Comments by Sr. Dr. Miriam Duggan FMSA after receiving a Presidential Distinguished Service Award from President Michael D. Higgins at
Aras an Uachtarain on 3rd December 2015

It is with humility that I accept this Presidential Distinguished Service Award not for myself but in recognition of the contribution of my colleagues in the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa congregation, and all missionaries in meeting the needs of the poor and those on the margins of society throughout the world – our brothers and sisters.

Complimenting our own direct work amongst the poor which is often supported by lay missionary volunteers, and is inspired by a deeply held Christian faith, missionaries have also helped significantly in shaping the international development aid policy of the Irish government, plus policies of the United Nations, and more recently the World Bank in devising support programmes to deal with the de-humanising effects of poverty, injustice, people trafficking, human rights abuses, gender inequality, and protection of the environment as God’s creation.

Missionaries have a sustained record of presence, understanding, compassion, advocacy, and action to help the most vulnerable and the poor of the world. We dedicate ourselves – individually and collectively – to this work for and with our brothers and sisters as the one Body of Christ. In this, Irish Aid funding through Misean Cara has been supportive, and the Irish people have been generous in their donations to us too.

In my mission work, and as a doctor, I’ve always looked at problems not just in terms of providing a solution to them but equally in finding and dealing with the root causes. For example, good advances have been made in dealing with issues surrounding HIV/AIDS to which a lot of my efforts have been devoted since the 1980s, but continuous work is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in the first place.

In this regard, education and training in life-skills and positive behaviour remain absolutely essential, especially for young people, as is the creation of income generation opportunities, for example, for women forced into prostitution to rear their families or being trafficked with false promises of greater security and a better life-style. The spiritual and development work of missionaries is about empowering people to help themselves holistically.

Currently, I am working in Nairobi with school drop-outs, drug addicts and those who have lost hope because of poverty and not being able to get employment. We do a three month rehabilitation / motivational / skills training programme with them, and then we sponsor them into vocational training so that they can get employment. The only way out of chronic poverty is through education, the development of skills, plus employment. This is what brings about meaningful transformation for individuals and for families.

God provides in many ways. With the decline in vocations in Ireland and Europe, thankfully, many young women and men are coming forward in Africa, in Asia and in South America to join religious life and the priesthood. These are becoming the successors of the Irish missionaries who have given a huge personal and family commitment as God’s messengers to those continents to this day and will continue to do so but in smaller numbers. More well educated and dedicated volunteers are also offering their support which gives encouragement for the future.

This Presidential Distinguished Service Award to me, and those to other missionaries since the inception of the scheme in 2012, is affirmation of our work for the poor and the deprived.