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For as long as she can remember, SORCHA FENNELL has harbored a dream of working in international development, and the Galway woman, who is Director of International Operations for Trócaire, has fulfilled that ambition in some of the world’s most challenging places, as she reveals here .

As my children and their friends tell me, choosing a career today is a complex task with a dizzying number of options on what, where and how to work.

I had no such problem.

From a very young age I knew that I wanted to work in international development and I feel lucky and grateful to have been able to fulfill that wish. I have lived and worked in some of the world’s most challenging countries in Asia, Africa and Central America and in my current role I am responsible for the international operations and projects we manage at Trócaire.

Context can have a big influence on our choices and for me going to school at Coláiste Iognáid in Galway was a formative experience. His emphasis on social justice influenced me at a time when we were living through the troubles in Ireland, the famine in Africa, and the riots in Central and South America.

My family also influenced. My mother had worked with Palestinian refugees in Israel, my grandmother had been a doctor in Africa, and my great-aunt was a Franciscan nun working as a missionary in Uganda.

I was always a very committed activist and even started my own Social Action Group at school. After studying social work in Derry for two years, I decided to go abroad and volunteer.

Nine days after my 20th birthday, in January 1991, I booked a flight to Uganda with my great-aunt Terry and volunteered as a teacher at a former leper colony, now a school run by her group of amazing Franciscan nuns. , the youngest of whom was 76 years old and the oldest 89.

It was a truly eye-opening experience. The country was devastated by AIDS and is still recovering from the brutal reign of Idi Amin.

It took me a while to get used to it, absorbing the smells, the sounds, the numbing poverty. All my senses were on high alert. I felt very far from home and, as a social person, it took me a while to get used to the new sense of isolation.

But it was also exciting, challenging and an incredible learning moment. Teaching children was something I loved. I realized the transformative potential of education and how parents wanted first and foremost to give their children the opportunity to go to school and learn.

Before I left, I decided to help some of them get to high school, so I made a plan. I took out a loan, bought a bunch of high-quality African arts and crafts, and brought them home.

I reached out to Sabina Higgins, who helped me organize an African exhibit and raised enough money to send them to school. The local Galway community was great too. I remember Kenny’s Bookshop giving me loads of Ladybird books to take home to the kids.

When my time in Uganda ended, I knew I wanted to continue this type of work. I went back to Ireland, studied Development Studies and then joined Goal, working in South Sudan for 3 years until 1997.

People there suffered from the twin ravages of war and famine, and I learned a great deal about the international and political context that shapes those events. South Sudan and its people, those people deeply influenced my view of development, and I still count the people I met there as my friends.

After meeting my husband and spending a year traveling, we moved to Honduras for his work.

Shortly after our arrival, Hurricane Mitch struck, the deadliest hurricane in history at the time. It is difficult to describe the devastation we witnessed. People, houses, crops simply disappeared. Many had been dragged into their beds.

I remember a woman standing with a flip flop and a plastic bag and a look of total surprise. That was all he had left.

The lack of basic infrastructure meant that so many people died who should not have. Existence was tenuous, people lived in shacks on the banks of rivers without property or land.

I contacted Trócaire and told them I was experienced and on the ground, so I started working with their emergency response.

What I worked on in the following months and years showed me how absolutely transformational help and support can be. I began to understand the importance of long-term sustainable development and addressing the fundamental structural problems that often underpin poverty.

In Honduras, Trócaire launched a campaign to ensure that women obtain title and ownership of their land. Ownership of land and housing was generally in the man’s name, leaving women without security.

During the reconstruction phase, we made sure that the property titles were in the name of the youngest child or the mother. This simple move was transformative. We saw entire communities spring up, building not only the security of a roof over their heads, but also the security of property and the protection it guaranteed. In the opening ceremonies of these estates, the women would come up and hold their key knowing that it meant security, illumination, protection for their children now and in the future. It’s the difference between a Band-Aid (which may be needed in an emergency) and a cure.

Today, Trócaire works in some of the poorest countries in the world. Myanmar, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. Hundreds of millions of lives are in danger every day due to war, famine and climate change.

In this context, the impact of helping a person can be as simple as it is profound. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most unsafe places in the world, especially for women. There are around 138 militia groups operating in eastern DRC and insecurity is a constant reality for communities and our staff.

One day we met a group of women with whom we had recently carried out a literacy program. We sat in a meeting with these women and asked what it had meant to them. I will never forget a woman who stood up and simply said “now I can text”.

The enormity of this woman who can now read warnings that will affect her safety or ask for help is profound. The power that simple skill can now give him cannot be underestimated.

All of that is foreign aid or support organizations like Trócaire: we work with people who don’t have the menu of options that we have and we help them create those options.

It is not charity, it is simply enabling and empowering those who are vulnerable to poverty and violence.

The people I have met and worked with over the years are strong, powerful, resilient and dignified people who find themselves in environments and conditions that are simply impossible to overcome without some form of support – support is an enabler. , capable of transforming lives. – but the people we work with are the real agents of change.

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