Written by Kelly O’Brien, at the Irish Examiner, this piece features staff member Amanda Keane’s return back to Ireland to begin working in Policy & Communications at Ruhama.
Amanda Keane originally from Nenagh, Co Tipperary was working for almost the last year in Vietnam as a Programme Officer for UN Women in Vietnam.
Growing up in rural Tipperary, Amanda Keane used to look forward to exchanging letters with her pen-pals in Kenya. From a young age, her parents told Amanda and her brother about conditions overseas. She became acutely aware that not everyone was as lucky as her — there are people around the world living in poverty. This knowledge is what inspired Amanda to try to work in the area of overseas development — the ultimate goal being to work for the United Nations.
“After completing a BA in Applied Languages in UL, living abroad a few times, moving to Dublin, working in hospitality for four years, completing an MA in Gender Studies in UCD, and spending time in Mexico working with women affected by prostitution, my long-time dream of working in the UN finally came true,” says Amanda.
“I was beginning to despair of ever putting my experience to good use, and thinking I’d end up forever pouring pints, when I came across the UN Volunteers programme sponsored by Irish Aid. Every year, Irish Aid sponsor around 10 Irish 20-somethings to go abroad and work for the United Nations for 12 months. I was selected to join UN Women in Vietnam.”
Settling into life in Hanoi was easy enough, Amanda explains.
“It was easy for me to manage on my living allowance and I found a place to live no problem, made friends quickly, and found my way around the city.”
She faced some challenges in work initially, struggling to understand the UN systems, but soon found her feet.
“I ended up doing some pretty substantial work within UN Women on gender equality in ethnic minorities, and co-ordinating an effective response to violence against women,” she says.
“My social life was good, and homesickness was rare. My biggest issue in Vietnam was the physical environment, and my body never fully adapted to the high pollution, heat, and humidity. All in all, though, life was good.”
Amanda Keane, Ruhama. Pic: Moya Nolan.
That being said, Amanda reveals that there were some things that “didn’t sit well” with her.
“I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that, deep down, I wanted to put my skills and knowledge to use in Ireland, even though I knew how hard it was to find a paid role in the not-for-profit sector,” she says.
“As I grew older and began to understand how things like gender, class, and race intertwine to create inequality, I started to see all the problems in Irish society that I thought only happened abroad. While the experience and exposure I was gaining in Vietnam was incredible, I also knew that ultimately I wanted to work in the NGO sector to end sexual exploitation and always planned to revert back to this area.”
In September, Amanda was offered a second year with UN Women, and verbally accepted — glad to have 2019 figured out, and happy to continue working in the area of gender equality. Scrolling through Twitter in September, however, she saw Ruhama was hiring.
“I knew I had to apply,” she says. “Ruhama is Ireland’s dedicated frontline NGO providing support to women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking. After returning from Mexico and before departing for Vietnam, I had volunteered with Ruhama as an English language tutor and was extremely passionate about the organisation and its stance on the abolishment of prostitution.”
“Part of me was afraid to apply for fear of rejection but I did, knowing that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”
She was offered the position in October and, though passionate about the work being done in Vietnam also, made the decision to hand in her notice and return to Irish shores.
“Fast forward to right now and I am back in Dublin, settling into my new job and, even though I’m freezing, I’m extremely content,” she says.
While Amanda admits it is a little daunting to be home, and is currently living with family due to the state of the rental market at the moment, she is happy to be back.
“I love it here,” she says.
“I have my friends, there’s the buzz of the city, and there has also been an increase in the number of people here who are standing up for what they believe in and fighting for equality. More than that, I’m working for an organisation I wholly believe in, at a crucial time as Ireland continues to implement the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act passed into law in 2017 which criminalizes the purchase of sex, and decriminalizes the individual selling sex. Over the next few years, I’m hopeful that we will see a continual shift in attitudes to the commodification of women’s bodies in Ireland.”
Amanda says she had been “dreading” the prospect of not being home for Christmas this year, and now is happy to be back and surrounded by family.
“I have no plans to leave again any time soon, and I’m very excited to see what life back in Ireland has in store for me this time around.”