The Victoria Day Award for Public and Community Service is awarded to Moira Kelly, AO. This award recognises a remarkable life of humanitarian service in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities.
Born in Melbourne, Moira developed an interest in the welfare of others during her early teens. At twenty she left home to work with Aboriginal children on a mission in Western Australia. It was this experience that strengthened her resolve to develop a vocation of service to others. As a long admirer of the work of Mother Theresa, Moira left for India at the age of 22 to work alongside Mother Theresa with the poor of Calcutta. This must have been a confronting experience for a young woman from Melbourne. For Moira, it was the start of life which would take her across the world working with communities in desperate need, both spiritually and physically as well as economically.
After India, Moira returned home to Australia to work with AIDS sufferers and she established a special unit for boys with behavioural problems at Sutherland Homes, here in Victoria.
Whilst still in her twenties, Moira again left Australia, firstly to Botswana where she worked with the Kalahari bushmen on a self help project. She then travelled to Johannesburg and then to New York. She has carried out large-scale humanitarian projects and has been there to assist desperate and sick individuals in Johannesburg, the Bronx (USA), Romania, Bosnia and Albania. She has set up soup kitchens, refugee camps, dental clinics, schools, managed an AIDS hospital and adult education programs.
It may, therefore come as no surprise that the Victoria Day Council is not the first organisation to have acknowledged Moira’s incredible achievements and Moira has been recognised with many community, national and international awards for her humanitarian work. The following are but a few:
At just 25, she was awarded a Queen’ Trust Achiever Award and the Victorian Young Achiever Award for Community Service. In 1994, Moira received the inaugural Sir Edward Dunlop Award for humanitarian service and in 1995 Moira’s efforts in Bosnia were honoured by a meeting with the Queen.
In 2001, Moira was awarded the White Flame Award by Save the Children. She was also was one of 10 people recognised internationally for their contribution to the world. In Australia, Moira received The Prime Minister’s Award for outstanding community service and was made an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for her outstanding humanitarian service. Nominations for Australian of the Year followed. All this, and she was still only in her 30’s.
Her work carries on today through her dedication to the the Children First Foundation, established by Moira in 1999, with the support of Rotary International. In her role as Executive Director of the Children First Foundation it is Moira’s visionary leadership and passion for the work of the Foundation with which so many of us are familiar. Through its major programs, Between the Gap and Miracle sMiles, the Foundation improves the health outcomes of many, many children, in Australia and internationally. The Foundation’s Miracle sMiles Program brings children to Australia from developing countries for life saving and life changing surgery, caring for them before and after surgery. Most of us will remember Moira’s passionate campaign that saw conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna successfully separated in a 32 hour operation at Melbourne’s Royal Children Hospital. Moira, herself a twin, is now legal guardian of the twins. Moira is also mum to two other inspirational individuals, X-factor singer Emmanuel and competitive swimmer, Ahmed Mustafa, both originally from Iraq.
Moira’s work has been the subject of three documentaries: A Compassionate Rage, Brothers in Arms and Foreign Correspondent.
Moira’s tireless leadership and advocacy for children, her ability to rally resources in often terrible conditions and her ability to successfully navigate the intricacies of other cultures is truly inspirational. To the many children whose lives she has turned around, from one of misery to one of hope, she has truely earned her moniker of “angel of mercy”.