Today, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will present the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the State Department to honour 10 extraordinary women from around the world. First Lady Melania Trump will deliver special remarks at the ceremony.
One of the recipients will be Irish missionary, Sr Orla Treacy - a member of the Loreto congregation - who works in conflict-torn South Sudan. She will be joined by recipients from Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Peru, Montenegro, Jordan, Egypt, Djibouti, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
Now in its 13th year, the IWOC Award recognises women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women's empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
Since its inception in March 2007, the State Department has recognised more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries. US diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. Sr Orla was nominated by the US Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich.
The citation for her award reads:
"Born in Ireland in 1973, Sister Orla Treacy was, at a young age, inspired by the lives of service and compassion of her teachers who were religious sisters. After studying to become a teacher of religion, she joined the congregation of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), known as the Loreto Sisters. In 2006, while teaching and offering pastoral care in Ireland, Sister Orla joined other Loreto Sisters who were starting a new mission in Rumbek, South Sudan-an area besieged by civil war and violent inter-clan conflict.
"Touched by the plight of girls who were being forced into early marriage and denied the right to an education, she took action. Sister Orla and the Loreto Sisters started a girls-only boarding school with 35 students. Today, Sister Orla serves as the head administrator of the Loreto Rumbek Mission in Maker Kuei, overseeing a boarding secondary school for girls, a co-educational primary school, and a women and child-centric primary healthcare facility. Sister Orla is a part of a diverse multinational team of religious sisters, educators, nurses, and other support staff, who all share a vision for improving the lives of the most vulnerable in the community.
"Despite the devastating consequences of war in Rumbek, and the many barriers to women and girls in the community, Sister Orla remains filled with hope, and the Loreto Schools stand as a beacon of light for future South Sudanese generations. She continues to work in faith, striving for a world in which girls are not forced into marriage, are allowed to complete their education, and can pursue their dreams."
Following the official award ceremony, the IWOC recipients will travel to individual US cities on the International Visitor Leadership Program. American organisations and businesses will host IWOC awardees and collaborate with them on strategies and ideas to empower women both in the United States and abroad. The awardees will reconvene in Los Angeles for a closing ceremony before returning to their home countries.
In 2017, Sr Orla was given the Hugh O'Flaherty International Humanitarian Award in recognition of her courageous and inspiring work in South Sudan, Jerry O'Grady, Chairman of the Hugh O'Flaherty Memorial Society in Killarney has sent his and his members' "heartfelt congratulations to Sr Orla on receiving this wonderful international honour."
Missionaries do not highlight their good deeds done for people needing encouragement, accompaniment and support, so it is great to see individuals, like Sr Orla, being recognised for the courageous and inspiring work that they undertake, often at great risk to themselves. Sr Orla joins a long list of Irish missionaries whose work has been recognised internationally by various awards.
Matt Moran is a writer based in Cork, and author of book 'The Legacy of Irish Missionaries Lives On' available from www.onstream.ie.
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