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SISEAP Soroptimist Stephanie Smith was the successful recipient of the SISEAP Dublin Convention Award. Stephanie shares with us her impressions of her very first International Convention.

S Smith Photo illustration for Article 3

Tēna koutou katoa
Nō Norfolk Island a Wales ōku tīpuna
I whānau mai au I Tamaki Makarau
Ko Whakatū tōku kāinga ināinaei
Ko Clive tōku Pāpa
Ko Ruth tōku Māma
Ko Jim tōku Tāne
Ko Oisin tōku tama
Ko Steph ahau
Nō reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Hello all, I am a descendent from both Norfolk Island and Wales. My Dad’s name is Clive and my Mum’s name is Ruth. I grew up in Auckland and now reside in Nelson, New Zealand. I am married to my husband Jim, and we have one son named Oisin. My name is Stephanie Smith.
I was fortunate to receive both the SISEAP Special Appeal Award and the Yvonne Simpson Travel Awards which allowed me to attend my first Soroptimist International Convention held in Dublin, Ireland July 2023.

In Aotearoa (New Zealand) we share our mihi (introduction) as a way to make connections with people. To recognise our ancestors who have come before us, those who enabled us to be who and where we are today. My day had begun in rural Ireland - bog and border county Cavan. In two short weeks my 3-year-old son has learnt the differences between a Holland, a John Deere and a Massey (Tractors). Dublin held a much quicker tempo as I wheeled my case along the cobbled stones amongst thousands of commuters. Whilst beating those streets it was my female ancestors that walked ahead of me who I held in my heart and recalled in mind as I made my way along a street on the other side of the world. It was the women I was to reacquaint myself with and it was the women I was yet to meet. It was staunch activist Sinead O Connor who the day before had sadly passed away, it was the ever inspiring and progressive Mary Robinson who I was so very eager to be mesmerised under her Irish lilt, it was the upcoming workshops and updates about Soroptimist International mahi (work). What a long way I and so many other women had come to converge in Dublin Ireland – a homecoming for so many – literally and figuratively.

Céad míle fáilte – A hundred thousand welcomes, which is how we were greeted as we made our way into the CCD - Dublin Convention Centre. The CCD built in 2010 is a stunning and imposing landmark building with views over the River Liffey, Dublin’s CBD and out to the Wicklow mountains. As I made my way through the crowd, weaving amongst the clamour, the thousands of faces, the emotion of old friends catching up and new friendships being made, I was so very relieved to spot my Nelson counterpart – Wendy Logan. Oh, the relief! As I often do, and as I recall previous past president (and fellow kiwi) Yvonne Simpson, sharing that she too is afflicted with the island nation reality and our human form being made up of 90% water, I found H20 falling from my eyes. Oh, I wept. Now, perhaps the tears were because of the blisters from wearing completely inappropriate shoes, but in my heart, I knew it was sheer relief to spot one of my own.

Whanaungatanga is a beautiful te reo Māori kupu (word) that in English crudely translates to connectedness. I say crudely because te reo kupu is so much more than the English translation – it is a way of being, of embodiment, of feeling. In Irish connectedness is known as ‘le cheile’. Over the coming three days I was fortunate to be able to observe Soroptimist members making connections old and new. Warm smiles, enveloping hugs, glances of recognition as I watched those around me dive into the memory banks to place the face. Who is that person? Which club do they belong to? Connectedness is one of the reasons many of us became Soroptimists and I could see that for some of our elders reacquainting themselves with old friends who have over many trips to conferences, AGMs and conventions Dublin 2023 was a familiar route to the friends we choose as whānau (family) and an opportunity to hold up a mirror to ourselves to remind us of our identity, of who we are. We are Soroptimists. And if we didn’t know our ‘why’ before this conference, we most certainly do at the conclusion.

Over the duration of the convention my understanding, comprehension and world view would be shifted exponentially. Some of the learning was intentional as I sat in the auditorium alongside the 1600+ other delegates all eager to be active participants in our learning and growth. Other learning was more passive. It was observation, unintentional eavesdropping and absorbing the atmosphere around me. A glimpse into my Soroptimist sisters’ worldviews and cultural experiences that made us different, but also brought us together. It was an opportunity to understand that whilst we are all Soroptimists with a shared vision of a better, more equitable world for women and girls globally, it was also learning that we had different perspectives of how this could be achieved. Our degrees of tolerance were variable and, dare I say it, influenced heavily by socio-political ideology.

With a wide range of keynote presentations, workshops and reports key themes emerged in this new covid era. Afghanistan. Our climate and nature crises. Education. Technology. Outdated ideologies slipping back into our everyday lives through regulation and law; loudly, blatantly and unapologetically. There was the growing understanding that in cheering for gains made decades ago we became complacent. And so, I felt within me a wave ripple through a sea of rage and grief of what may occur if we stay complacent – the losses that could and will occur, the acceptance of the erosion of women and girls rights, and the ever-present shadow of oppression. This was brought home through learning that the UN predicts we are 300 – read that again – 300 years behind achieving gender equality if we continue at the pace we are. Three. Zero. Zero.

And so, I revelled in the workshops. The personal and professional growth. My convention experience was a recommitment ceremony of sorts. A recommitment to grow our membership. To shout from the rooftops, the social media platforms. To call to friends and families I know now and those I am yet to meet. A call to action. A longing to hold this emotion that drives our ambition of a better more equitable world. If the outcome of the generosity of travel awards was a recommitment to our cause. I am all in – but maybe next time I would wear more appropriate shoes to storm the streets of Dublin.

SISEAP Membership

Soroptimist International is a global movement of women, with members belonging to more than 3,000 clubs in 126 countries/territories, spread over 5 Federations