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Marcela Ondekova (2002)

Marcela Ondekova

Marcela Ondekova

I remember the first day of my MA course at Kimmage. It was raining (of course!) and as I rushed to arrive in time for my first lesson, I was excited but also a bit anxious. I knew very little about development and NGOs. I had zero practical experience and never visited a developing country, unlike many of my fellow students. In fact, I had to wait for weeks before I was accepted to the course due to lack of my affiliation with development sector.
Many people back at home doubted my choice of a post-gradual course. No one in my family could imagine what I actually could do after completing the studies. I grew up in rural Slovakia in a small village and a young woman was still expected to marry in her early 20s and lead a relatively ‘traditional’ life. Hardly anybody heard of NGOs, let alone ‘development’ NGOs…
Over a decade later, work for various organisations has brought me in many countries all around the world. I have met many interesting people, learnt a great deal and enriched my life with many exciting experiences.
Women’s rights have always been my passion and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work in this area. A few years after completing my studies at Kimmage, I travelled to Afghanistan, the experience which had a profound impact on my future. It was not an easy posting but it was an amazing experience. Despite many difficulties I had to face on daily basis, I truly enjoyed my stay there.

Shortly after returning home, I won a Chevening scholarship to study at LSE in the UK which opened up further opportunities. Thanks to languages I speak, I could become an election observer for the European Commission and for the first time I visited South America, which always had been my dream.

I was also able to work on my first publication on gender equality in development theories and practice. Even before that, I started publishing short articles on my experiences in various newspapers and magazines and was invited to radio and TV stations to speak about life in places I had visited.
Even if I spend a lot of time abroad, our region – central Europe – is still my home. A few years ago I used my contacts toestablish a network of small NGOs from central Europe to promote international development and humanitarianism there. We still struggle to get the network going but I believe it is important work. Some local NGOs have even started cooperation with Kimmage thanks to my networking.

My academic studies are not completed, however. I am convinced economic power is critical for women’s advancement. I just completed two short economics courses at the University of Oxford and am about to start an MBS at the University College Cork focusing on social entrepreneurship. We need more women in business and I hope I can help with that.
This all has been possible because many years ago I got a chance at Kimmage…

It has been an exciting journey – not without downfalls and disappointments – but these have also been a learning opportunity, both professionally and personally. Development sector itself is not without controversies. Practice often differs from academic theories. But thanks to my studies at Kimmage, its multidisciplinary approach and a multicultural setting, the foundations I built there are solid, especially my values and ethical stance. This helps me move forward.

I still keep in touch with some students and teachers from Kimmage and visit Ireland often. I am very grateful for the opportunity I got, the friendships I started in Ireland and above all the fantastic support I have received from Kimmage over the years. As one of the very few students from Central and Eastern Europe in 40-years history, it is a special privilege to be part of the Kimmage family.



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