Freed Aid Workers to Receive Inaugural Award..

It has just been announced that Sharon Commins and her fellow hostage Hilda Kawuki will be awarded the first Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award in Killarney on Saturday November 7th.  Last year Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (1898-1963) was awarded a posthumous Killarney International Humanitarian Award in recognition of his selfless humanitarian work in Italy during World War II which saved the lives of over 6,500 people.   It was decided that this award would be an annual award and re-named in honour of the Monsignor. 

Over the past few months Irish NGO’s were invited to nominate a colleague(s) working overseas, who they felt had displayed the same ideals and principals of the Monsignor and would be deserving of this Award.  Six of these agencies were shortlisted and they are: – Goal, Trocaire, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Plan Ireland, Hope Foundation and Children in Crossfire.

Out of these six agencies, four had independently nominated Sharon Commins and her fellow hostage Hilda Kawuki for the Award.  These agencies were Goal, Concern, Plan Ireland and Trocaire.

Jerry O’Grady, Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce, who is a member of the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Committee, stated “”We cannot overstate our delight at the news that Sharon & Hilda are safe and well and on the way to their respective families and homes. Thankfully, some stories do have happy endings. They were still in captivity when we initially shortlisted six organisations for final consideration and when arriving at our final decision last week. At the time, our thoughts were greatly influenced not only by the shining example shown to us all by the brave and selfless work of Sharon and Hilda but also by the solidarity shown by other NGOs when they decided to nominate them in the place of colleagues from their own organisations”.

NB: Sharon & Hilda were still in captivity at the time of the selection and when the nominations and reactions below were received:John O’Shea, Chief Executive Officer, GOAL when advised of the selection of Sharon and Hilda for the inaugural award. 

“We are deeply honoured that our colleagues in Trocaire and Concern have also nominated Sharon and Hilda and we are delighted to hear that they have been selected to receive this inaugural award on November 7th. Sadly, they remain in captivity and may not be released by that time”.  He went on to say “The Monsignor was quiet a remarkable man and his memory should be honoured”.

David Dalton, CEO of Plan Ireland stated “As committed aid workers, with no agenda, but to help those in need they, and indeed the aid community, both Sharon and Hilda should not have to face such dangers in the course of their work.  Unfortunately aid workers are no longer sacred, face increased adversity and are frequently used as pawns in the various struggles.  This nomination may raise awareness of their plight and that of aid workers, both local and international, who toil in the world’s poorest and often most difficult locations.”

Tom Arnold, Chief Executive, Concern Worldwide in his nomination letter:”Concern would like to nominate Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki of GOAL for the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award 2009. I believe all of us working in the humanitarian field are in deep solidarity with Sharon and Hilda during their ordeal and with our colleagues in GOAL. The first award of the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award would be very fitting way of both recognising their courage and of indicating a much wider solidarity among the broad Irish population for the importance of humanitarian work”.

Justin Kilcullen, Director, Trocaire in his nomination letter:”Trócaire would like to nominate Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki of GOAL for the Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award 2009. As committed development workers we regard both Sharon and Hilda as true colleagues. Their abduction pains us all, recognizing, as we do, that this fate could befall any of the hundreds of staff and colleagues of the Irish non-governmental organizations who, in the course of their work, put themselves in vulnerable situations for the cause of showing solidarity with the world’s poorest people. We in Trócaire believe that at this critical time, be they still in captivity or released by the time of the award ceremony, recognizing their courage and commitment will be an encouragement to them in the face of adversity and a clear message to their captors, or a celebration of their freedom should they be free.The Hugh O’Flaherty International Humanitarian Award is part of the Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial Weekend which takes place from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th November with a wide range of events and activities to honour of the Monsignor.  The other main activity of the weekend will be a fundraising event in the INEC on Friday 6th November, featuring international artist Liam O’Connor and special guests which is being organised to raise funds to build a permanent memorial to the Monsignor in Killarney town centre.

More details on the Memorial Weekend as well as detailed information on the Monsignor’s life and work can be found on www.hughoflaherty.com

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