WHO's Dr. Mike Ryan praises Irish Red Cross Volunteers

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The Irish Red Cross presented Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO with a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2020 Humanitarian Awards, which this year took place as a live, virtual ceremony. 

Dr. Ryan, a native of Sligo and Mayo, was brought to global attention this year thanks to his role as Executive Director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme, leading the team responsible for the international readiness and response to Covid-19.   

However, his work with Covid-19 is just the tip of the iceberg in a career dedicated to eradicating infectious diseases all around the world.  

During his acceptance speech Dr. Ryan praised Irish Red Cross volunteers for their continued work during the pandemic.

“Irish Red Cross volunteers have provided tireless support to the most exposed and vulnerable members of our community. They delivered critical medical supplies, food and care packages to older and vulnerable people in communities when they were unable to leave their homes. They spearheaded risk communication, public health advice and safety information.

 “The work of the IRC this year has fundamentally contributed to the overall effective Irish response to this pandemic. Ireland was the first country in Europe which turned the latest wave of disease around and deserves great credit for that,” he added.

If you were unable to attend this year's Humanitarian Awards and would like to watch the full ceremony, click here. 

The other winners on the night included Micheál “Mick” Ryan, an engineer with the United Nations’ World Food Programme, who was posthumously named Humanitarian of the Year.

Mick, who died tragically in a plane crash in Ethiopia last year, had dedicated his life to humanitarian work overseas. His wife, Naoise Ryan, accepted the award on his behalf.

During his career, Mick worked tirelessly to ensure that vulnerable people in remote parts of the world had access to food and were protected from flooding and other disasters. Speaking of the win, Naoise said: “This award means so much to us and my only regret is that Mick isn’t here to accept it himself, I know he would be so humbled by it. To me it’s recognition of the person that he was, he was a humanitarian in every sense of the word.

“Mick believed that engineering was about people and people were at the heart of everything that he did. From the time we met at college he really believed he could make a difference in the world and he had the skills and talent to make that happen. But really, the reason that Mick was able to achieve all that he did was because he was intuitive about people, he was able to motivate them and have them share his enthusiasm and he did it all with such fun and laughter. He had a cheeky sense of humour and he was the kindest person you could meet and I know he would be blown away by this award – and probably a little bit embarrassed too because he never liked to be the centre of attention.”

Young Humanitarian Winner: Jay Bobinac

Jay was homeless when he first arrived at The Lighthouse outreach cafe. Over time he started to volunteer himself, helping other people who came to the café – all while still living on the streets.

Now Jay is the manager of the soup kitchen at The Lighthouse, where he first went for help. He is currently completing his masters in Social Care and has helped hundreds of homeless and vulnerable people in their own journey. Jay has also organised several fundraisers and raised thousands of euro for homeless outreach work. He was directly involved in enrolling twelve homeless people in educational courses and also started weekly outreach teams to connect with homeless people in Dublin city centre.

Innovation for Change Award Winner: NearForm

After being approached by the HSE in March 2020, NearForm, a software solutions company based in Waterford, set about creating a Covid-19 contact tracing app.

The company had a working prototype of the app within ten days and it was launched in July, with over a quarter of Ireland’s population downloading it within the first 36 hours, making it one of the most successfully launched contact tracing apps in the world. NearForm supported the Irish Government and the HSE in donating the underlying code to the Linux Foundation Public Health, under the name COVID Green. This enabled other Public Health Authorities across the world to use it for free to build their own apps.

Digital Influence Award Winner: Suad Al Darra - RefugeesAre.info

Based in Dublin, Syrian data scientist Suad is investigating the role of traditional media in the spread of negative messaging about refugees.

Saud is leading the Ireland chapter of an organisation called Techfugees. Her work is focused on highlighting the xenophobic messages about displaced people that can appear in traditional media. While social media is often blamed for the spread of hate speech, Saud believes that media outlets are also contributing to negative attitudes toward refugees, albeit in a less overt way than social media

Journalism Excellence Award Winner: Órla Ryan  

Órla Ryan is a journalist and photographer with TheJournal.ie who has a diverse body of work highlighting humanitarian topics from all over the world.

From travelling to Kenya to report on women’s rights issues such as child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to interviewing people in Lebanon about their experience in refugee camps, Órla’s work focuses on capturing the unheard voices of people who are living in the midst of humanitarian crises. Closer to home, Órla has also reported on the experience of asylum seekers living in Direct Provision.

Corporate Impact Award Winner: Nestlé Ireland

Nestlé Ireland provides all of its surplus food to FoodCloud. Since 2018 they have contributed 90,000 meals to the social enterprise, which supports families in need. They have also supported FoodCloud with an investment of €110,000 for a pilot project to address food poverty as a result of Covid-19.

At its factory in Limerick, Nestlé Wyeth Nutritonals was one of the first companies to support the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, creating a c1,800 square metre butterfly meadow and insect hotel, as well as planting over 1,900 native woodland trees. Globally, Nestlé has pledged to make 100% of their packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and is investing almost €2 billion to support this commitment.



Dr Mike Ryan