Meet our Heroes

Women who inspire us

Women everywhere are changing the world. Every day they’re creating positive, lasting changes in their countries, their communities and in their homes, in big ways and in small. They are Heroes. 
At the same time, seven out of 10 people affected by poverty are women. Poverty has a female face. But so does the solution. Meet the inspirational women behind our Heroes Campaign.
Mary McAleese
Mary McAleese
Campaigning for social justice

Mary McAleese

"We cannot hope to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals unless women and girls achieve greater access to resources and have an active role in decision-making”

Mary McAleese became the first person from Northern Ireland to be elected president of Ireland when she took office in 1997.

She was Ireland's second female president and the world's first woman to succeed another woman as an elected head of state.

She brought with her memories of sectarian violence that forced her family to move out of their home in North Belfast.

Believing that the situation in Northern Ireland was ripe for change, President McAleese proclaimed “Building Bridges” as the theme of her presidency and advocated for peace and reconciliation through regular trips to Northern Ireland and by hosting visitors from the North at her official residence.

Following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, President McAleese continued to promote a new era of understanding and cooperation. She also broadened her “Building Bridges” vision to focus on economic inequality in an Ireland. President McAleese was re-elected to office in 2004 and in 2011 was a crucial part of a history-making event: she hosted Queen Elizabeth II, marking the first visit by a British monarch to the Irish Republic.

Her achievements have not been confined to the political arena. She is a barrister, and was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin. She later became the first female pro-vice chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast. She is also an experienced broadcaster, having worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann.

She has a longstanding interest in many issues concerned with justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation.

Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Campaigning for peace

Mairead Corrigan Maguire

"Every day there are people in our world that do absolutely amazing things. People of all ages are very capable of doing tremendous, courageous things in spite of their fear"

Mairead Corrigan Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to help end the conflict in Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams.

Mairead was the aunt of the three Maguire children who died as a result of being hit by IRA getaway car after its driver was shot by a British soldier.

Mairead responded to the violence by organising, together with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, massive peace demonstrations appealing for an end to the bloodshed and a non-violent solution to the conflict. Together, they formed Peace People, and through this organised weekly peace rallies throughout Ireland and the UK.

These were attended by many thousands of people – mostly women, and during this time there was a 70% decrease in the rate of violence. Mairead currently serves as Honourary President of Peace People.

Since receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mairead has continued to promote peace, both in Northern Ireland and around the world. Working with community groups throughout Northern Ireland, political and church leaders, she has sought to promote dialogue, nonviolence and equality.

Easkey Britton
Easkey Britton
Breaking social boundaries

Easkey Britton

“If we could all make small change happen, then it would make a big difference”

Easkey Britton is an internationally renowned professional surfer from Ireland and participant at THNK's, Creative Leadership program.

Her parents taught her to surf when she was four years old and her life has revolved around surfing ever since.

Easkey got her first taste for travel when she went to Tahiti and became the first Irish person to surf the infamous hell-wave Teahupoo aged just 16! She is Ireland’s five-time National Surfing Champion. In 2013, Easkey co-founded Waves of Freedom.

The initiative is founded on the belief in surfing as a powerful medium for creating positive social impact and empowerment, especially for more vulnerable groups like young people and women in areas of the world where it is not always easy to follow your passion.

Easkey took a ground-breaking journey to Iran in 2013 to introduce the sport of surfing to women and local communities.

It is Easkey's passion for the ocean that set her on this path. “I always wanted to get under the surface of the ocean and that is what has led my life in this direction,” she says of her work and this latest project.

Hannah Nelson
Hannah Nelson
Speaking out for peace

Hannah Nelson

“We should not let the past pull us apart and stop us moving forward. Somehow we need to make a brighter future, a future that builds bridges and brings people together”

In June 2013, Hannah Nelson was just an ordinary 16-year-old living in Belfast.

She had just celebrated finishing her GCSEs and was looking for something to do.

Hannah decided to enter a contest being run by the US Consulate to introduce U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama during an event at the Waterfront Hall as part of the G8 activities.

Hannah decided to write an essay on maintaining peace in Northern Ireland. Not only did Hannah win the contest – but global media outlets reported that she almost stole the show as the world’s eyes fell on her and Belfast.

Her speech let to international acclaim, including compliments from US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle.

In being brave enough to stand on a global stage and talk about her hopes for peace, Hannah showed that anyone can be a hero if they have the courage to voice their beliefs and vision for the future.

Sister Martha Waziri
Sister Martha Waziri
Growing food for all

Sister Martha Waziri

“Heroes are everywhere. They should be celebrated”

Sister Martha Waziri is a winner of Oxfam’s Female Food Heroes competition in Tanzania, which provided the inspiration for our Heroes campaign across the island of Ireland.

Female Food Heroes in Tanzania attracts thousands of entries from women farmers for a place in the X Factor-style final that reaches a total audience of 25 million.

Celebrating the vital contribution they make to their communities, it also demonstrates the challenges that rural woman must overcome and creates an opportunity for them to address the public and decision-makers.

As a 17-year-old, Sister Martha found some barren unused land that none of the local men wanted. But when she asked the local authorities if she could use it, they laughed at her.

“I became an object of ridicule,” she recalls. She fought and eventually, got her way. Sister Martha has since turned 18 acres of unwanted wasteland into a thriving farm, growing sugarcane, sweet potatoes, bananas and more.

In doing so she has become a beacon of change for other local women, many of whom have now followed her example.

The profits from her farm have allowed Sister Martha to support 12 local orphaned children, providing them with food and shelter.

She used her Female Food Heroes prize to open a youth training centre that teaches sustainable agricultural practices.

By giving women the same opportunities as men and ensuring their voices are heard, ordinary women like Sister Martha Waziri can achieve incredible things.

Joanne O’Riordan
Joanne O’Riordan
Lobbying for human rights

Joanne O’Riordan

“I was born without my limbs but my motto in life is No Limbs, No Limits”

Joanne O’Riordan is a teenager from Millstreet in Cork.

She was born with a rare condition known as Total Amelia, as a result of which she has no limbs. However, Joanne has never let this get in the way of her life.

Though only 17 years old, the Leaving Certificate student has already challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny over cuts to disability funding, discussed technology with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Apple, and has been named Young Person of the Year at the People of the Year Awards.

In 2013, she appeared at a UN conference ‘Girls in Technology’, receiving a standing ovation after delivering a keynote speech and a challenge to the most influential women in technology: to build her a robot.

Joanne is the subject of a new documentary, directed and produced by her brother Steven, called No Limbs, No Limits which explores Joanne’s achievements to date.

Marie Hannon
Marie Hannon
Giving time to help others

Marie Hannon

“By giving a few hours a week, I am helping to create a better world for people who are affected by severe poverty. I’m happy and proud to be an Oxfam volunteer”

Marie Hannon has been volunteering in the Oxfam Limerick store from the time it opened, 23 years ago.

Each week, Marie gives a day of her time to help with the general running of the store, and does everything from accepting bags of clothes donations, to getting items ready for the shop floor to working at the cash desk.

The work of Oxfam Ireland would not be possible without Marie and 2,000 other amazing volunteers who help run our shops, offices and events, and oversee everything we do as board members.

People like Marie are the local link in a growing global movement of people tackling poverty and injustice.

Oxfam Limerick store manager Anne McGlynn says: “Thanks to the devotion of our incredible volunteers like Marie, by giving a few hours a week, they make it possible for people to donate and purchase the clothes, books, furniture and homewares that fund Oxfam’s vital work. We couldn’t do it without them and each one of them is a Hero.”