It was tragic circumstances which thrust both Margaret McGuckin and Una Crudden into the public eye. But with courage and determination, the selfless actions of both women have made a huge difference to the lives of others.
Victims’ campaigner Margaret and ovarian cancer campaigner Una were given rousing cheers as they stepped onto |the stage at our gala awards ceremony| to jointly pick up the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award sponsored by Baileys Luxe.
Based on her experiences as a young child in care, Margaret co-founded Savia, which acts as a voice for the needs and demands of survivors of institutional abuse.
Her campaign for justice for the many children — now adults — who suffered physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse in homes throughout Northern Ireland has led to the establishment of the public inquiry which is currently underway into institutional childhood abuse.
Due to a difficult start in life, separated from her family and abused in a children’s home, Margaret did not benefit much from education.
But she has more than compensated for this thanks to her personal qualities of courage and her can-do spirit.
Her success has been based on deep commitment, determination, a sympathetic ear for other victims, an instinct for seeking out allies and understanding the essentials of a campaign.
She has overcome her personal fears to challenge those in authority and in doing so has inspired hundreds of other victims of childhood abuse to come forward and tell their stories too.
Thanks to Margaret (57), victims will no longer have to bear their burden alone.
This modest mum-of-three from Belfast, who is regarded by the many abuse victims she has helped as their guardian angel, was overwhelmed to pick up our award.
She said: “I’m really amazed. I don’t see myself in that way. I just plod on every day and it’s unbelievable to me that I have been honoured in this way.”
Securing the inquiry has motivated Margaret to work even harder to support victims.
She said: “Hearing the horror stories which are so shocking has made me more determined than ever to see this to the end.
“All those days standing in the street persuading people to sign the petition and travelling here and there for meetings have been so worthwhile.
“Even though these people are now adults, in many ways they are still like wee lost children.
“I know what it is like not to be cared for and I don’t want anyone ever to have to feel like that. I’m always on the end of the phone and it’s as if all the victims are my family now.”
Our other inspirational winner Una Crudden (59) describes herself as “an ordinary granny from west Belfast” — but faced with adversity she has achieved the extraordinary.
After being misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, Una faced the devastation of being told she was terminally ill with ovarian cancer in December 2009 and was given between three and five years to live. Of five women diagnosed together, all of them had initially been misdiagnosed |with IBS and all except Una have since died.
Such senseless loss of life, which could have been prevented through education of the symptoms of the disease known as ‘The Silent Killer’, compelled Una to launch a campaign to raise awareness.
For Una it meant overcoming a natural shyness to address women’s groups, councillors and eventually politicians in her bid to create awareness.
Una cried tears of joy last year as she sat in the debating chamber in Stormont as the Health Committee agreed to fund a public awareness campaign.
Thanks to her efforts this week the Public Health Agency will be sending new guidelines for ovarian cancer diagnosis to all GPs in Northern Ireland.
Una continues to put all her energies into tirelessly campaigning to keep the issue in the headlines as well as fundraising for the Northern Ireland Hospice, for which she has raised an incredible £43,5000.
Una, too, was stunned to win our award. She said: “I’m just so shocked. Everyone in that room was a champion and I’m absolutely thrilled to get this award.”
‘I know what it is like not to be cared for and I don’t want anyone ever to have to feel like that. I’m always on the end of the phone and it’s as if all the victims are my family now’