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Honorary degree recognises Sally O’Neill’s contribution to international development

Veteran Trócaire worker Sally O’Neill from Dungannon had her work on overseas development and human rights recognised today (Thursday 6th July) when she was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Ulster.

Leading human rights advocate, Sally O’Neill received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) for her tireless work as an overseas development worker. Leading human rights advocate, Sally O’Neill received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) for her tireless work as an overseas development worker.

Sally joined Trócaire in 1978 and dedicated her life to working with the poor, the marginalised and victims of human rights abuses. She retired from Trócaire in 2015 after 37 years of service.

Sally primarily worked on Trócaire projects in Latin America but she was also involved in providing famine relief in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and established Trócaire’s programme in Somalia in the early 1990s in response to a famine there.

Trócaire is one of the few agencies that has stayed with the people of Somalia since then. Sally remembers the challenges of working in the country at that time.

Establishing Somalia Programme

“This was the first Trócaire field presence to be set up in the developing world. Somalia was incredibly challenging largely because the government of the country totally collapsed. With the collapse of the central government, the six major clans in Somalia basically each set up armed militia and warlords took over different regions of the country.

So you had no functioning ministries, you had no formal government, you had no court system. The entire apparatus of government simply disappeared almost overnight,” Sally recalls.

“Trócaire faced a situation of complete chaos. Never ever in the developing world have we had to work under those kinds of circumstances, where literally there was nothing. We made a decision to go to the province of Gedo, partly because it was the poorest province in Somalia, but also because many of the people in the cities who had lost their jobs had fled back to where their grandparents had come from in the hope of finding some means of survival.”

“We went on to build a very significant aid relief programme in the province of Gedo and Trócaire has been working in Somalia ever since helping to rebuild livelihoods and bring hope to a country that had been forgotten about and abandoned by the international community.”

Today in Somalia, Trócaire supports three hospitals, fifteen schools, ten primary health units and four health centres.

Sally says that what she found incredibly affecting during her time in Somalia was the extraordinary resilience of the people. Today this resilience is being sorely tested as millions of people face starvation in Somalia because of the drought that is currently gripping east Africa.

The statistics are frightening: 6.7 million people are in need of aid, including an estimated 3.7 million children; an estimated 346,000 babies and toddlers are severely malnourished.

Sally speaks about how her achievement today is tinged with sadness and anger at the current situation in East Africa where drought and conflict threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the region.

It is feared that three-quarters of all livestock in the country have died, and more than 4.5 million people are estimated to be in need of water and this has contributed to an outbreak of cholera, with 36,000 cases and 690 deaths so far.

Trócaire is working on the ground providing life-saving food, water and healthcare to the most vulnerable. In May 2017 alone, 19,000 people were treated at Trócaire’s health centres.

Trócaire has been able to effectively provide support because we have had a constant presence in the country. It gives us a credibility with communities because they know we stay.

We are dependable, and Sally’s impressive service, recognised today is a testament to that.

Learn more about the current situation in Somalia and wider East Africa.

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