The first post in the #WiAProfiles is an interview by Jordyn Sun who spoke with Soledad Muniz.
Jordyn is a recent graduate of Azusa Pacific University and recipient of a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. She aspires to be an artist and activist in everything that she does and likes to binge watch Netflix in her free time. You can find Jordyn here on LinkedIn.
My hope for this piece is to give a glimpse into the perspective of a woman working to forge innovative methods of communication as a process for social change. In having the rare opportunity to speak with Soledad Muniz, Head of the Participatory Video for Monitoring and Evaluation programme at InsightShare, about her unique experiences in the humanitarian profession I have felt enlightened and re-energized. From the moment we began to discuss her entry into the development sector, I was able to sense her optimistic spirit for the work she does in her voice and took away valuable advice about how to excel not only in the profession but also in life. If I have gained anything from my interview with Soledad, it is that passion and pure love for what you do will override all obstacles.
Humility is the first thing that strikes me about Soledad. Driven by personal philosophical and spiritual introspection about what she wants in life, she entered the aid and humanitarian sector not with a mindset to save the world, but to ask where she sees herself playing a role to support social change. This humbling outlook reminds me that the focus in entering into this sector should not be on romanticized ideas about solving all the world’s problems but on a serious evaluation of how our individual strengths and experiences can contribute to the aid of global issues. In addition to having a strong sense of purpose, Soledad’s dynamic background using communication as an intervention for development is a reflection of how she approaches her work. Having played a significant role in InsightShare for almost six years now, she emphasizes it is important to find what is professionally fulfilling. While often facing a lot of complex challenges not only within your daily job but also in the industry, it is crucial to have a motivation beyond superficial or monetary purposes. For her, it is being able to see the faces behind the work in supporting other people. It is the human connection and constant reminders of daily impact that helps her to overcome challenges and remain positive through mundane tasks and overwhelming situations.
Maintaining a Family
It is evident that Soledad’s enthusiastic perseverance also carries into her personal life. In the topic of balancing work and relationships, she admits she has always wanted a family and never felt like working in this sector would stop her. From observing other women who have gone before her to succeed in organizations as well as maintain relationships, she draws inspiration on how to balance work and family life. Ideal marriages she has seen would suggest taking turns sacrificing. “It is not impossible” is something that I seem to hear from her again and again. However this does not mean there won’t be certain challenges and obstacles along the way. Having been married for a year, Soledad recalls a time when her and her significant other only saw each other every three months due to combined conflicts with work travel. She admits it’s not the same talking over Skype for two hours than it is being together in person but living in separate countries did not stop them. “If it’s the right person you will survive.” If anything, Soledad believes distance made them strong and led to their engagement. While she has seen other professional women raise families, she admits timing is significant and due to work, her and her husband have chosen to wait. In getting to know other women who have climbed the ladder in their profession, there is an understanding that there are limitations and mothers will need to lose the expectation of seeing their children twenty-four hours a day. However, different women face different challenges and certain smaller organizations are very supportive.
Women in the Workplace
As far as being a woman within the humanitarian sector, Soledad remains very optimistic about her own experiences as well as the future of women in professionalism. She believes most of the issues that come with being female often vary throughout different organizations and has not encountered many problems herself. However, most of the important, decision making positions are still not held by women and there is always room for improvements internally for organizations such as allowing more flexibility with work and maternity. As Soledad explains, working in this sector also requires a lot of traveling. While women with teenagers and older children are be able to relocate, she imagines it would be very difficult with younger children. “It would be a shame” for some of the extremely intelligent women she has come across to stop working. “In terms of going into different countries and doing projects, so far I’ve never felt discriminated being a woman. I’ve felt really welcome, I’ve worked in really different contexts from Latin America, to Kenya, and the Philippines. So really different experiences and I never felt intimidated because I was a woman, in any way. But at the same time I haven’t been to really extreme patriarchal societies to tell you the truth.” She tells me more about how she was supposed to travel to Yemen and how that would have been an interesting experience since woman are deemed as discernibly inferior in society. But sometimes simply being a foreigner grants her the status of a man. So while there may still exist a glass ceiling for women within the professional world, it is encouraging for me to hear that women’s voices, opinions, and input are valued just as much as men. It is also reassuring to hear from someone directly involved in the humanitarian sector who has traveled to many different countries that there has been much progress for gender equality.
Advice for Aid Workers
In wrapping up my interview, I was able to get a few tips from Soledad about how to pursue a career within the development world and prevent burnout. She was generous to expand on some of my previous questions in order to emphasize the importance of self-care. While stress and burnout is not exclusive to aid work, it has even more potential due to some of the overwhelming environments or situations you may encounter and accumulated exhaustion from traveling. Along with doing yoga or Pilates and setting limits and boundaries on work or travel, something Soledad engaged in was a mentoring program for women. Through this program she is able to be kept accountable for things such as the amount of projects she commits to and is motivated to maintain healthy routines. “To be efficient, effective, you need a balance, you need space,” she tells me along with advice for others, “If this is your passion, go for it.” Everyone has to start somewhere so don’t be discouraged with where you begin. Know your skills and what you bring to the table. Know what is unique to you in your experiences and academic values that you can bring to projects and the industry. Know what your purpose is and what drives you. “Figure out what you stand for whether it be social justice or human rights and choose it over and over again every day.”
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