Azeez Yussuf from Dublin wins National Volunteer Award



Monday 9th December

Azeez Yusuff was named the winner in the Sports and Recreation category at the national Volunteer Ireland Awards on Friday night for his commitment to Sport Against Racism Ireland.

Azeez emerged from the Asylum Process to become a Sports Coach and a Youth Leader on three programmes of Sport Against Racism Ireland. As a ‘Refugee in Waiting’ in the asylum process, with no English on his arrival in Ireland, he struggled against racism but now dedicates himself to using sport as a way to tackle discrimination.

He works with young boys, many whom were trafficked from conflict zones, on the Soccernites programme and also mentors young Muslim girls on the Hijabs and Hat Tricks programme.

According to Dublin City Volunteer Centre Manager Franziska O’Donnell “We are lucky to have volunteers like Azeez in Dublin. Despite a difficult start, he has used his own experience to mentor and support young people. His passion for using sport as a way to tackle racism and discrimination is clear. Volunteers are often unseen but the contribution they make to Irish society is immense. These awards give us a chance to say thank you and celebrate the difference volunteers make every day.”

Owodunni Mustapha was named Christine Buckley Volunteer of the Year for her commitment and dedication to supporting the residents of the Old Convent Direct Provision Centre Ballyhaunis where she lives.

Seán Canney, Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development said “Volunteers make an invaluable contribution to Irish society, supporting vibrant and inclusive communities across the country. Their impact cannot be understated and awards like these are vital to show our appreciation for all that they do and inspire new people to volunteer. I’m delighted that my Department is able to support these awards.”

According to Kate O’Flaherty, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Department of Health: “Volunteers are at the heart of healthy, sustainable communities. The nominees show the impact that volunteers have on the health and well-being of their communities and the people that live in them.  Volunteers give their time and energy helping others and there are well-proven benefits for health and mental wellbeing. Healthy Ireland is delighted to partner with Volunteer Ireland and to celebrate with the various nominees and acknowledge their work.”

The Volunteer Ireland Awards are now in their twelfth year and aim to shine a light on the ordinary people doing extraordinary things in our communities every day. Eleven category winners and the overall Volunteer of the Year were named at an awards ceremony in the Carlton Hotel, Blanchardstown on Friday 6th December. The awards are supported by the Department of Rural and Community Development and Healthy Ireland.


Find out more about Azeez and his voluntary work with SARI.

For more information contact Franzi O’Donnell at franziska@volunteerdublincity.ie / 01 473 7482.

Photo caption: Azeez Yussuf, Winner of the Volunteer Ireland 2019 Awards – Sport and Recreation Category – with Catriona Connolly from Healthy Ireland. (Credit: Volunteer Ireland)


Notes to Editors

Volunteer Ireland Awards Winners 2019

Volunteer of the Year

Owodunni (Ola) Mustapha

Ola has lived in direct provision in Ballyhaunis for 5 years and has dedicated herself to support the residents in the centre. Her commitment has brought to life several  projects and initiatives for people in the centre including coffee mornings, Christmas voucher appeals, donation drives, social trips and skills programmes – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! She also supports residents to integrate into the local community organising an Intercultural Day in Ballyhaunis this summer. Aside from supporting residents in the centre, Ola is also a passionate advocate for asylum seekers speaking widely on the injustices of Direct Provision system, issues asylum seekers experience in Ireland and their willingness to integrate and contribute to local life.

Animals & Environment

Lynn and Michael Christianson, Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland

Lynn and Michael received autism assistance dog Chester for their son Ben 5 years ago. After seeing  first-hand the amazing transformation that Chester brought to Ben and their family they were keen to give back to Autism Assistance Dogs Ireland and now foster puppies in the hope of offering this opportunity to more children with autism and their families. They have made big changes to their lifestyle committing to 24 hour puppy watches and given up half of their home to foster litters of puppies. So far they’ve fostered 3 litters – that’s 20 future assistance dogs!

Arts, Culture & Media

John Paul Payne, Carlow Pride Festival

John Paul had always dreamt of making Carlow a great place to live for everyone and 8 months ago he formed a committee to create the first ever Carlow Pride Festival. The committee is made up of people from all social backgrounds, sexual orientations, abilities and ages. He created an environment for people to show true leadership where normally they may not within society. 3,500 people attended the inaugural parade and festival, which was completely free for everyone to enjoy.

Campaigning & Awareness Raising

Johnny Fox, Pieta House and Tallaght Athletic Club

Having lost his son to suicide, Johnny was part of the very first Darkness into Light committee and has been supporting Pieta House ever since. Johnny can be found on the course from the night before, staying and cheering each person until the last one crosses the line. Johnny has also been a volunteer coach with Tallaght Athletics Club for over 50 years mentoring, inspiring and supporting young athletes.


Patricia Keane, the Letterfrack Community

Patricia has volunteered for over 40 years in the Letterfrack community. She was a member of the Board of Management of Letterfrack National School where she was one of the founder members of the Parents’ Council. Patricia set up and ran a badminton club for national school children and then went on to set up and run a youth club called Ellis Hall Drop-in Centre for teenagers and younger children. One of Patricia’s biggest achievements has been a local Watersports Day on Glassilaun Beach in Galway which she set up with a friend in the nineties and has raised €70,000 to date for children’s charities.

Children & Youth

Sandra Maguire, Coder Dojo Ireland

Sandra set up one of the first Coder Dojos in Ireland and has introduced hundreds of local children to the wonders of coding since then. Aside from her local work, she is also the Chairperson of CoderDojo Ireland and was an integral part of Coolest Projects, the world’s leading technology fair for young people.

Health & Disability

Eric Beggs, Fighting Blindness

Eric Beggs was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition in his forties and has no eyesight left as a result. Since then, Eric has since completed treks, tandem cycles, Easter egg hunts, church gate collections and raised over €150,000 for Fighting Blindness. He has organised events every single year for the past 15 years, spending his personal time tirelessly fundraising and raising awareness.

Safety & Emergency Services

James Lafferty, Irish Red Cross – Clare

James raised over €86,000 for a new community multi-purpose support vehicle which is a minibus that can be transformed to an ambulance if needed, so that he could help the people of Co. Clare get to their medical appointments all over Ireland or to help the old folks go on days out free of charge. Whether it’s for a chemotherapy session or having a bunion removed, James is always on hand to transport patients when needed.

Social Work & Social Inclusion

Marian Merrick, Croí na Gaillimhe Resource Centre

Marian has been to the forefront of asylum seeker and refugee support in Galway for almost 20 years. She first got involved in the late 90’s with a small group who painted over racist graffiti in Galway city. From there, she was a founder member of the Galway Refugee Support Group volunteering in all aspects of the service, including board membership. For the past four years Marian has been volunteering with Croí na Gaillimhe Resource Centre leading a team supporting people with their International Protection Office questionnaires and preparation for asylum seeker interviews and appeals.

Sports & Recreation

Azeez Yusuff, Sport Against Racism Ireland

Azeez emerged from the Asylum Process to become a Sports Coach and a Youth Leader on three programmes of Sport Against Racism Ireland. As a ‘Refugee in Waiting’ in the asylum process, with no English on his arrival in Ireland, he struggled against racism but now dedicates himself to using sport as a way to tackle discrimination. He works with young boys, many whom were trafficked from conflict zones, on the Soccernites programme and also mentors young Muslim girls on the Hijabs and Hat Tricks programme.

Volunteer Manager

Andy Cullen, Husky Rescue Ireland

Andy had always had a love of dogs but set up Husky Rescue Ireland following an increase in the number of huskies being surrendered to pounds and generally neglected. Since starting up the rescue in 2014 Andy is responsible for leading a strong team of volunteers to rehome over 800 Huskies in Ireland, Sweden and Germany giving them a second chance with a loving family.

Outstanding Group

Irish Red Cross – Tralee Branch

Founded in 1939, the branch and unit in Tralee were amongst the first to establish themselves after the inception of the Irish Red Cross on July 1st 1939. There are 33 active members who carry out ambulance duty at over 140 events per year. There are also 10 novices aged 16-18 who take part in duties, the older members act as mentors to the younger members to allow them find their feet in the Group. Five members have done over 300 hours each this year alone ambulance and collectively the group have done in excess of 4,300 hours to date. These volunteers are responsible for many initiatives in the community. Highlights of the year include the annual Christmas party for people in the community and the annual Christmas hospital visit to those who are sick.