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Refugees real teachers of leadership skills

Joe Greenan, Human Resources Director of the Irish Jesuit Province, learnt some hard lessons about real leadership on a recent visit to a refugee camp in Lebanon. “I met with people who were full of fear and empty of hope”, he says.”And I met people who were supporting them, accompanying and assisting them, and helping them to keep going and believe in a future. That’s real leadership.”

Joe was part of a team of Jesuits and colleagues from around Europe taking part in the fourth and final section of the Ignatian Leadership Programme set up by John Dardis SJ when he was Director of the Conference of European Provincials.

According to Joe, Lebanon was deliberately chosen as the venue for the final module in leadership training which focussed on the specific ethos of Jesuit leadership as compared to other leadership models. “The training was concentrated on leadership for places where the need is greatest, frontier places where suffering humanity calls out for solidarity and assistance, and where ‘mission’ means taking the risk of ‘going out into the deep’.”

In the refugee camp, one of the people Joe spoke to made a particular impression. “He was a fifteen year old boy, the same age as my son. He told us he wanted to be an architect when he grew up and I couldn’t help but compare the struggle he would have to fulfill that goal, if ever, compared to my boy at home. Education is provided in the camps but it’s mostly reading and writing”.

The leadership team brought food and toys for the refugees who are living in real poverty with little or no money. “But they still insisted we take coffee and cake,”says Joe, “sharing from what little they had”.

Joe says he was also struck by the fear that haunted the people in the camps. “They are terrified that their children will be kidnapped and used as soldiers or sold as slaves or end up in the sex-trade. The men are afraid if they go to work in the fields because their wives and children are then left alone and vulnerable in the camps.”

The camps themselves are not always places of safety. The day after their visit, ten tents went of fire in a second refugee camp and two children perished in the blaze.

Participants also spoke to a former Jesuit who was working with the refugees in the camps. He had joined the order but left because he felt called to work full-time with the refugees who were in such dire need. “He shared with us that the suffering he was witnessing did challenge his faith in a loving God. He said he had three co-workers but no money to pay them. John Dardis organised for a donation to be made to help cover the wages for a while but there’s such a great need and limited resources.”

The whole experience was a fitting end to the leadership course which has left a real mark on Joe. “We’ve looked at the hallmarks of Ignatian leadership in the first module where the emphasis was on developing self-awareness and the ability to discern well. Then we looked at the importance of team work, and in the third module we focussed on organisational development. In this final module, going where the need is greatest, I could see the value of all the previous skills we’ve learnt to develop and integrate. Leadership is about knowing yourself, your own strengths and shortcomings. And it’s also about intuiting when to hold back and when to challenge for change. It’s about listening and accompanying people and not trying to do it all yourself – that’s really important – leadership requires the support of a community and the ability to bring about change for the better without ‘burning out’ yourself, or losing the  people you’re supposed to be helping.”

This course is now completed but Joe and some programme participants, along with a trainer, are in the process of developing an Ignatian Leadership Programme for the British and Irish Province, North Belgium, and Holland. The course is expected to start in Drongen, Belgium in July 2018.

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