An Athlone native, who has carried out missionary work in several countries around the world, has been appointed to a role at the United Nations in New York.
Ora Duffley, who originally hails from Baylough, has joined the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations in New York, which is the voice of the Vatican at the UN.
A past pupil of St Joseph's College Summerhill, Ora completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in UCD before emigrating to Australia in 2007. What was intended to be a year's visit turned into a long-term stay, with Ora settling down to a teaching career in Brisbane and even becoming an Australian citizen.
However, she had always been involved in voluntary work, and while teaching she continued to volunteer in different capacities, including tutoring refugee families.
“I've been a volunteer with different organisations most of my life. My Catholic faith is very important to me, particularly its focus on helping those who are poor or marginalised,” Ora told the Westmeath Independent.
With a particular interest in the Middle East, Ora started a project with Aid to the Church in Need, a charity supporting persecuted Christians throughout the world, which involved her pupils exchanging letters and cards with schoolchildren in Iraq. She travelled to Iraq in 2017, and then in 2018 decided to take a year off to undertake missionary work with the French Catholic mission SOS Chrétiens d’Orient in Syria, and with international aid organisation Caritas Internationalis in Djibouti in Africa.
In Djibouti, she worked with refugees from Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many of the children there had come to Djibouti by themselves and were living on the streets.
“When that year was coming to an end, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do,” explains Ora. “I felt passionately about working with the poor, and I wasn't ready to go back into the classroom. Much as I loved teaching I wanted a new challenge.”
It was then that a friend told her about the opening with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN.
“It brought together all the things I'm passionate about. I have been to many of the places that are being discussed at the UN. I carry the stories of Syria in my heart, and the people of Iraq who asked me when I was leaving to 'share our story'. I have seen the courage particularly of the young people in Syria, who have been through so much suffering and still have that spirit and hope for their lives, for their future. Their stories need to be told, and I hope that perhaps I can be, a little voice for them.”
Having taken up the role in mid-May, Ora has hit the ground running.
“My role involves managing projects and communications. I am not a negotiator but I support the work of the diplomats who attend the Security Council and General Assembly. Part of my job is to organise events for the Holy See at the UN; for example, last Friday we co-sponsored an event highlighting migration and human trafficking, and on Saturday we held an event about Catholic education, with representatives from all over the world.
“It is wonderful to be have the opportunity to help facilitate those events, which aim to grow the dignity of people and help create an atmosphere of peace, justice and fraternity. I believe strongly in the importance of the message that the Holy See can bring to the UN, a message of love and peace.”
Ora is also adjusting to her new life in New York, somewhere she had never imagined living.
“I'm living in Manhattan, right in the middle of the city, which is interesting but can be overwhelming,” she says. “I didn't know anyone coming here, but I am getting to know people. There is a great Irish community, and working in the UN I meet people from all over the world.”
She credits her upbringing in Athlone, her faith and her missionary experiences with leading her to this role: “My parents instilled in me the principles that I have, along with my education in Summerhill. This is an incredible job, and the sort of opportunity that doesn't come along every day. I feel it is God's providence that I'm here, and I hope I can bring something special to the role.”