A funny thing happened to Áine Fay on the way to retirement. A service opportunity became available in South Sudan, and she took it. Áine (pronounced Anya), who has most recently spent 6 years in an executive position in Concern’s New York office, and since 1983 has served in eleven countries from Bangladesh to Haiti, could not ignore a familiar urge to go incountry and make a difference. Here she speaks with Concern Ambassador Mary Anne Ramer, executive director of the Spark Fund.
MAR: So why delay your exit from Concern… and why South Sudan?
‘AF: I am privileged. I am not married, and I have no children. My friends and family are baffled as to why I chose to serve as Country Director of South Sudan. They seem to wonder if there was not an ‘easier’ position in a ‘nicer’ country. Well here is the thing; when I decided to go back overseas from my New York position I told Concern that I’d go wherever the organization felt they needed me most – a strategy I’ve used throughout my 37 years and has never steered me wrong.
MAR: In all of the eight countries in which you’ve served with Concern what is your favorite?
AF: My favorite is Bangladesh. But in every country, I have considered it a privilege to live and work, and experience another culture. My first job was as Jack Finucane’s secretary! (Jack and Aengus Finucane were for many years were the driving force in Concern.) As a youngster going to Catholic school in Ireland, I was constantly fascinated by the stories my aunt told of her work as a missionary nun in Africa and the by tales of many other nuns and priests who came to speak at school. Although the Finucane brothers were priests, they came to their work to provide critical aid and support in time of need, not religious conversion.
MAR: Of course you’re Irish! Where from, how many siblings, and what is your educational background?
AF: I come from Limerick, one of four sisters and two brothers, and we all grew up in a pub right in the heart of the city! I have a nursing degree, but had a bit of difficulty starting to work for Concern because I had no midwifery credentials.
MAR: What range of crises and human emergencies have you served in?
AF: My service has run the gamut from famine, to epidemic, to floods and other natural disasters, as well as man-made ones, including war, tribal conflicts and crimes against humanity. South Sudan is in effect and ongoing emergency, encompassing many of the above. This is my third stint here, so I know the context well.
MAR: What are the working conditions like, and how do you cope with the stresses?
The security situation in South Sudan is difficult. Nightly curfews and a limit on any non-essential travel can make working here confining, claustrophobic, and frustrating. If I’m honest, I hate the temperatures that we are currently in – 91o today —and the dust and allergies that go with it do not suit me. That being said, I live and work in Juba and to be honest, except for the curfew, I could not deem it a hardship posting. This capital ‘bubble’ however is in stark contrast to other areas of South Sudan, where food is limited, transportation networks rough, socializing impossible, and stress high.
My coping mechanisms? I read voraciously and am currently reading the first in a series called The American Bicentennial Series and am thankful that reading is a real pleasure for me. The complex I live in has a small gym attached (which I use less often than I should – though I’m full of good intentions) and I listen to podcasts – the US elections are keeping me enthralled these days. All in all, not a bad way to ‘retire’!
MAR: What has been the most difficult part of your work for Concern? And the best bits?
AF: The hardest thing has always been being so far away from my family. I use ‘’privilege’’ not as a way to boast, but as an umbrella term for the fantastic opportunity Concern has given me to have constant blessings of new cultures, and new adventures. So I am still not ready to give up the joy of working incountry. (NOTE): Some 90 percent of the total of more than 4,000 employees of Concern work in-country.)
MAR: Acknowledging that “Third World” is a severely outdated framing, and that terms like “The Global South” or “Low-income Countries” are preferred…If you could change one thing that those of us in the so-called First World think about those in the Third World, what would that be?
AF: As long as there are those in need..there is no THEY only WE. And I am a great believer in the Power of One. Each one of us who supports Concern’s work in any way helps to make a great difference to the millions of people we serve.
MAR: What goals of Concern do you hold most dear?
AF: Concern does what it says it does: localization, succession and ultimately putting ourselves out of business.
MAR: Thanks so much Áine, and happy unretirement!