Mary T Murphy is GOAL’s Refugee Programme Manager in Ethiopia, which has experienced a huge drought in the south east of the country.
The Co Cork woman recently received a Presidential Distinguished Award for the charitable work she has carried out in the developing world over the last 27 years.
She spoke to the Irish Mirror about her career to date, her job in Ethiopia and where she will spend Christmas this year.
I became a humanitarian aid worker because I heard about the many challenges people were faced with across the world and I wanted to try and make a difference.
I went on a short mission to Nigeria when I was a young nurse at Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin and that sowed the seed.
In 1994, the Rwandan genocide happened. I heard an appeal by GOAL for volunteers. I got a three-month leave of absence from Crumlin to work on that response but I was only becoming accustomed to my work when my leave expired, and so I decided to stay on and support in whatever way I could.
That was 23 years ago.
All I knew about Rwanda when I first went there was that I wanted to help. I didn’t have a great understanding of what had happened. However, as I worked for two years in the area, I came away with a much deeper understanding of some of the problems and how so many families and lives were affected.
Cholera was one of those problems, It was a major issue in the refugee camps of Goma, where we were based after the genocide. The Rwandan refugees were living anywhere they could and the hygiene situation was truly desperate.
Approximately 40,000 people died in the cholera epidemic. GOAL staff organised the burial of the bodies. Their job was to pick the dead from the streets, put them in a truck and then find somewhere to bury them. It was extremely tough work.
After 10 years with another NGO, I re-joined GOAL in 2008 and have been with them ever since. GOAL works at four refugee camps in Ethiopia – two in the south-west of the country in the Gambella region, and two in the Afar region in the north-east.
I also help the GOAL Ethiopia team respond to emergencies as they arise. Recently, I spent five weeks in the Somali region in the south-east of Ethiopia. The Somali Region has experienced a huge drought in recent times.
They have had a huge problem with lack of water. It is a little better now, food has been brought in and GOAL is responding, but the people there still need all the help they can get, as do those that have been affected by the lack of food and water due to drought in many more areas in the country.
There are approximately 8.5 million people across Ethiopia who require some form of food assistance. Many of them are women and children.
I will spend Christmas this year in Ethiopia. I will miss home, but I was in Cork recently and I know I will see everyone again soon. Right now, I have a job to do here. Many of my colleagues will be working over the Christmas period too.
From time to time, people ask me why I do this job. My answer is simple, this is what I love to do. I have made great friends and I work with a super team but the main thing is that the team here – 99 per cent of whom are Ethiopian – are making a real and lasting difference to people’s lives.
I wish everyone back home in Ireland a peaceful and happy Christmas.
*To support GOAL’S work logon to: http://www.goalglobal.org/donate/
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