In the Public Square with: Greta Spies

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Greta Spies. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Greta Spies. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Greta Spies (pronounced ‘Spees’) knows it is easy to become disillusioned when faced with enormous need in the world. But, as a regional engagement co-ordinator with Caritas Australia, she goes to work knowing she is part of the solution. And on the bad days, she finds solace in bushwalking, movies and the overwhelming joy of her son …

What do you enjoy about working at Caritas?
Working for an agency where the mission and values align with my personal values and belief system, make it easy to go to work each day.

I enjoy being totally on board with Caritas’ approach to international aid and development, which is people-centred, long term and sustainable.

Most importantly Caritas works towards empowering communities to be the architects of their own development, regardless of their ethnicity, political beliefs, gender or religion.

I have had the opportunity to hear first-hand from many program participants who have been able to transform their own lives.

The icing on the cake for me is being part of an outstanding group of professionals who care deeply about the work they do and are genuinely good people. We have a fabulous culture in the office and it feels like a home away from home.

What is the greatest challenge of your role?
I’ve had lots of opportunities at Caritas and worked in different roles. My latest role involves working closely with the Australian Catholic community. I’m really enjoying getting out and about to meet people and I love that there is so much to learn and so much opportunity for collaboration.

What international issue had the greatest effect on you?
The long-term Syrian conflict (and even longer Middle East crisis) is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. It’s on such a large and complex scale with no sustainable resolution that it’s difficult to comprehend.

I don’t think the majority of Australians are particularly concerned, as it’s not part of our reality, it’s too easy to turn away. I feel we have been sheltered from the real tragedies of the crisis. Caritas recently worked closely with singer Missy Higgins on a music video that helps convey how this crisis is affecting the children of the crisis.
I pray as a country we can come up with a better long-term solution to the refugee crisis which reflects Catholic social teaching around the dignity of the human person.

What was your first job?
I started my career as a graphic designer. My first full-time job was with a corporation in North Sydney.

What did you buy with your first pay cheque?
A suit.

How has your faith shaped your career?
I’ve always felt strongly about the common good and felt responsible and called to act for justice. After working in the corporate world and in advertising, I wanted to feel like I was contributing to society in a more positive and tangible way. I have to say, though, after working at Caritas Australia for nearly six years, I have been on a personal journey which has really deepened my faith.

Caritas as a concept is variously defined as charity, love, Christian love of humankind. How do you define it?
Caritas to me in every way is about love and compassion. It’s in our mission and in our vision. We strive to keep the people whom we serve at the centre of all that we do. Through my work at Caritas, I’ve come across so many inspiring people from all around the world.

What item is unique to you and your home?
We are fortunate to live in a beautiful apartment on the coast and surrounded by beautiful beaches, I’d say that’s pretty unique.

How did you first get into bushwalking?
As a child we spent a lot of time bushwalking in the mountains, national parks, the country and the coast. Thanks to this I have an inherent love of nature and am in awe of its beauty.When I need to ‘de-stress’, find peace, and declutter my mind I know getting back to nature will do the trick.

What has been your most memorable bushwalking experience?
A few years ago, I had a unique experience at a Caritas First Australians Partners meeting, held 80km out of Alice Springs. These annual meetings give our partners a platform to share with us their year’s challenges, successes and innovative ideas for the future.

Our accommodation was very basic, nestled in a magnificent valley of red earth, gum trees and native flora and fauna. Apart from our cabins, there wasn’t a house or building in sight and no mobile phone access.

At sunset each day, we climbed the mountain behind our accommodation. Before us was a vista of never-ending hilltops and red earth. For me, there was something deeply spiritual about the place.

It was the perfect setting to decompress, focus on the present, connect with people and have meaningful discussions.

An unexpected, memorable opportunity presented itself to me that week.

A dear and wise friend suggested this would be the perfect time and place for me to go to reconciliation with one of our wonderful spiritual leaders, closely connected to Caritas. So we walked and talked in the nearby serene bushland and I was reconciled within myself and with God. This marked a significant turning point in my personal spiritual journey and one of the moments when I’ve felt closest to God. I felt truly renewed and at peace.

What are your other hobbies?
Bushwalking, movies and AFL football (as a spectator). “Go Swans!” I try to get to the art gallery or theatre now and then – and spending time with family and friends is a great source of happiness.

How do you cope being exposed to so much need in the world?
It is easy to become disillusioned and have a skewed vision if we only focus on the negative aspects of the state of the world. However, I am inspired by Caritas’ development experts who work with each community to understand the strengths and assets of the community, as well as the challenges. This is an empowering process for communities.

It forms a solid basis for sustainable development and positive change while maintaining the dignity of each human person.
I draw inspiration from the many wise and wonderful people who have made significant contributions to their communities and the world.

Then I play my small part and contribute as best I can. For me, focusing on hope and the goodwill and generosity of so many people helps me to maintain a more balanced perspective on the world.

Jean Stokan describes clearly and beautifully how I feel about working at Caritas, as it is a work of love and it is rewarding. “As difficult as the work can be in confronting injustice, I do believe ours is a work of love. The greatest gift is to feel as one, in communion with people all over this globe, past, present, and to come, who have dedicated their lives to justice.”

Who in your family do you most resemble in personality?
Definitely equal parts both parents.
I’d like to say I inherited the best genes, traits and characteristics from each, but that wouldn’t be true.

What would you like your legacy to be?
It would make me happy to leave this world knowing my son had a love of life, was well adjusted, kind and an actively participating member of society.

Which fact about you tends to surprise people?
People are usually surprised that I spent nine months sailing around Australia, Indonesia and South East Asia.

What is your favourite movie?
As a bit of a movie buff I find it difficult to name just one movie.

Dead Poets Society is definitely in my top 10 and I was devastated when Robin Williams passed away. My most recent favourite was actually a children’s movie – Zootopia, hilarious and clever! If you’re looking for a good telemovie I can highly recommend two great historical drama’s Outlander and The Last Kingdom, both on Netflix.

What skill was tough for you to master but ultimately rewarding?

Motherhood has definitely been my biggest challenge. My son has taught me more about myself, my shortcomings and strengths in his first eight years on this planet than I’d learnt previously. I strive to be the best mum I can be and I’m constantly reflecting and evaluating on how I can do better.
Words can’t describe the overwhelming joy and delight I have watching my son grow to be his ‘own person’ and the unconditional love I have for him. I am blessed.

How do you choose which charities to support?
There are so many worthwhile causes, working to address such a vast array of need in Australia and overseas. I choose to support tried and tested organisations that have been around for a long time.

The Australian Catholic community is such a generous group of people and our Catholic charities and agencies make a huge contribution to society locally and internationally.