Sister Orla Treacy has been empowering young women in South Sudan with education for over a decade.
The US State Department issued its International Women of Courage Award to a well-known Irish nun for her exceptional devotion to her vocation. Sr. Orla Treacy, of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Loreto Sisters), was honored with the award after well over a decade of work educating young women in South Sudan.
One of the most volatile countries in Africa, South Sudan is not generous to their girls and the vast majority are never afforded the opportunity for an education. Sister Treacy’s outreach work and educational mission is an outstretched arm offering empowerment to thousands of pupils through education.
At Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek in Lake States, considered the premier girls’ school in the impoverished country, Sister Treacy serves as principal. She works daily to protect her students from the ongoing civil conflict and from discriminatory practices such as forced marriages.
Sister Treacy spoke about some of the difficulties she faces from her students’ parents, who are not easily convinced that their daughters need an education. Many Sudanese families value their daughters’ worth solely by how many cows her marriage dowry could provide. Sister Treacy said the school has found a way to work with the local community to keep the girls in school:
“One of the things we’ve had to do get them to sign an agreement with the school. We asked for an elder within the family to come with the girl, to sign an agreement with the school that if she comes to the school she will not be forced out over the four years. It usually works, but sadly we lose about 2% every year.”
The US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award, now in its 13th year, is awarded to women all over the world who demonstrate exceptional leadership and courage in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment. Recipients have held firm to their mission, often even at great personal risk and sacrifice.
Irish Catholic notes that since 2007, when the award was established, the State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries. US diplomatic overseas missions provide nominations of women of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior department officials.