Misean Cara welcomed new CEO John Moffett in early April. John comes to Misean Cara after almost five years with Tree Aid. A native of county Down, he started his career in rural Uganda, moving on to work for Goal and Christian Aid, as well as Self Help Africa. After a few weeks in the job, John made time to answer a few questions about his career, his motivation and vision for Misean Cara.
What are your first impressions of Misean Cara?
My first impressions of Misean Cara are really good. I think it’s a strong organisation with lots of dedicated staff. It’s been really interesting in the first couple of weeks to sit in on the Programmes Advisory Committee – that’s been a real learning experience for me. It’s given me a good opportunity to get an oversight of the breadth and scope of projects that our members are working on. What surprised me was how many of our members work in some of the most difficult, challenging countries on earth – places like South Sudan, or Congo. Missionary organisations which have that experience of being there for a long time and walking through history alongside the people in that country.
What was your first experience in the world of development?
I started my career in development 25 years ago. I had just finished a Masters degree and I wanted to travel and volunteer overseas for a year before I got a ‘proper’ job. I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to volunteer in Uganda with a Northern Irish organisation called Africare, supporting projects with the Church of Uganda in Mukono diocese.
The intention was that I would stay there for a year but I ended up living there for 5 years! It was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it. That was my introduction to working in international development.
I went to Uganda originally to support a project in silk farming, this was an initiative of the Ugandan government at the time, to take up sericulture as an alternative livelihood scheme. It didn’t really take off because the Asian market was very strong. But it was a really good experience of working with smallholder farmers in Africa which is probably where most of my experience and competence lies.
At the time, I was green as grass and I very much learned on the job. After that first year, there was an opportunity to take on more of a management role – managing broader projects. That extended into welfare programme with children, working with children with disabilities and agro-forestry which is also a passion of mine. I stayed in Uganda for another 4 years.
Was it hard to leave Uganda?
It was very hard to leave, there were about 20 people came to the airport with me to say goodbye. That was pre-skype, pre-email – the way the technology has come on is amazing. In Uganda, I lived at the top of a hill on the edge of Mukono, surrounded by bush, it was very beautiful. Often you would see some wildlife, monkeys and the odd civet cat wandering around.
The downside was that the monkeys used to climb up the telephone poles and run along the telephone wires and pull them down. So you could be without a telephone for months, until you could get someone to come. They would have to cut through the bush to put the line back up again!
How does that experience connect with your understanding of missionary work?
Well, that was my first real exposure to development work itself. It was also an opportunity to meet a lot of other people who had come from all different types of countries and were working in missionary work in and around Uganda; people from all kinds of faiths as well.
I was with the Church of Uganda which is essentially Anglican. Then down the road was one of the best schools in Uganda was run by a group of Irish Sisters – they would give me cups of tea whenever I came to visit, that was really nice. In Kampala, you’d meet missionaries from across the globe.
It was the first time I had come across people who had dedicated their whole life to working in the same place. I talked to the sisters who had lived through the Obote and Amin regimes, the horrendous history of Uganda and survived it and done their best, dedicating their lives to the education of girls.
What are your thoughts on COVID-19?
It’s the first pandemic in our generation and that’s a massive challenge for all of us. The fact is that COVID-19 has no respect for borders. In some ways it’s very unifying because it brings us all together – it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, rich, poor, from the north or south – you will be in some way affected by this, whether it’s through isolation or through catching the virus and having to cope with its symptoms or through the economic impact that it has on you.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that while it has a massive impact on us in Ireland, by and large, for the majority of us, the biggest impact is that we have to stay indoors. We still have food, electricity and running water. In developing countries, the impact can be much more serious because the economy is run on a day to day basis, if you’re not able to work in a day, you and your family don’t eat that day.
So the challenges are to be mindful and supportive of everyone on the planet as we go through this pandemic. We have to keep a global outlook and take an integrated approach to how we deal with it.
I am really proud that Misean Cara has responded to the COVID-19 virus with urgency and a sense of purpose. I think that the team have worked incredibly flexibly to find ways to be innovative in how we can position money to address the needs on the ground. And our members have been very quick to come up with the right projects that are going to mitigate the worst impacts of the corona virus.
What do you see as the future for Misean Cara?
I think Misean Cara has a very bright future. There’s a couple of things to bear in mind. As we become more global, we also become more localised; increasingly countries are becoming closed in their boundaries and borders, more isolated.
I think faith really transcends boundaries. There’s an ability to work across boundaries and break down barriers through a faith-based approach. I think that’s something that our members really embody in the work that they do, they’re very good at breaking down and challenging some of the boundaries that are put in place because of where you’re from and what language you speak.
There’s an opportunity to use that values-based approach to bring forward a movement in development, to really push that through; that’s something that Misean Cara has a real opportunity to take leadership on – to work with our members to strengthen capacity to deliver on the opportunity that faith is able to bring to the development sector.