PAGE 6 OPINION SR BERNADETTE MACMAHON -Words of Encouragement
In the face of the current and emerging grim economic realities in Ireland, The Wheel spoke with Sr Bernadette, Director of the Vincentian
Partnership, asking if she could offer words of encouragement or inspiration for those of us working in the community and voluntary sector.
This theme of beginning, of persisting - ran throughout our discussion. Herewith Sr Bernadette, in her own words:
I’ve lived a long time, and it is only relatively recently that people in the community and voluntary sector could say they had sufficient resources to begin or continue a project. Ordinary people have always struggled, and no one ever had all the resources they needed.
And yet so many wonderful things kept happening: preschools, education for children with intellectual disabilities, help for the homeless, school dropouts ... all of this began in those difficult days of scarcity.
I’ve often asked myself, Why did this happen? I think people had a dream or vision which was strong in hope. You see, the starting point for any of these kinds of projects is a dream - hope for something better. No pessimist ever opened a preschool. No pessimist has ever tried to expand the human horizon.
Of course, practically speaking, money is very important, but any project like The Wheel, the St Francis Hospice, etc, began without the resources. People believed in something, saw a need and went ahead. They started small but the vision was big. That’s crucial: always keep the vision BIG.
Sr Bernadette, a lover of art and literature, recalled some lines of the poem
Begin by Brendan Kennelly that she felt were particularly appropriate:
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin.
What motivated me always was somehow to reconcile two conflicting views of the world. On the one hand, I’m so grateful to be alive ... the gift of life is such a wonderful thing, I’ve met wonderful people, seen the goodness in people, and seen the power of innovation, motivation and love. Human potential.
On the other hand, we still have to reconcile that with a world in which poverty,
exclusion, meanness, greed and selfishness persist, and you always have people giving up, losing faith and hope.
But I have to come down on the side of the first one: fundamental is resolving two aspects of living, and focusing on the positive and wonderful aspects.
Money is important, but I’ve never seen money as the first thing in getting something going. You always start off with human need, and as Viktor Frankl said, ‘whoever finds the why will find the how.’ Energy and resources come from sitting down with like- minded people and planning the way forward step by step.
At times of depression, we can be blocked by obstacles. The obstacles can take over, and we can lose touch with the dream.
Cutting your cloth is one thing, but don’t cut down the dream. I find that we always seem to discover in ourselves and in others resources we never thought we had.
You have to try and not make the obstacles the only aspect of the conversation; that can stymie everything. The problem takes over from the dream. We spend our time talking about the problems, forgetting why we ever started in the first place.
Don’t stop advocating about human need. The government may not give us the money, but you never stop telling people about the urgency of human need. Don’t let ‘em off the hook!
Vol 9 • Issue 3 • Winter 2010
Sr Bernadette MacMahon is the Director of the Vincentian Partnership - an initiative for social and economic change to combat poverty and social exclusion. The Partnership consists of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Congregation, the Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of the Holy Faith. The partnership has worked with people in disadvantaged communities since 1996, exploring how to work for social change in their areas.Th
e Vincentian Partnership focuses the issues of active citizenship and income adequacy and has developed an Active Citizenship Programme to explore how and why people vote, enable people to take an informed stance on issues of concern and to offer an approach to choosing candidates who are likely to pursue these issues.
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