‘I live my life so that oth­ers can have a bet­ter life’

Ro­nan Scully of Gorta Self Help Africa helps im­prove life for peo­ple in the poor­est coun­tries in the world

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Hero - Ar­lene Har­ris

Ro­nan Scully is the busi­ness de­vel­op­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Gorta Self Help Africa. He is mar­ried to Jac­qui O’Grady, and has two daugh­ters – Mia (11) and So­phie (8) – whom they adopted from Ethiopia. The Of­faly man, who lives in Galway, has ded­i­cated his ca­reer to end­ing hunger and poverty in ru­ral Africa.

For the past 25 years, Scully and his team have wit­nessed first-hand some of the mal­nu­tri­tion, hard­ship and suf­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by mil­lions of peo­ple across the con­ti­nent. And this spring, Gorta Self Help Africa took the un­prece­dented step of in­volv­ing it­self di­rectly in a hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency, in re­sponse to the un­fold­ing food cri­sis in east Africa and also to look af­ter refugees look­ing for se­cu­rity and a bet­ter life.

The self­less char­ity worker fundraises tire­lessly to help save lives in Africa and we asked him about his mo­ti­va­tion in life and what needs to be done here in Ire­land.

What is your proud­est achieve­ment?

“I have a few proud achieve­ments: win­ning All-Ire­land foot­ball medals for my school in Clara and with Of­faly; work­ing with Mother Teresa Mis­sion­ar­ies of Char­ity in Cal­cutta, Ro­ma­nia, Amer­ica and Ire­land; set­ting up the Street Chil­dren Pro­gramme in Luanda and An­gola; run­ning in the North Pole Marathon; and be­ing a hus­band and dad – while an­other of my proud­est achieve­ments is be­ing able to help and sup­port fam­i­lies liv­ing in poverty and work­ing with such in­spi­ra­tional staff and col­leagues.”

What mo­ti­vates you?

“I’m mo­ti­vated by help­ing peo­ple, es­pe­cially those most in need as I live my life so that oth­ers can have a bet­ter life. I am con­stantly mo­ti­vated – and have been for as long as I can re­mem­ber – to work to­wards a bet­ter quality of life for fam­i­lies, peo­ple and chil­dren strug­gling with so many is­sues in Ire­land and in our world. So of­ten all they need is real car­ing, love, ac­tion, en­cour­age­ment, hope and guid­ance to put them on the right path and give them lov­ing care and sus­tain­able hope.

“I’m also mo­ti­vated by the fact that I live and work ac­cord­ing to what I be­lieve in. I fell in love with the ethos and mis­sion of Gorta Self Help Africa and with its work – a strong vol­un­teer base here in Ire­land help­ing to bring about change for the good of ev­ery­one.”

What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?

“Your health is truly your wealth, es­pe­cially as we get older in life. I try as much as pos­si­ble to get away from stress as it af­fects me on a per­sonal and work level. Much of the time my work is very emo­tional as I’m in­volved in deal­ing with fam­i­lies and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods in some of the poor­est coun­tries and I have to make sure to look af­ter my­self. I have a very strong fam­ily and friend­ship net­work that has al­ways been my sup­port and rock.

“At times, I like my own space and this helps to clear my head – whether walk­ing or writ­ing some per­sonal sto­ries and thoughts. These are my form of prayer and spir­i­tu­al­ity and they re­ally help to get rid of the clut­ter in my head. I have a strong faith and this helps me to re­flect and find the pos­i­tives in life. Hav­ing strong fam­ily and friend­ship sup­ports and spend­ing time with them al­ways makes me feel good.”

What are the most im­por­tant fac­tors to main­tain a healthy so­ci­ety?

“I think this is down to the basics: a good health­care sys­tem, good ed­u­ca­tion, good lead­er­ship, ef­fi­cient so­cial ser­vices and con­stant pro­mo­tion in all ar­eas of so­ci­ety of the ben­e­fits of en­gag­ing in a healthy lifestyle. My good fam­ily re­la­tions, good friend­ships and so­cial en­gage­ment make for a healthy life as much as reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and healthy diet.”

What needs to be done in Ire­land to achieve this? “Ac­cess to good quality health­care for all – as the ex­tra­or­di­nary length of time peo­ple have to wait for pro­ce­dures is a scan­dal, par­tic­u­larly for the most vul­ner­a­ble in our so­ci­ety. We also need bet­ter en­gage­ment be­tween schools and par­ents with re­gard to em­brac­ing healthy eat­ing poli­cies, a 24/7 so­cial-ser­vice sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to men­tal health, fund­ing for sup­port­ing the el­derly in their own homes and prac­ti­cal TV pro­grammes show­ing how to feed fam­i­lies on a bud­get.”

What do you think is the most press­ing health is­sue in Ire­land to­day?

“The in­creas­ing rates in obe­sity, men­tal-health is­sues, [lack of] sup­port for car­ers, com­bined with dif­fi­culty in ac­cess­ing rel­e­vant health ser­vices and the long wait­ing lists in our hos­pi­tals are all se­ri­ous is­sues.

“I also think that one of the big­gest health chal­lenges in Ire­land to­day is the huge level of stress that peo­ple are un­der, in their per­sonal lives and in the workplace. It’s a well-doc­u­mented fact that stress low­ers the im­mune sys­tem and leaves the door open for all kinds of dis­eases, like can­cer, di­a­betes, heart is­sues, auto-im­mune dis­eases and so much more. If this could be ad­dressed ap­pro­pri­ately, hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions would fall.”

How do you think the Min­is­ter for Health needs to tackle this?

“The Min­is­ter needs to in­sti­gate strong lead­er­ship in the HSE and en­sure that the health­care sys­tem is run ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively, de­mand­ing high per­for­mance lev­els across all sec­tors of the Ex­ec­u­tive. I would also like to call on the Min­is­ter and those in author­ity to im­prove child and ma­ter­nal health, ful­fil fund­ing com­mit­ments for health and com­mu­nity pro­grammes. It is also im­por­tant that we tackle the sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem of shortage of doc­tors and nurses.”

What do you do to re­lax and un­wind?

“I like to write and go for long walks into the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side here in Ire­land which is one of our great­est as­sets – and I love walk­ing parts of the Camino each year.”

What makes you laugh?

“Lots of things – a good joke, a bit of craic with the lads, my friends, my chil­dren and I love a good old laugh with my mis­sus. I am also lucky to be sur­rounded by peo­ple who are light-hearted and funny, like mem­bers of my fam­ily, work col­leagues and great friends. All of this gives me lots of laughs and keeps me in good form and good men­tal and phys­i­cal health.”

10) Where would you like to live other than Ire­land and why?

“I love liv­ing in Ire­land es­pe­cially in the beau­ti­ful com­mu­nity of Knock­nacarra in Galway. How­ever, if I had to choose an­other coun­try it would be Ethiopia as I have lived and worked there over the years and I love their cul­ture and coun­try­side. Also my daugh­ters are adopted from there, so it has a spe­cial place in my heart.”

One of the big­gest health chal­lenges in Ire­land to­day is the huge level of stress that peo­ple are un­der, in their per­sonal lives and in the workplace

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­DREW DOWNES

Ro­nan Scully with baby Joseph a ben­e­fi­ciary of the work of Self Help Africa in Kiyumo in East­ern Uganda with a present of a teddy bear called Philly, one of many gifts from chil­dren from schools in Ire­land. ■

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