Germán Contreras: “I believe in the mission shared by Haren Halde, allowing laypersons to help the religious in their social work.”
Germán Contreras is the director of Haren Alde (HA), an NGO of the Augustinian Recollects, since the 1st of August 2011. He was born in Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz, Spain) in 1974 and has three sons. He has a degree in Economics and a Masters in Business Administration from the Instituto de Empresa. For 12 years, he has been into food industry, specially in trade marketing management and in business mergers, both in Spain and in other countries like Holland, Italy, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, the United States, Mexico and Australia. For almost a year, he has been managing the Haren Alde.
Question.- After a year working in Haren Alde, what programs would you highlight?
Answer.- When I started working in the NGO, there had been many challenges ahead. Most of them continue to be there and it seems obvious that we cannot presume to do in 20 months some of the things that have not been done in 20 years. We have certainly set a series of objectives and we are working to realize them.
For example, along the line of identifying the OAR family with its NGO, we have done physical rapprochement, active presence and a series of activities. Among them, we can highlight the following: a talk delivered to 600 youngsters gathered during the WYD in Madrid, the price for the most solidary song during the Song Festival of the Augustinian Recollect Youth in Spain, the visit to some ministries of the Missionary Augustinian Recollect Sisters (MAR) in Spain, as well as the incorporation to the Board of Directors another member of that Institute or the visit done in different parts of Brazil and Sierra Leone.
Germán Contreras In the field of professionalizing this NGO, we have formed a full-time team made-up of laypersons, namely: the director, and the one responsible for projects and volunteers. A project technician and a communication officer also work part-time.
As for the strengthening of the organization, we have set up management tools that change some work methods: the first strategic plan of HA for 2012-2015, the annual action plan for 2012 or a better control and monthly check of results, finance administration . . . There is an important procedural task, which is going to help us manage the work and to give it stability and continuity. On the other hand, we have set up a computer tool to manage efficiently the over 1,500 sponsorships that we have in 11 countries.
With respect to interprovincial relations within the Order, we have dedicated much effort to the creation of a delegation in Madrid, independent from the central office. The novelty and the most interesting thing in this project is the fact that since the beginning, the NGO has been working with the concerted efforts of the four provinces of the Order present in Madrid. We believe in the collaboration and teamwork of friars and laypersons of the four different provinces as a model to follow in the future.
Visiting a school in Kamalo (Sierra Leone) Q.- What would you highlight among the projects that you are implementing now?
A.- In Haren Alde, we carry out many projects of cooperation for development and solidary action in most of the countries where the Augustinian Recollects have missions. It is very difficult to highlight one, since what is behind every project is a necessity of a people whom we try to help. For this reason, we find ourselves before considerably varied interventions in the most diverse sectors: rural and farm development in Kamalo and Kamabai (Sierra Leona), and in Chachapoyas (Peru); water treatment facilities in Chota (Peru), Alajuela (Costa Rica), Quiché (Guatemala) and Kamabai (Sierra Leona); legal, territorial and psychological assistance to victims of sexual violence and their families in Fortaleza (Brazil) and in Bajos de Haina (Dominican Republic); housing projects in Guaraciaba del Norte and Labrea (Brazil), and in Chota (Peru), installation of kitchens and water closets in Chota and Cutervo (Peru); agroforestry interventions in Chachapoyas (Peru); attention to street children in Cameta and Marajo (Brazil), and in Caracas (Venezuela); development of production sectors in Cameta (Brazil) and Chachapoyas (Peru); rehabilitation from toxic-dependence, and drug prevention in Quiche (Guatemala) and in Cameta (Brazil); improvement of maternal-child health care in Bajos de Haina (Dominican Republic), in Chota Peru) and in Cameta (Brazil); construction, remodeling and expansion of schools and universities in Kamalo (Sierra Leone), in Kankintu (Panama) and in Bogota (Colombia); general attention given through social centers in Marajo (Brazil) and in Caracas (Venezuela); communicable disease prevention in Bacolod (Philippines); and general health care in Bajos de Haina and San Cristobal (Dominican Republic), and in Kamabai (Sierra Leone).
From working for a multi-national company to managing an NGO
Q.- Why did you leave your executive post in a multi-national company and did opt to work for the Augustinian Recollect NGO?
A.- Until few months ago, I was working in a multi-national food company as director of Trade Marketing. I enjoyed my job, liked what I used to do and learned much from a twelve year professional career: creativity, responsibility, competitive teams, mergers and acquisitions, trips, learning of different cultures, etc. I was happy where I was. I had a privileged status and a promising and stable future for myself, for my wife and three children. But I felt how God was asking from me some other things. Visiting the workshop of carpentry in Kamabai (Sierra Leone)
We could say that the change in my professional life is the result of a slow process. I have always had that gift of faith. I was born in a Christian family. My parents taught me to give importance most to things pertaining to God. I was growing so as my faith. I helped in some social works and lived my faith in communities of Christian life… But I knew that talents are given and I felt that it is my obligation, as that of every Christian, to put these talents received from God, whether many or few, at the service of His kingdom. In addition, I am more oriented into living my Christian life that flourishes from the interior and from certain spirituality. However, I know that such Christian is incomplete if his actions do not complement the Gospel, and I am referring to actions related to one’s neighbor.
And the greatest was yet to come. There is a moment when I fell entirely into the immensity of the treasure in my midst and since then, it was already impossible not to sell everything that I had in order to buy the field where that treasure was. The fact is: I was thirsting more and more for God. After having taken the decision and having accepted all its consequences, I searched for such opportunity and in few months, Haren Alde began to become a part of my life.
Q.- Do you feel fulfilled with your decision and work in the NGO? Could you explain to us how you see your work from the perspective of your faith, your family life and your economic status?
In the General Chapter of MAR Sisters. July 2012. A.- Undoubtedly, I reflected much on this decision and, therefore it is something well-grounded. Thus, I am able to anticipate somehow its satisfaction. The work pertains to a more human dimension and it cannot be separated from the human person. Therefore, faith is present in all aspects of my life, including my work.
In my opinion, one can have a Gospel-imbued attitude and life in whatever professional career. Well then, the key is in allowing God to work. If you open the door to Him, He will enter… and dine with you (Rev. 3: 20) It is possible that there are professional environments which are more aggressive (just like my former job) Thus, in such context, it becomes more difficult to find the way of allowing Him to work, but I would bid to have such disposition to open the door to Him… then He will enter.
Lastly, as for the economic remuneration, I cannot deny that there was a change and likewise has an effect to the life of the family. It is something very positive, for we realize that many comforts in life are absolutely dispensable. We had and we continue to have much more than what we need. Thus, while we try to reduce things to the minimum, the more space we leave for God to fill the life of the family.
Astounded by the Augustinian Recollect charism
Q.- Now that you know the Augustinian Recollects more, what aspects of their life and mission have caught your attention?
A.- Prudence dictates that when one arrives in a new place, the first actions to be taken are to observe, to look around and to listen. Thus, for the first six months, one of the things that I did was to visit as many ministries of Order in Spain as I could. Likewise, I have been able to visit Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, Marajo, Cameta and Fortaleza) and Sierra Leone (Kamalo and Kamabai).
A work meeting with the Spanish delegates. June 2012. After all this, I can say that the welcome received from the friars has given me much satisfaction. For me, the learning has been in seeing the life of the community, in feeling totally integrated into their routine, their time for prayer and familial interactions. I have very much liked observing, and sometimes joining in their happy jests or impassioned discussions, but always with fondness and total respect to the brother as in any family.
There are different profiles of persons according to character and age. I suppose that the true success is in knowing how to integrate the different personal gifts and put them at the service of the community and of the same Order: The youngest have the impetus and the more globalized vision of the world; the elders have their experience and wisdom; the most cheerful can be the salt of the community; the most reflective have the time to pause… just like in any family or organization.
I wish to highlight, too, their listening attitude toward the affairs of Haren Alde and their interest to know our work, which until now is considerably unknown by the same friars. In this sense, we have to work much and we are putting the material means to improve communication within.
Q.- You have visited some mission areas in Brazil and Sierra Leone. Could you share with us your experience?
A.- The experience has been very enriching in many aspects, but I would highlight the experience of missionary vocation. In many cases, these are lives totally dedicated to proclaim Jesus Christ to their brothers and sisters. For obvious reasons, I have delved deeply into the social work done in those mission areas, but everything is closely related to each other. If a friar does not see God in the brother how can he bear all the human limitation of what he sees in the shoal of Ceará, Fortaleza, or live with the day-to-day death in Africa or spend endless hours travelling through the island of Marajó, or see the contrast between the overabundance of Leblon and the poverty of favela which are two blocks away? I could not imagine the peace that the Augustinian Recollects have in living daily with this material and human misery, their vocation of serving for so many years , as well as their generosity in self-giving and the simplicity of the missionaries, both friars and bishops, whom I was fortunate to get to know in Brazil and Sierra Leone.
Challenges in the future
Sharing with the JAR in the WYD of Madrid. August 2011. Q.- What difficulties would you stress in the NGO of the Augustinian Recollects and what would you suggest in order to surpass them?
A.- For me, the first challenge is to exert all effort to bring about a greater identification of the OAR family with our NGO. I have seen, heard and sensed that in the past, things have not been always done to the heart’s content of all. We would not want the same thing to happen to us.
Part of the difficulty can be the idea of many members of the OAR family about the world of cooperation and the true nature of an NGO. On our part, it is clear that we are the team of Haren Alde, who have to be concerned of progressively teaching people about what we do, how we do it, for what reason, who are our collaborators and financers, how a project of cooperation is done from the beginning to its completion, etc. What is not known cannot be loved, and it is our obligation to help the so-called third sector to know and the role that the Augustinian Recollects have in it.
From that unawareness comes at times another difficulty. I have oftentimes found in myself with the friars a certain discouragement at the moment of developing projects by not knowing how they are to be implemented. I am absolutely convinced of a shared mission. It is necessary to look for laypersons who are to help the religious in this social work and in the implementation of the projects. In some places like Sierra Leone, I have seen some stonemasons who, thanks to the training given by the friars, could accomplish some works by themselves. Why can we not have people around who know how to coordinate and to implement projects? Haren Alde is going to offer formation to the missions that need help in training committed laypersons in all of our ministries.
Q.- With the present economic crisis, what possibilities do you see in the future of Haren Alde?
A.- The economic crisis especially in Spain has undoubtedly affected in radical way both private and public funds that sustained the system of cooperation. Without going further, the budget cut of the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y Cooperación has been 54% and still higher budget cut for the AECID (Agencia Española de Cooperación). In HA, we have alternative plans to raise new funds which until now had not been explored too much (new public financers, companies through their Corporate Social Responsibility departments, a place to gather collaborators…)
But having reached this point, I believe that each sector, and of course HA as well, must do a profound reflection on its mission. Aside from the fact that we struggle to push through with projects in the South, what programs do we have in the North? Do we not also have a responsibility toward those brothers and sisters who have been provided with their material needs but not with the other human aspects? In HA, we are convinced that the Kingdom will come to all and that the solution to the problem of inequality in this world happens by raising the awareness of the inhabitants of the Northern area. And this is also one of our objectives.
In this sense, I want to emphasize that we are implementing exposition drive where we try to explain to the public the reason why social action builds persons and societies, and what is the work of Haren Alde. It is accessible to all our ministries and since May, we have had this awareness campaign in several places. We have already put in calendar some other areas like the Congress on the Centenary of the Apostolic Brief, Religiosas Familias, in Madrid from October 26-28 of this year.
Expansion at the international level
Q.- How can the NGO of the Augustinian Recollects be established in the 19 countries where the Order is present, consequently acquiring a greater ecclesial dimension?
A.- One of the challenges of HA is certainly the multi-provincial and multi-national dimension. It is not less certain that there are countries like Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama or Peru, which by reasons of political cooperation, are less and less included in the directive plans of cooperation, despite its enormous inequality from within. Actually, Haren Alde has already its seat both in Peru and Brazil, with is proper juridical personality, and we are already in the process of opening a seat in Panama. All these seats ought to be provided with both human and technical resources necessary to be able to work in their respective countries.