“Our work is giving a leg up rather than a hand out,” Ronan Scully says about Self Help Africa’s willingness to make a difference.
Now 28 years involved in the charity sector Scully remains as passionate and purposeful as ever. Even on Tuesday Scully went back to his native Offaly to offer support to his friend Vincent Cleary, managing director of Glenisk.
“I'm just after being outside of Glenisk, my friend Vincent, who owns it, he has been a huge supporter to me over the years,” Scully explains. “To see how sad it is to look at the place in wrack and ruin after the fire. The good that he and his family in Glenisk, the Cleary family, have done for so many small community projects, local county projects, national projects, and global projects.
“It is so sad to see the place after being burnt to the ground. I always try to help someone. Vincent, the manager director, and all the Cleary family, they have always been helping people - morning, noon, and night. It is part of who they are, they are part of the community.”
Scully highlights how Glenisk assisted in so many ways, while also trying to implement new ideas and initiatives.
“The whole thing with climate change, they are so big into that trying to make the world a better and safer place,” he continues. “I am very lucky to have Vincent as one of my best friends in life, but he also supports a lot of the work we do in Africa.
“He has been out in Africa with me on a few occasions, seeing the work, seeing the projects and the projects and work we do speaks for itself.
“Seeing someone like him and a company like Glenisk to partner with us and be so impressed with our work for a charity like ours to have such a big brand to believe in the work we are doing is great.”
Scully’s desire to make a difference can be traced back to his upbringing. In his formative years Scully admired how his parents behaved by offering care and help to others.
“I studied for the priesthood for a number of years, during that time I worked with the Mother Teresa sisters in Dublin,” Scully says.
“Then I went to work with them in India, in Calcutta with Mother Theresa. So I always had an inkling that I wanted to help people.
“My mum and dad were great people for helping people in the community. My mum and dad would be my heroes. The door was always open in our house, they were always so good and helpful to others in the community. I learned that from my mum and dad.”
Ultimately, Scully has tried to follow that path. “My motto in life is that there is no better thing that you can do in life than to help,” he adds.
“Whether that is someone in your family, community, town, city or in the world. There is no better thing you can do than help someone or care for someone - just to be there for someone.”
Self Help Africa’s mission is to assist communities, to enable them to survive, and subsequently thrive. It is not an easy task. “We try to get people to do things for themselves, whether that is do with their livelihoods, agriculture, emergency or something to do with famine or drought,” Scully replies.
“Basically we try to get people back on their feet, that is what we are hoping to do. I was down with Glenisk, hoping to help them get back on their feet because it works both ways. We are all trying to help one another, that is what I try to do with my life.
“We try to give people the opportunity to help others, we try to make a difference. Sometimes what we do might be a drop in the ocean, but the way I look at it is many drops make an ocean. Every little thing counts - a big donation or a small donation. We just want to spend that money properly so it helps people to make a difference in their lives.
“With technology nowadays it helps you get the word out there more and to more people, it gets you to do things quicker. In life there is no better thing to do than to help, whether that is someone in Galway city, Ireland or Africa there is no better thing that you can do.”
Undoubtedly the past 18 months has been a deeply uncertain stint. Much changed in the world, but Scully remains adamant about the fact that so many people simply still wanted to contribute.
“It has been a very difficult time,” Scully says. “Where we work it is very far away, during Covid times things became very much localised.
“I know myself I was part of a group in Knocknacarra delivering food to people, I got something like three tonnes of coal, we delivered to people in need around Knocknacarra and the Westside area.
“I remember delivering coal, food, and bread to some people. One woman, who was very sick with cancer, was so delighted.
“It was very hard for us to get funds because Africa was so far away. Some of us went on four, three, and two day weeks. Some people might not have been able to give you a tenner, but they gave you two euro or a fiver.
“The goodness of people, I can't impress enough how good and decent, kind and generous people are. They were still willing to give even though there was a lot happening on their own doorstep. We would never try to take things away from the local charities, but people still thought of us.”
Normally Scully would visit Africa several times in a calendar year. He hopes to go back in November, but the fact so many locals work for Self Help Africa is a source of encouragement for Scully.
“We are lucky that our company the staff out there is local staff, that is part of our thing,” Scully says.
“We want the local people to do it, we are there as overseers, we are there to help and support. Education is a big thing, but we have fantastic local staff. They are all very qualified people, that is the whole ethos of Self Help Africa. It is them helping themselves really.
“Things are very different out in Africa at the moment. Covid is so high at the moment, they don't have the opportunities and vaccinations we have so it is important we think of that scenario too. Out there if they don't have the vaccines Covid will be still around, until everyone is OK, nobody is OK. We are so thankful to people for supporting the work we are doing.”
Still Offaly to the core, Scully retains a fondness and respect for all things Galway. “I love Galway, I always wanted to live in Galway,” he laughs.
“My grandfather was originally from Galway, he used to write an article for the old Galway Observer.”
His dad’s uncle, Dr Brendan Scully, set an example too on the banks of the Corrib. “He was a doctor and he helped found the mission to Malawi with the help of other doctors,”.
“They founded the health system in Malawi, he helped to build a large hospital with funds from the people of Galway in northern Zambia, a fantastic man, he helped to set up the whole health system. That is another place where I got the grá to help people too.” That journey continues.