I like working for the Society of Jesus, they have a vision of the greater good and try to hold that before them in all their dealings with others. I feel there was a reason why I found my way into this organization. I hate injustice. The Jesuits challenge it; it is at the core of what it means to be a Jesuit.
The Irish Jesuit Missions (IJM) is different than other Jesuit organisations; it offers support to other Jesuits and their works overseas. The IJM is far more than just a funder. We know that circumstances can be rough and that life can be very hard for the Jesuits and volunteers. We offer encouragement and support in addition to funding. We want everyone to succeed in their goals. If you lose hope, there’s no point in doing this job.
In Ireland, the Jesuit schools promote in their students a spirit of responsibility towards others. I love the saying ““men and women for others”. This is what keeps me focussed and motivates me.
I believe that education is the way forward especially for girls and women. I have met some strong women in the Jesuit projects in Kangemi, Nairobi who have been educated as little girls through to third level. As adult women, they want to give something back to their former school and community.
For instance, at the moment in South Sudan, education may only increase a girl’s dowry value in the number of cows her father receives when she marries. This may be hard for us women in the developed world to accept but it is not our role to push our values onto them. Eventually, as her children and their children become more educated, the real changes will follow. It’s wonderful to see how women can become self-financing and no longer be dependent on others!
To me, that is the perfect ending to a project’s story.
As a woman, it can be more difficult to collaborate effectively as I always deal with the men that lead the projects. In some countries, the role of women as subordinates is normal. Men may not be comfortable receiving training from, and working on an equal footing with a woman. There are some wonderful local women working on community projects and usually behind every successful project there are the women!
The most satisfying project I’ve worked on so far was in Zambia, there is a lot of collaboration there between the Jesuits and laity. I was asked to assist the setting up of a financial management system with the Province treasurer, Fr Tadeusz Swiderski SJ. He loved what he was learning and it was an absolute pleasure to work with him. Throughout the process I realized that he was a priest first and foremost. I have huge respect for him and a real understanding now of what it means for a person to be called to service.
When training for other Jesuits in Zambia was arranged, I was terrified that they would reject me, as a woman and not a native of the country. Needless to say my fears were very much unfounded! I made the training personal and asked them to reflect on how to protect themselves in terms of financial accountability. Lots of interesting questions followed and I am confident the training improved their skills as follow on reporting and accounting have shown. Whatever knowledge they have they will share with others.
I do believe in God, or whatever name people want to use. The multi faith approach appeals to me and my sense of justice. There will be a breakthrough even if it takes generations. Above all, I believe in people!
Winnie Ryan is Finance and Office Administrator at the bIrish Jesuit Missions in Dublin, Ireland.