by Molly Friend, Greenheart Outreach Coordinator
For the next blog in the Greenheart Initiative’s series on development, we chose to interview Sara Murray. Sara is a former CCI Greenheart employee who was integral part of creating the Greenheart Club. After leaving CCI in 2010, Sara obtained a Master’s degree in International Development Management and began working for the international non-profit Mercy Corps. According to Sara, “Mercy Corps’ exists to create just communities and reduce suffering.” Through Mercy Corps she has traveled the world and made a career in development focusing on issues like gender training and inclusion. This month she was sent abroad again to work in Guatemala.
We decided to interview Sara on her experience community development:
How did you get interested in International Community Development?
A travel abroad experience in high school to Haiti peaked my curiosity. I also worked with Immigrant populations in the US that helped me recognize that the root cause of poverty is inequalities and that we must focus on the inequality.
What do you do in the development field?
Specifically in Guatemala, there is a staff of about 150 there who I will work with to figure out what the needs are currently through surveying and interviewing. After we determine what resources are needed, the next step is to follow up with training with coaching. The coaching will focus on how we apply the necessary tools and a lot of problem-solving. I believe individual coaching and adapting are the most useful pieces and longest process. A big part of what I will be doing is refreshing the team that is in the field to be more intentional and conscientious; 95% of the staff our Guatemalans.
What is the best part about your job?
My job is fascinating, never boring, and there is an endless amount of things to learn. My job has a really motivated purpose to find what works since it impacts people’s lives and that there is a need for constant problem-solving.
What is the hardest part about your job?
It can be nonstop at times. With this job it is difficult to keep work life balance in check when you live abroad. Additionally with the mobility of international development it is hard to keep a community for me in place.
How do you recognize your role as an “outsider” working in a foreign community?
Working in development is a sensitive job that requires a lot of listening. I feel good development workers are very humble and are aware they don’t have the answers. Working with locals I view my role as facilitating access to resources rather than coming with the solutions to problems. I will never have the solutions. Only the people that live, work, and will always be there have the solutions.
Do you ever get homesick living abroad, what helps you get past it?
Sometimes it gets tiring not being one hundred percent comfortable with your surroundings. For example the ease to understand systems like paying electric bills or charging cell phones. These things that are mindless at home take a lot of energy in a different country. So I occasionally miss the ease of life in the USA.
What is your favorite memory of being a development worker?
In the past year, I went to Colombia and visited their flooded plain region; it felt good to be in a disaster environment where I was of use. While in Colombia I got to meet up with fellow Greenheart, Andrea Dennis. Another great experience was living with a Guatemalan which enabled me to deeply understand the country through immersion.
What advice do you have to others interested in entering the field international community development?
The value that you can bring often is technical! There are common sectors in development of health and agriculture, having the technical experience in these sectors is a way to offer something. It’s a field that is hard to break into. You have to work to find a way to make a living in it. I suggest talking to people about what jobs are really out there and like any job it is very relationship based—get known.
How did your previous work with CCI Greenheart prepare you for your new role?
I feel that CCI Greenheart as an organization is very entrepreneurial and inspires that attitude in its staff. The entrepreneurial spirit is apparent in the field of development, if you have the energy and space you can go for it.
As a leader of Greenheart, and the person who started the initial Greenheart Club concept, how do you feel about the role of volunteerism for young people? Have you seen volunteerism making a positive effect in the USA or abroad?
Volunteering is essential for young people. They need to get out and explore and figure out there is a lot out there to get to see and know. The more people volunteer when they are young; it sets them up to be in careers that give back making a major impact. It’s a cliche but you get so much more than you give.