On this new chapter of our “Get to know us” we meet Susana Ferreira, Master HOPE – Humanitarian Operations in Emergencies Managing Projects, People, Administration & Logistic in the field Coordinator. When meeting Susana, one immediately recognizes her as an energetic and clever young woman, and instantly feels at ease in her presence.
Hello, Susana! Can you give us some basic information about yourself, something anybody talking to you should know?
My name is Susana, I am Portuguese, and I have been living in Madrid, Spain, for over 4 years now. I have started working as part of the staff of Social Change School in June 2017 and I am the coordinator of Master.
I started volunteering when I was young, I went to the scouts and I did some volunteering work at the catholic community. And afterward, when I graduated, I contacted an NGO that focused on migrants because I wanted to do something for the others and that was my first more professional involvement in the third sector. That’s how it all started: after this first period of volunteering, I was given an opportunity to work as a mediator.
You have recently written an article about migration and human trafficking on Social Change School’s website and you studied these issues during your PhD.
I started working with migrants as a volunteer, then with an NGO and I decided to pursue that dream in academia as well, so I did my PhD in International Relations, focusing on Migration Security. I am still collaborating with the Complutense University of Madrid. As part of the field work I went to the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, where I had the opportunity to get in contact with the reality of migrants trying to enter the European territory.
What was the most powerful experience you faced?
On the day I was visiting one of the centers in Melilla, there was actually the biggest jump at the international border, people jumped the fences and entered the city of Melilla, and I saw them already on the other side, the Spanish side, all covered in blood, with their clothes torn apart. What touched me the most and what I would consider the most shocking moment is how you would see them all with their clothes torn apart and in terrible physical conditions, but with the biggest smile in their eyes. It was the happiness to have reached the other side… So that was the most touching moment I have experienced.
Sometimes migration is so intangible, that studies cannot really cover it completely… In the end I had a really big smile on my face for seeing how happy they were to have reached their goal to be in the European territory; they didn’t know what would happen after that, but at least they were here.
Did something change in you after that?
Yes, it did.
In terms of perception: migration is such a complex phenomenon, at times it might be so intangible, that studies cannot really cover them completely in all its senses and motivations. Furthermore, I have realised how important is your own personal strength to achieve your goals. You need to keep fighting and being motivated even through the most difficult moments. And I realized that if you reach that objective, even if it might be ephemeral, for just a few minutes you have reached your own goal.
Did you face other challenging moments in your career path so far?
It was when I was working as a mediator at a local NGO. A big part of my job was to do social service; I found myself dealing with issues of people living in very bad conditions. The most challenging moments were the ones when people came to me and had not eaten in days… Let me explain how it worked: the institution would give them indications of where to go and get what they needed, to find food or shelter. So, it was my job to only take them to the institution that would provide them with what they needed. But it was very difficult… Some people hadn’t eaten in days and I would try to give them what I had. I remember one moment as the most upsetting: a man living in terrible conditions, surrounded by rats… Sometimes the sense of powerlessness and helplessness was overwhelming, knowing that I was not able to help them made me feel restless.
What is the one thing you like the most about your current job? And the one thing you like the most about Social Change School?
The possibility to unite my two passions: working for social change and the academic part. Being coordinator of a Master gives me the opportunity to bring those two passions together.
Like when I was following HOPE’s field experience at the UNHRD base in Brindisi. It was an incredibly strong didactic experience, where I also had the chance to visit the refugee camp of San Pietro (Brindisi) and interview the people that were there, something that was extremely useful for both the University and Social Change School.
And what is the big cause you are most committed to? What drives you?
In the end, I would have to say migration, because it is something that we are all somehow related to; most of us have experienced it on a smaller or larger scale themselves. I am now a migrant myself, since I am Portuguese and am now living in Spain. It’s a reality that we all get in contact with, directly or indirectly, and since it is something that we sometimes take for granted, it might become a great challenge which is often overlooked, for instance because of all the integration problems that might arise, among other issues of course. I would say that international migration is currently one of the biggest international challenges, because we live in Europe and people are on the move and I believe that the international community is still not prepared.
A motivational space: what is your message to our students and people working in the nonprofit sector?
Finding something that you are passionate about is the key to be happier in both your professional and personal life, and it makes us strong enough to overcome challenging times.