Meet Ms. Arlene Gormley
My name is Arlene and I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland with my mummy, daddy, two older sisters and a younger brother. In 1994 'peace' was agreed in Northern Ireland which meant the 'war' was over. I remember the day well- thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate and we were excited about a future free from violence and all the great things that can come along with that.
At school I was extremely interested in Sociology and my teacher and I used to have long discussions about how we could best help young people in Northern Ireland to overcome the social problems they were experiencing in school, training, employment and the problems they were dealing with including domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse. When I graduated from high school in 2001 I had already earned a National Award for my understanding of sociology after gaining the highest mark through the nation in an examination.
University was a great learning experience for me- it was the first time I ever spent time with people from the 'other' community. Even though we may have only lived a mile or two apart, the huge security gates or "peace walls" kept us divided. What struck me in university while studying Sociology was that the worries, hopes and realities for both Catholics and Protestant youth were similar and I met young people similar to me with a passion for social justice.
I left university after carrying out research showing how violence in Northern Ireland had negatively affected young people’s aspirations. It was lengthy and dense but in a nutshell, I found that young people desperately wanted to start small enterprises and with peace brought opportunities for this to become a reality. I took part in the Northern Ireland Small Enterprise program after graduation in Sociology 2005 and soon opened my very own enterprise on an inter-face area in Belfast.
My father is a baker and cake-decorator, because he worked from home I grew up watching him and soon helping him to make wedding cakes. To be honest my father was not very happy that after my university education I had decided to become a baker- he warned me of the early morning start, painful back, arm burns and scorches! But I was determined to prove that what I had researched was valid- young people, when given the opportunity, can thrive in small enterprise.
My father was right, the early mornings, aches, pains and burns were not easy. But the business really began to take off and demand for the cakes was so high that I quickly outgrew my tiny premises. After five years Crumbs Cakes was the leading wedding and novelty cake business in Belfast. I had trained and mentored two young women, operated from two retail outlets and the media even ran a story about how people were 'crossing the divide' to purchase the cakes. It was a great sight to see Protestants walk through a gate in the 'peace walls' to purchase a cake from a Catholic woman.
In 2010 I sold Crumbs Cakes to one of my trainees- I felt it was time for a new challenge! My passion has always been social justice: things should be fair and if they are not, well I'm going to do my best to fix it! This led me to a chance meeting with Kerry in January 2011 in Cambodia while I was backpacking and hoping to find a challenging project to become part of. After visiting the organisation and seeing the desperate poverty I rearranged my trip and made Cambodia my home.
The day Kerry, Blaed and I had our first meeting as "Feeding Dreams Cambodia" is one I will never forget- the four of us sat round a small table with big dreams for this village that was suffering badly. We discussed the big problems in the community and designed our project to help- the free school would be central to the program and there would be free meals provided, emergency crisis care, and support for women in the community. What I was most excited about was the prospect of a training and vocational center where young people could come and learn skills to become qualified to join the work force at a professional level.
Feeding Dreams opened its doors on 1 November 2012 and the program has been a lot of hard work for the team- but well worth it. In August 2014 I moved to Boston, USA to study a Masters degree in Sustainable International Development. I have now completed my degree and the skills, knowledge and professionalism I have learned are fantastic. My classmates and teachers worked in similar organisations all over the world and it is really uplifting to find so many other people who also are passionate about justice for poor people.
I am so happy to be part of Feeding Dreams and I can see now, more than ever, the difference the program is making in the lives of people living in the village.