. Developed by  Luisa Maffi, it represents the idea of our biological and linguistic diversity as part of nature and the broader diversity of all life.  Although my understanding of what constitutes good conservation has changed significantly throughout my life, I started thinking seriously about conservation as a child with a menagerie of animals in our family yard and while working on my weekends and afternoons in a small wildlife park.  I developed an understanding of the natural world. This was soon followed by my first out of school working life profession as a cultural heritage mason,  two parallel ways of working in cultural working inwhat was a small town in NSW Australia  National Parks of Australia to East and North Africa, South Korea, Haiti, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Tunisia, Spain, France, Italy, and Ireland to Afghanistan the Algerian Sahara to Indonesia and the forests of Northern Madagascar.

A bio-cultural diversity conservationist, writer, photographer and explorer, Tom qualified with a Master of Masonry, Cultural Heritage Conservation, Restoration & Preservation in 1989 and gained advanced certification as an Expedition Guiding in 1992 in Australia. Tom holds a BSc Honours degrees in International Development & Food Policy from University College Cork and a Masters in Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin, Ireland.  His academic work focused on the bio-cultural diversity of indigenous peoples and minorities such as refugees and Internally displacement people.  Tom is a Ph.D. Candidate with the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  His current ethnographic study looks at the displaced of the Rohingya people, their "living heritage" and ways to improve their lived environment and durable solutions. Tom has spent much of his working life, living and working with minorities, Indigenous communities and other minorities, refugees, stateless and internally displaced people. 

 

Life in Stone

The walls have many things to tell me,
And the days are long. I come and listen;
My hand is upon the stones, and the tale I fain would hear
Is of the men who built the walls,
And of the God who made the stones and the workers.

Hellen Keller

 

I began to learn the ancient craft of stone masonry, sculpting, fixing and restoring monuments buildings and heritage sites in my school days from the age of 14 years.  The craft had faded in the years prior to my apprenticeship 

 

  He began travelling to Asia from the age of 15 developing a fascination with both the tangible and intangible elements of culture and stone and the story of heritage.  What started as a part time hobby in his school days at a local masonry yard later became an indentured craft.  As a student to master craftsmen such as Sidney Roy Horder and David James, he worked his way through the elements of the craft qualifying from DTR in 1989. After further studies that centred on the indigenous history, nature and the environment, Tom went on to work in the National Parks of NSW as a Heritage and Eco-Tourism Officer, expedition guide and part time research assistant. Australia Tom spent several years travelling In 1999 and then in  

 

Being Nature

 

Betsimisaraka people of Northern Madagascar documenting the impact of modern conservation and the Makira Protected Area REDD+ program on local ways of living .  His work also included projects with Conservation through Poverty Alleviation International (CPALI) monitoring local moth species and developing markets for locally produced silk products.  Tom's documentary film on the CPALI conservation project won him the FORD award, gaining significant prize funding for the CPALI conservation initiative.  Other communities Tom continues to engage with include the Saharawi people, 175,000 of whom have continued to live in exile in the harsh Algerian Sahara for more than 40 years.  In 2007, Tom filmed the documentary "the forgotten People" highlighting the resilience and struggle of the Saharawi people to return to their traditional homeland.  Tom has also worked with the government of Bhutan and Indonesia training government officials in community engagement, traditional knowledge and cultural heritage preservation.  

Working with the United Nations and the Irish government Department of Foreign Affairs, Tom has develop environmental protection, agriculture, shelter and water management projects in Jordan with the Syrian refugees and displaced Bedouin nomadic families; In Tanzania he worked closely with Burundian and Congolese refugees; in Bangladesh he has been focused on improved the extremely poor living conditions, through shelter, site planning and cultural engagement for Rohingya refugees. During his time in Jordan, Tom was selected as a 'National Geographic Society Global Explorer' allowing him to continue his work in the forest communities on the Island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Here he worked to develop alternative fuels with the traditional brick-makers; trained illegal loggers in alternative livelihoods such as tourism; supported communities to map and monitor the Gamaran Protected Area; and supported traditional minang cultural heritage.  His community conservation project with illegal loggers in the Gamaran Protected Area won the European Outdoor Conservation Award in 2015.  

In Tanzania, while working with the United Nations, Tom worked closely with the environmental ministry to develop a community based forest management system in the Miombo woodlands; kickstarted plant nurseries in the refugee camps of Nyaragusu, Mtendeli and Nduta producing over 1.4 million saplings; and developed a lime stabilised shelter using local clay, lime and straw for 16,000 families. Tom managed to raise more than 10 million euro through the European donor body ECHO as well as funding through the UNHCR 'No body left outside' campaign.  The project resulted in more than 80,000 refugees coming together to make bricks and build their own shelters from local materials in the first year alone.  In Nduta camp Tom also worked closely with the Burundian refugee population to bring the UNESCO World heritage listed traditional drum and dance to life while in exile.        

From the wild beauty of Kigoma's Miombo forests, Tom was contracted by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to work in the remote mountainous regions of Afghanistan. A melting pot of traditions, heritage, and conflict, Tom worked with displaced Afghan communities building traditional shelter, schools, water management projects while also restoring cultural heritage sites and artisanal craft techniques.  Travelling across Afghanistan from Kabul, Kandahar, Herat Mazar, Kunduz, Jalalabad among other areas, he worked with a small team of dedicated Afghan women and men to support refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran and those trying to make a new life in other regions following conflict displacement.  In Afghanistan Tom developed an interest in the Kuchi way of life and on the traditions and intangible cultural heritage of the Jat minority population of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a way of life he continues to document.   

Tom is the recipient of numerous awards including: The European Outdoor Conservation Award 2015 for his conservation projects with the National Geographic Society and Cerdas Lingkungan Indonesia; the FORD Development Film Award for his conservation work in Madagascar with Conservation through Poverty Alleviation International.   He has published numerous reports and articles with the United Nations and various humanitarian agencies as well as Magazines, online publications and blogs. 

In Ireland Tom lectures annually at University College Cork, and has spoken at numerous United Nations meetings and conferences in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.  He presented his work with traditional Minang people at the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C.  He is an active member of the Irish Aid Rapid Response Corp and is a qualified UNDP Early Recovery Adviser and former board member of Ethical Development Action (EDA) Ireland.  His clients and donors have included the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Stone Management, Jordan Racing, Eddie Irvin, DFiD, ECHO, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Terrance Coleman, the National Geographic Society, European Outdoor Conservation Awards, Bank of Ireland, Denmark Development Corporation (DANIDA), FORD Europe; AUSAID; GE; Kennedy Architects; Van Morrison and Enya among others.

Tom is currently researching and writing on the 'Way of Life" Intangible Cultural Heritage, Rohingya resilience and Durable Solutions.  His work is centred on the Rohingya people of Myanmar, often referred to as the most persecuted ethnic group on earth.  When not in the field, Tom and his wife Donna Corcoran divide their time between their current work place in Islamabad, Pakistan and the historic town of Le Dorat in France.  Donna is a dedicated humanitarian worker positioned with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Links:

EOCA Award

https://www.outdoorconservation.eu/project-detail.cfm?projectid=739

UNESCO Burundian Dance & Drum

https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/ritual-dance-of-the-royal-drum-00989   

Nobody left outside UNHCR

https://www.unhcr.org/nobody-left-outside.html

The Story

Tom Corcoran
 
Biocultural diversity conservationist &
National Geographic Society Global Explorer