The fact that I exist today was seen by my parents and family as a miracle. I was born in 1968 in the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne. It was seen as a miracle as my father, Bill, broke his neck in a diving accident when he was sixteen and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His promising sporting career with the Essendon Football Club was cut short by this accident, but as my dad optimistically says, ‘When one door closes, another opens’. In fact several opened. In the Austin Hospital he met a nurse named Irene, they fell in love and they got married, against doctor’s advice. Together they discovered that each had rare talents – my mother started an acting career and my father had latent artistic ability and learned to paint with the brush in his mouth and is now an internationally recognised artist. Together, they had the courage and audacity to dream and live full lives, with three children they never thought they’d have and, now, five grandchildren.
Since I joined Good Shepherd at the start of 2012, as CEO of Good Shepherd Microfinance in Australia, I immediately felt a sense of coming home which has continued to build - coming home to a place and people driven by love, compassion, dignity and acceptance. The same dignity and hope I see in the eyes of our clients when someone is prepared to believe in them and offer a small loan for something they need is ever present in the Good Shepherd Sisters that support and nurture me and guide our work. I am inspired by the work and charism of the Sisters and the life and vision of Foundress St Mary Euphrasia. Not accepting the social structures that have allowed poverty, exploitation, exclusion and destitution, and working closely alongside the most marginalised and vulnerable people is courageous and audacious.
This sense of homecoming for me, I now know, has been building throughout my life. As a young person growing up in East Keilor, in Melbourne's north western suburbs, my dream was to play football for Essendon. Despite being told regularly that I would make it and live out my father's unrequited football career, I was devastated when I was cut from Essendon's under 19 list by a new coach in 1986 after two good years. Reflecting on this, perhaps there was some complacency there, after being told that I was certain to make it to the big league. Initial feelings of disappointment and regret began to turn to compassion for other players also cut from the list. At Essendon I became friends with several Aboriginal players as well as new migrants from all over Australia. For them football was absolutely everything. I was lucky in that I did well at school and grew up in a supportive positive loving family environment. For some of my friends that didn't make it there was a sense of despair, failure and real loss of hope. Their families not only expected them to earn money and become famous, but needed this for survival, economic development and to strengthen identity.
I fell into accounting and business through my first job at Ansett Airlines. Travel was my next big desire after sport. Working with Ansett in Australia and New Zealand, as well as US Investment bank Merrill Lynch in London and then ANZ, in finance roles, was initially intellectually stimulating but not emotionally. My wife Louise was working with Oxfam (and still does) and talking with her and also meeting her colleagues and friends about community development was both fascinating and had real meaning. I found myself starting a part time Masters in International Development and when Louise suggested in 2003, that we move to Cambodia for a couple of years to develop her career, I think she was surprised at how quickly I'd agreed.
I worked with Irish development agency Concern on community-led livelihood programs all over Cambodia, which was to change my outlook and aspirations in many ways. I saw first hand the hope, dignity and confidence building within entrepreneurs when our microfinance officers said 'yes, you've got a good business idea and unique skills and strategies to make it work - we will provide the loan and training to get you started'.
There were also a couple of moments that challenged my faith in humanity. At dusk one night in Pursat in central Cambodia, as I was returning from a run along the river, I witnessed a young woman working as a waitress in a restaurant (known locally as a 'beer girl') being beaten to death. By the time I realised what was happening the men had run away, leaving the other staff to rush the poor women to hospital.
The newspaper reported that she was a waitress and part time sex worker who had been trafficked from a remote part of Cambodia and argued with a customer over money. This shocked and sickened me.
What had happened that led to this young woman being forced to work as a sex worker in a place away from her home? Development theorists will tell you it was a combination of poverty, lack of economic opportunity, gender power exploitation, exposure to violence and family breakdown in post conflict situations and broader primary health and even cultural factors. I believe this was brought about by people (family, friends, neighbours, employers) not seeing the value in this young women's life, her hope, dignity and worth as a person, but as an economic unit to be exploited.
It is this clarity of vision and purpose that has attracted me to Good Shepherd. That the practical and structural must sit alongside the human aspects of love, hope and compassion for us all to reach the fullness of life, however we define it. A pause to consider that 'one person is worth the whole world' would have not only saved this women's life but led it to be richer, fuller and with love and compassion.
I find these values and the Good Shepherd charism drive us all at Good Shepherd Microfinance in Australia each day, giving great meaning and hope, not only for our 120,000 clients, but for ourselves as well. It is an honour to do this work and I am very fortunate to find such personal meaning and human connectedness.
Comprehensive overview from the GSAPP team - how Good Shepherd Partnership for Mission is developing in this region
Reconciliation holds special meaning in the Australian nation - it describes the long journey towards full acknowledgment of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples
Caroline Price and Jane Ng represented Asia Pacific in a Congregational Spirituality meeting in Angers France in May 2014
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand: providing governance and enabling the sustainability and development of Good Shepherd ministries into the future