“Women have an incredible capacity to put aside the political and religious differences that might divide them, where there is a cause that they care about and they can rally.” Hagar Australia CEO Jo Pride.
Hagar Australia combines the nous of some dynamic women to create positive change for women and children whose lives have been torn apart by extreme human rights abuses in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
I recently caught up with CEO Jo Pride to shed some light on their exceptional work and discover what makes her tick…
Martine Harte: Jo, it is so great to hear 1,239 women and children in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Vietnam were directly supported by you guys last year through protection, recovery, economic empowerment and reintegration. That’s an extraordinary figure..
Jo Pride: That’s right, really our mission is whatever it takes for as long as it takes to restore a broken life.
People who have escaped these terrible situations come to Hagar and we provide protection. It might be in one of the shelters or in the family home (if that’s a safe place to go) or a foster home. We provide medical care and some of the best counselling in the world.
We provide children with the opportunity to catch up on their schooling and young adults the chance to have vocational training; ultimately our goal it to see them fully integrated into the community and leading happy, healthy lives.
You can buy a coffee in Phnom Penh and be served by one of Hagar’s former clients, the beautiful thing about that is you would never be able to distinguish them from the other staff in the cafe because they are just living a happy, normal, productive life.
You’re taking a situation that has been behind hidden doors and is unspeakably traumatic and bringing a person back out into the community and supporting them to rebuild their life happy and healthy and not ashamed of their past.
The spirit and resilience of our clients is utterly inspirational, I find whenever I get the opportunity to spend time with them I come deeply impacted by them.
That’s brilliant. Your background is really interesting and multi-faceted: government, politics and not-for-profit sector most recently with Oxfam Australia, what is a stand out campaign for you?
Jo Pride: Oh, look I think one of the interesting things that I’ve learnt particularly over the last decade is that women have an incredible capacity to put aside the political and religious differences that might divide them where there is a cause that they care about and can rally.
There are extraordinary examples of that from Papua new Guinea to Zimbabwe and even here in Australia where you see women from all sides of politics banding together to achieve incredible things.
During my time at Oxfam, I learned about some women in Papua New Guinea who were sick of their tribes fighting each other and seeing their husbands and sons killed over many decades, started meeting together secretly in between the racks of second-hand clothing in the local markets and decided they needed to do something about it. Whilst their tribes were at war, they got together and made strategies to make peace with each other.
They went to the chiefs and spoke about the impacts of violence on their communities, they put their own safety on the line, and ultimately succeeded in bringing about peace. That happened almost a decade ago now and those women are focusing on finding productive jobs for their young people.
I think a challenge to women everywhere is to figure how we can work more collaboratively to bring about some incredible things.
Where does your commitment to helping vulnerable people stem from?
Jo Pride: My parents have always embraced other cultures and that’s been informative for me. From a very early age there are photos of me meeting people with all different backgrounds so I developed a genuine love of cultures and understanding how different communities operate and what’s important to them.
I do have a personal faith which is part of my motivations.
What do you personally hope to bring to the organisation?
Jo Pride: I’m really excited about being able to share that message more broadly particularly reaching some of the states we haven’t had much of a presence in.
People feel a very deep connection with our work, a couple of times a year we’re able to take our key supporters over to see the programs and that always makes a huge impression as they see the enormous professionalism of how they’re able to support these highly traumatised women and children and what the outcome is in the end.
It is very difficult not to be inspired by that, we’re so lucky to have champions who support us right across the country and I’m really excited to expand that and bring more people into contact with Hagar’s incredible work.
FOR YOUR DIARY:
The annual ‘Lunch to Liberate’ will be held in Melbourne on September 2nd. I’ll be there, so excited.
More info over here.
Want to find out more about this Sunday’s Style for Life, participating hairdressers can be found here.