Today, on World Humanitarian Day, we join with the United Nations to pay special tribute to the women who risk their lives to improve the lives of others.
Humanitarian crises are on the rise and according to recent figures released by the UN, are increasing in duration. Between 2005 and 2017, the average length of crises with an active appeal rose from four to seven years.
The report found that one in every 70 people around the world is caught up in a crisis and is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection.
Women make up a large number of those who risk their own lives to save others in these situations. We pay tribute to just a few of the inspirational women we have worked with who have made an incalculable difference to the world around them.
Sligo-native Sr Bridget Tighe, has dedicated her life to helping the most vulnerable across the world. Over a span of more than 40 years, Sr Bridget has served almost 25 years in the Middle East, first with Palestinian refugees in Jordan, and now between Gaza and Jerusalem where she has continually served the poor and marginalised, specialising in vital healthcare.
Sr Bridget began working in Gaza at a very dangerous time in 2014, just after the war had ended but violence was rife. She worked on the frontline, providing much-needed medical care to the injured and sick who are living in extreme poverty, without access to clean water or basic sanitation.
In the clinic where Sr Bridget worked, she would see up to 100 people a day. Describing the situation in Gaza, she said: “People are living in fear. The situation has reached crisis level and is close to becoming unliveable. It is a life that many in Ireland could not imagine but sadly it is reality for millions.”
In recognition of her service to humanitarian work in Gaza and the Middle East, Sr Bridget was the first recipient of Trócaire’s Oscar Romero award in 2018. Sr Bridget continues to offer care and support to Palestinian communities who continue to suffer great injustices.
We cannot let this day pass without remembering and celebrating one of our very best #humanitarianwomen – Sally O’Neill.
Sadly, Sally died in a tragic accident on 7 April 2019 while still working for human rights in Central America. But her legacy very much lives on especially within Trócaire. Throughout her career, the Dungannon native worked on the frontline during some of the most significant global humanitarian crises.
Working for Trócaire for 37 years, until she retired in 2015, she worked primarily on projects in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Described by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, as “the greatest gift that Ireland gave to the Latin world in contemporary times,” Sally was courageous and inspirational.
She worked in Central America at a time when civil wars were being fought in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and oversaw humanitarian aid to more than two million refugees in the Central American region during those years.
She was also involved in providing famine relief in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and was central to establishing Trócaire’s programme in Somalia in the early 1990s in response to a famine there.
Sally’s life work is testament that one woman really can change the lives of thousands of others.
A brave human rights defender in Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko, provides support to those facing human rights violations in her country. She was abducted under Mugabe’s regime and tortured for speaking out but this has not stopped her fight against human rights abuses.
Jestina is the National Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project which Trócaire has supported for many years in their work to build a peaceful Zimbabwe. She has risked her life to challenge human rights abuses and campaign for justice in a country where basic freedoms have been denied to the vast majority of the population.
Showing immense courage returning to her work after her abduction, she said: “When you come out of a situation where everyone thinks you have been killed… you are inspired to make these people realise that what they did during that difficult time was worth it.” She says that her experience of being targeted by the state shows that “the work that I was doing was recognised by the system” and this shows “the impact of the work that Zimbabwe Peace Project does.”
The work of Jestina and people like her remains crucially important in Zimbabwe. “I think as a Human Rights defender I do have hope for the country or I would not find myself doing this work.” She says she looks forward to a Zimbabwe where people’s rights are respected and will continue in her work until such times.