Sheila on 'Why I left my job in Ireland and travelled to Greece to help refugees'

by Sheila Geraghty

Sheila’s blog post originally appeared at

Fiona Duffy and Sheila Geraghty Human Appeal Ireland

Sheila Geraghty (right) with Fiona Duffy Human Appeal Ireland

My name is Sheila Geraghty, and I want to tell you a story. It’s about helping refugees, but it’s also a story about me, and how my life changed.

So what am I about? Humanity. I can’t stand inequality, inherited privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia, or misogyny. Basically, I feel that if it’s not a level playing field for all of us human beings, I’m against it. I come from a long line of strong and determined women, and when I set my mind on something there’s no stopping me.

Last January, I was sick in bed with bronchitis, feeling cold, miserable, and very sorry for myself. But then I heard a radio interview with two Irish policemen, Ray Wims and Damien McCarthy. They had just returned from volunteering on Kos, an island in Greece. As fathers themselves, they had been moved by the tragic photo of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child whose drowned body had washed up on a beach in Kos. I said to myself, “Sheila, get a grip and stop complaining,” and I contacted Ray and Damien.

A couple of weeks later, I had given up my job, and after three flights, I was on Kos with a small group of amazing Irish people—Rhona Teehan and Anne and Tom O’Rorke—who continue to be my firm friends in life. We found that the most urgent need for volunteers with refugees was on the tiny island of Leros—so a ferry ride later, we were there.

refugee family Leros Sheila Geraghty Human Appeal Ireland

A refugee family on the island of Leros.

I spent a month there, working with the great local people and expats: Anne Tee, Jo Finn, and Matina Katsiveli (founder of Pikpa, a refugee center in Leros). The highlight of our work was the wonderful refugees and their incredible courage and optimism for the future. One man particularly moved me: He was in a wheelchair and, apart from his young teenage son, he had lost his entire family in the Syrian conflict.

Thanks to kind donations from family and friends at home, we built a state-of-the-art kitchen in Pikpa that continues to provide nourishing food for refugees.

Human Appeal Ireland Van

A van for Human Appeal Ireland.

This was one of those experiences that makes you think again about your life. I came back to Ireland a changed person. Now I’m working with an Irish humanitarian agency, Human Appeal Ireland. My pay is poor but the rewards are not monetary. I’ve met so many wonderful people who have taken me out of my often narrow and self-centered world. (For example, how many clothes and things do I really need? Not a lot, to be honest.)

We’ve been lucky that so many people in Ireland have come together to help us. The press launch for our campaign for displaced and refugee Syrians was hosted by Dublin’s Lord Mayor Brendan Carr at his residence. We had a personal appearance, talk, and endorsement by Irish sports star, Bernard Brogan—a great guy who believes in our work.

We also had a talk from the wonderful humanitarian Val Cox of RTE (who had volunteered with her husband several times on Kos) and Lana Shanan, a Syrian 16-year-old who is an Irish citizen. She gave a very moving speech and brought us all to tears. Her grandparents are still in Damascus working as medics when they had the choice to stay safely in Ireland. Don’t we all love our home place? There’s no hearth like your own hearth. In Irish: “Nil aon tintean mar do thintean fein.”


President Michael D Higgins with Sabina Higgins and Sheila Geraghty Human Appeal Ireland

Sheila, center, with Ireland President Michael Higgins and his wife, Sabina, at an event in Dublin on November 21, 2016.

People become refugees because they have no choice, not because they choose to. Human Appeal Ireland is working to help refugees. Our work is strictly humanitarian. There are camps out in the deserts that the world doesn’t know about—on the borders of Syria with thousands of refugees. We haven’t forgotten them nor have the good people of Ireland that are helping us.

I am continuing our work with Human Appeal Ireland with my colleague and friend, Fiona Duffy—and to be honest, we’re having great fun along the way. We sing our hearts out in her Jeep on the way to work every day. In fact, our next fundraising project is a carol service on December 10 in Monkstown—we’re expecting 750 attendees! We’re also planning a road trip in the new year around Ireland and maybe further afield, all to raise funds and awareness for refugees. We’re looking at getting a camper van and painting on it: “Irish Grannies with Attitude.” We’re still working on that slogan, but we welcome all suggestions!