On Thursday, March 7, Secretary of State Pompeo hosted the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the U.S. Department of State to honor 10 extraordinary women from around the world. First Lady of the United States Melania Trump co-hosted the event and delivered special remarks at the ceremony.
Now in its 13th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognized women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment,
often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
Since the inception of this award in March 2007, the State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists were selected and approved by senior Department officials.
Among those awarded this year, there are two exceptional Christian ladies who dedicate their lives to the poorest of the poor in Egypt and in South Sudan.
The first one is Orthodox Copt Mama Maggie, who abandoned numerous opportunities provided by her elite upbringing and resisted restrictions against women’s leadership to establish Stephen’s Children (SC), a non-governmental organization that serves the most impoverished urban slums and rural villages in Egypt regardless of their color, creed, or faith.
From its humble beginnings in a Cairo slum, SC has grown to a nationwide Christian institution that feeds, clothes, educates, and mentors children, as well as providing vocational training for adults with a program for empowering women and young ladies.
Mama Maggie and SC save children’s lives daily in Egypt, a country of almost 100 million, nearly half of whom live in poverty. She has laid the educational foundation and provided economic salvation for tens of thousands of impoverished children.
In addition to multiple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mama Maggie is the recipient of numerous Egyptian and international humanitarian awards. Frequently called “the Mother Teresa of Egypt,” Mama Maggie has worked to overcome the pressure of family and societal norms placed upon women of her class to establish an institution that incorporates the poor and forgotten into the Egyptian education system and economy.
The other extraordinary lady, Sister Orla Treacy was born in Ireland in 1973. At a young age, she was inspired by the lives of service and compassion of her teachers who were religious sisters. After studying to become a teacher of religion, she joined the congregation of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), known as the Loreto Sisters.
In 2006, while teaching and offering pastoral care in Ireland, Sister Orla joined other Loreto Sisters who were starting a new mission in Rumbek, South Sudan–an area besieged by civil war and violent inter-clan conflict.
Touched by the plight of girls who were being forced into early marriage and denied the right to an education, she took action. Sister Orla and the Loreto Sisters started a girls-only boarding school with 35 students.
Today, Sister Orla serves as the head administrator of the Loreto Rumbek Mission in Maker Kuei, overseeing a boarding secondary school for girls, a co-educational primary school, and a women and child-centric primary healthcare facility. Sister Orla is a part of a diverse multinational team of religious sisters, educators, nurses, and other support staff, who all share a vision for improving the lives of the most vulnerable in the community.
Despite the devastating consequences of war in Rumbek, and the many barriers to women and girls in the community, Sister Orla remains filled with hope, and the Loreto Schools stand as a beacon of light for future South Sudanese generations. She continues to work in faith, striving for a world in which girls are not forced into marriage, are allowed to complete their education, and can pursue their dreams.
In an interview with The Irish Times last year, she described the challenges she and her students face in a country riven by civil war.
“We have been threatened at gunpoint, we have been insulted, all number of problems because she is a woman and should be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good. Technically it’s a boarding school but I call it a women’s refuge because you’re constantly trying to protect these girls from forced marriage.
“I work with people who live very much on the margins: life and death, hunger and despair. Every day they live on the edge. And yet in that you can still glimpse love and hope every day.”
Sources: The Irish Times, US Department, Flickr, Global Sister Report