Maud Kells true heroine of humanity
Little wonder that Cookstown missionary Maud Kells received a tumultuous welcome when she returned to the village in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she nearly lost her life at the start of this year. She has worked unstintingly in that civil war-riven country for almost 50 years to improve the lot of people who have very little.
A nurse, much of her work has been training others to follow in her footsteps and also helping to build medical facilities, including a maternity unit. Previously many Congolese women died in childbirth due to lack of suitable accommodation and care.
Now aged 76, Maud has always underplayed her role, which is nothing short of astonishing. She has had to be evacuated several times when conflict erupted and the country became too dangerous for foreigners.
But she has never forgotten her real mission to help those in need. And in spite of her ordeal last January, when she was shot by bandits who she interrupted robbing her home, she was always determined to return to the country.
True to her Christian faith, she has not let her experience dim her sense of justice.
She is convinced that the two men who have been charged with shooting her are innocent and one of her tasks now that she is back in the country is to fight for their freedom.
Her determination, her sense of duty, her willingness to continue to work in a harsh climate and in fairly primitive conditions at her age is awe-inspiring.
But it is symptomatic of the humanity that so many missionaries and aid workers from Northern Ireland demonstrate in countries brought to their knees by war, famine, pestilence and corruption.
They don't ask for thanks. Their thanks come from the people whose lives they save or from the facilities they build to give local populations a better chance of survival against the odds.
Too often their work goes unnoticed until something extraordinary happens, but they deal in miracles daily, rescuing people from the direst of circumstances.
Maud Kells is cut from that same cloth, and her devotion to her fellow man and woman has spanned almost half-a-century. She has no intention of quitting any time soon.
She is the Belfast Telegraph's current Woman of the Year, but to the people in the Congo it is a title she deserves annually.