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

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

Ronan Scully with baby Yeabsira in Awaza in Ethiopia. Photograph: Andrew Downes

Ronan Scully with baby Yeabsira in Awaza in Ethiopia. Photograph: Andrew Downes

 

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.

Every week, we will honour someone deserving of the hero tag. If you would like to nominate, go to irishtimes.com/healthheroes

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.

1) 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.”

2) 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.”

Ronan Scully with farmer Grace Kituma in Kayunga, East Uganda. Photograph: Andrew Downes
Ronan Scully with farmer Grace Kituma in Kayunga, East Uganda. Photograph: Andrew Downes

3) 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.”

4) 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.”

5) 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.”

Ronan Scully with baby Joseph in Kiyumo in Eastern Uganda with a present of a teddy bear called Philly, one of many gifts from children from schools in Ireland.
Ronan Scully with baby Joseph in Kiyumo in Eastern Uganda with a present of a teddy bear called Philly, one of many gifts from children from schools in Ireland.

6) 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.”

7) 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.”

8) 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.”

9) 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.”

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