Sr. Imelda Poole, IBVM, is president of Religious in Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation (RENATE), a group of religious congregations working against human trafficking in Europe. A native of Great Britain, Poole has worked in Albania for nine years, where she leads Mary Ward Loreto, a non-profit development organization serving vulnerable communities. A number of tribes of people in Albania are together called Roma, an underclass minority of Egyptian heritage living in scattered settlements. They often face discrimination and are vulnerable when it comes to employment and accessing basic services.
Can you describe your ministry for us?
The main focus of Mary Ward Loreto is to work against trafficking in human persons. All the work is a response to this call, in direct action with the victims – prevention, awareness-raising and in advocacy.
The inspiration is the charism of Mary Ward Loreto [founder of Loreto sisters], the fundamental values of which are: freedom, justice and sincerity. The organization forms partnerships and works with six main groups, including women in rural and informal regions of Albania; children and families from the Roma community; youth from rural and informal regions of Albania; victims of trafficking and prisoners from nine prisons in the Tirana/Durres diocese.
How do you approach your work?
Firstly, knowing that the work is the mission of God and that I am, in a small way, responding to this call to forward the mission of God with the many young Albanians working with Mary Ward Loreto.
All of the workers at Mary Ward Loreto are young professional Albanians who have a passion for this work and are excellent in the field. As President of RENATE, I am a member of a core group and working board consisting of 20 people from 15 European countries. We work together to give protection to victims and across borders to ensure effectiveness in the work. We also work [toward] prevention, awareness-raising and advocacy.
The way is always as a network and in collaboration, through social media, Skype conference calls, rapid response through the Internet and email. It is a work of faith and practiced with hope.
What has been the most satisfying?
Seeing Roma children eat proper meals, gain health care and become literate and registered in state schools. To see women from rural regions grow in self-esteem and build their own businesses. To watch victims of trafficking slowly, little by little, hold their heads up high, become well, gain employment and become regular citizens of Albania again. To hear the many stories emerging, about the suffering in the villages of Albania, about the trafficking in human persons and about [people] becoming more aware of how much is hidden in Albania and how outreach can give the forgotten a voice.
RENATE is growing from strength to strength and is being empowered to offer more training and support to its members. We see how many key workers are using the RENATE website as a resource for the rescue of victims across Europe. Together we are strong.
What has been the most challenging?
The work involved in fundraising. RENATE has to work with so many European languages. RENATE has to work hard to ensuring equal inclusion of sisters and co-workers from East as well as West Europe.
In Mary Ward Loreto the work is expanding and we need to ensure that we keep our focus on our beneficiaries and the real needs in the field. We need to continually assess and revise our work.
How do you see God working in your world?
I see God as at the very heart of the mission. It is God’s mission and so the work of God will continue always – whoever is there to pick up this response to those on the margins and the neglected peoples of our world.
I experience God as directing me, nudging me on in so many difficult situations. The power and love of God is a passion in my heart which gives me courage and picks me up in failure and when things seem too hard.
I see God working in my world drawing us into humility. The essence of the Gospel teaching is the call to inclusivity. All peoples in God’s eyes are equal, and with God there is no status.
Is there something else you would like to tell readers?
Mary Ward (1585 - 1645), a Yorkshire woman from England and my foundress, said, “Be such as you appear and appear such as you be.” I believe this is a profound statement directing our path to God. God is making all of us holy along the pathway of truth.
Editor’s note: This interview, conducted by email, was edited for clarity and length.
[Joyce Meyer, PBVM, is the international liaison to women religious for Global Sisters Report.]