Nurse awarded peace prize for passionate advocacy

APHEDA co-founder, nurse and advocate for refugee and women’s rights, Dr Helen McCue AM

A trailblazing Australian nurse has been recognised for her passionate advocacy for peace in the Middle East, as well as her dedication and care for the refugees and innocent victims of conflict.

APHEDA co-founder, nurse and advocate for refugee and women’s rights, Dr Helen McCue AM has been awarded winner of the 2023-2024 Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize.

The Jerusalem (AL QUDS) Peace Prize is an initiative of Australians for Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

Dr McCue has been awarded the prize for 41 years of passionate advocacy and support for Palestine, through her work with Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement.

APHEDA co-founder Helen McCue with ACTU President Cliff Dolan

“I was a 33 year-old nurse, and I continued to stay in the camp and work there with the Palestinian nurses, and I was dealing with many shattered people, as well as nurses.

“There was a lot of emergency assistance which flows into a situation like that, but it was very obvious that the shattered health workers needed help to reestablish their working lives,” Dr McCue said.

Dr McCue grew up in Canberra. In 1983, she was a young nurse consultant educator for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Middle East, before being seconded to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to work in Lebanon.

After witnessing the horror of the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, McCue left her role to volunteer in refugee camps alongside Palestinian nurse Olfat Mahmoud, who tragically died on 24 September 2023.

McCue described seeing “the deterioration of the physical, psychological, social and cultural wellbeing of four million Palestinians”.

Witness of this was the inspiration for her to “broaden the base of support for Palestinians and to somehow set up an organisation, based in union movement”. She returned to Australia to inspire the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to found Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, then becoming its first Executive Director.

Over the years, Dr McCue continued to work in solidarity and partnership with Olfat Mahmoud to support various training and humanitarian projects with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This included establishment of a nurse training program.

“I’ve taken a very active position in supporting Palestinian human rights and in humanitarian work with Palestinian refugees,” Dr McCue said.

Dr McCue has worked in solidarity with workers, migrants and women more broadly. She co-founded Rural Australians for Refugees in the aftermath of the Tampa Crisis. She has published a number of academic papers and has received several national and international awards including an Order of Australia for her human rights, refugee and humanitarian work.

Helen will be presented with the award at the Jerusalem (Al Quds) Peace Prize awards ceremony and dinner at Melbourne Town Hall on Friday 23 February 2024.

Tickets to the awards ceremony include a three-course meal and beverages are available to purchase here

The Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA), also known as Union Aid Abroad, is a non-government organisation established in 1984 as the international aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

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