Why Waste a Good Cover Letter
In achieving the status and position of a roving, emergency, disaster preparedness and response engineer/project manager there is the ever present danger of outstaying my welcome! If you recall the 'Wolf' character played by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction he is indeed a bit of a cameo. He pops up out of nowhere, cleans up the mess and just as quickly disappears off the screen in no time at all. To many he remains an enigma... a 'what was that all about moment' though to some he saves the day and allows the plot to move on efficiently. He is somewhat like my favourite mystical character Lu Ban who also moves on before anyone quite knows what has really happened - I write about him elsewhere. And no one really knows what these people do between scenes and in their down time. No one cares! Perhaps like me they are desperately trying to secure a nice, easy, secure type position that is going to pay for their retirement and allow them to slow down in later life? Or would that be the death of them - through sheer boredom and inertia?
So it happened to me again that I was shuffled out of Sudan and soon obliged by circumstances to take a zero hours contract, in a shoe warehouse on the outskirts of York, living on minimum salary. It was nice, easy and completely stress free but wasn't going to pay the bill for long. I met some interesting people and there was just enough in the job to keep my brain ticking over during my evening shifts. I had ample opportunity during daylight hours to apply for all sorts of new jobs... one through which I might be able to retire as described above. One I was particularly keen and interested in, was working for a Catholic philanthropic agency. So I applied some extra effort and drafted a lengthy cover letter. Needless to say my formal qualification and experience counted for little. I got through the initial screening as a 'left of centre' candidate - so said the HR manager - but never got an interview. Sad but not unexpected. It was only a week or so later that I got the usual CIA style phone call out of the blue asking if I could drop everything and travel to Ukraine within the week. (I say 'CIA style phone call' because that is what usually happens on all the films and I like to think of it that way).
Such was the effort, my only disappointment was inordinate waste of my time when I could have been adding to the content of this website. The obvious answer then sprang to mind. Why not just add the cover letter itself? At least I might not have to write another one if someone is really looking for a truly 'left of centre' character who lacks only a degree in theology. So here it is...
Application for leadership post in a Catholic Philanthropic Organisation
In applying for the position, I kindly ask you to first put aside my formal CV and essentially ignore it! My formal CV represents, in effect my ‘day job’ and tells nothing of the extra-ordinary life I have lived beyond formal employment and the need to keep food on the table, a roof over my head and to service the needs of my family. I suppose it does indicate a high level of technical competence, managerial skills and business leadership in so much as running one’s own business in a developing nation for 10 years does… but I am most interested in this position for its focus on Catholic Social Teaching, thinking and action. An area into which I desire to move and have been moving in the last 7 years.
As a university student back in the 1980s, I followed my desires to travel, to find meaning in life and to do good in the world. After a series of expeditions to the Artic and to the Ecuadorian Andes studying the loss of glacial cover and the flora and fauna of a high, montane forest I worked as a VSO volunteer in Sudan and Bangladesh for over 3 years. The focus of my professional work then and since, has been in sustainable development, ecology and alternative technologies with a bent towards water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. In that arena, I worked ostensibly with refugees, internally displaced people and host communities rebuilding shattered lives bringing dignity and hope wherever possible. [That was meant to answer the Climate Change part]
On my journey of faith, I was converted to non-denominational Christianity after a period of travel and casual labouring in the United States as a student, and finally in 2016, some 30 years later, I took the plunge and was confirmed a Roman Catholic. The last seven years has been a very intense period of study, reflection and engagement with the Catholic Church. I have followed the well-worn path of the new convert; discovering the church fathers, understanding the role of the papacy and magisterium, reading the lives of the saints and gaining a better understanding of Catholic Social Teaching (as espoused in papal encyclicals such as ‘Rerum Novarum’) and taking a greater interest in the great ethical debates of our times. [A nod to the authority of the church and its attitude to the poor]
I am a member of the ‘Word on Fire (online) Institute’ lead by Bishop Robert Barron, taking a deeper look at the New Evangelisation, the rise of the ‘Nones’ and the disaffiliation of western youth from the church. Through the institute I have gained a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith, its heroes – ancient and modern. I have completed many of their short courses and followed recent writing seminars run by their specialist contributors. I have posted a number of related articles on my own study web site. That said, I am also interested in comparative religious studies and recently started a serious attempt to learn more about the Koran. I have enjoyed lengthy debates with my Muslim colleagues when working overseas in Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. [Acknowledging the drop in numbers and crisis in the Church in the west and what we might do about it].
I am taking my new found Catholic faith seriously. I have tried to follow my obligations and attend mass and go to confession as regularly as possible and wherever that may be. As such, I have had the privilege and good fortune to worship in the Chaldean and Syriac Churches in Iraq, the Ethiopian Church, the Maronite Church in Lebanon and the Latin rite in many other countries. I try to maintain links with the Oratorians in York, where I undertook the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults before my confirmation. Though I have few of the high-level contacts one might deem essential to one’s career I have many friends and acquaintances, religious and lay persons whom I can call on for insight into the inner workings of the church and for an understanding of the needs of the laity in many countries. I am, ecumenically minded and have maintained strong friendships with people in the Anglican church in Ethiopia and the UK. [An effort to show that I might understand the modernists as well as the traditionalist in the Catholic Church without being judgemental and then ecumenical with other Christians around the globe].
For 22 years I lived and worked in Ethiopia and for much of that time I worshipped in the Anglican Church and was very committed to their pastoral care of the Sudanese refugee community. I was able to give free services through my own project management company, setting up feeding programmes and assisting in the design and build of churches and community centres in the west of the country. I was also heavily involved in service with the Catholic church helping to build and design a monastery for the Community of St John and doing design work with the Spiritan Fathers. [Evidence of personal commitment and sacrifice - but one need not over do this as it can get a little cringeworthy!]
My connections with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were strong since we adopted our children from them and owed them a great debt of gratitude. Beyond the church my wife and I ran a weekly Food Run and respite service for destitute people. Over 20 year I estimate, we delivered over 1/4 million meals on the streets of Addis Ababa. Through random donations from a wide variety of people we were also able to provide in-patient and out-patient care for an estimated 2,000 individuals. Jill was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s honours list in 2014. I share my joy with her on that count. [Definitely cringeworthy - but I wanted the job and sometimes we have to sell ourselves. Lesson learnt... it never works!]
From 1999 to around 2007, my wife and I were heavily involved in campaigning for the rights of abused children. This came about when we exposed the sexual abuse of children living under the care of an international NGO in Ethiopia. The abuse was widespread and was an open secret in the NGO sector in Ethiopia and the case gained a lot of media attention. The lessons learnt have been used by NGOs, governments and childcare agencies to develop many of the safeguarding laws and policies we see today. However, much remains to be done and the way Jill and I were scapegoated for exposing the case was atrocious and many of the perpetrators still run free and operate without fear. [Par for the course but I could also just tick the boxes on a five minute on-line course for all it is worth... now there is real cynicism for you]
Owning and running my own company in Ethiopia for 10 years was a fantastic experience and gave me the opportunity to learn much about what motivates people, how they think and what is important in their lives at any particular time. The mistakes I made were numerous, but I worked hard to rectify them, trying at all times to be ethically minded and better than the next man. The collapse of the company in 2016 due to circumstances beyond my control taught me an awful lot more about God’s economy and where exactly His priorities might lie. That has been an ongoing journey! (I write about it here on my web-site;
As mentioned above, my life has been full, rich in adventure and despite the many ups and downs I have no regrets. I am happy where God has led me over the years, and happy to have seen and done so many exciting things. Saying this, I felt the need some 5 years ago to begin documenting and writing about my life to a wider audience. To this end, I have started up an auto-biographical website/blog. I have also combined this with my ongoing desire to learn more about my faith and others and am attempting to learn more about the Bible and the Koran. I would recommend a quick look at this site starting with this article written by an old friend who happens to be an Anglican Bishop!
I do also encourage you to go to my LinkedIn site to learn more about my work and connections and to go beyond 2016, when I was forced by circumstances to revert to my original role as a Water and Sanitation Engineer which I consider only a small part of my life.
I thank you for the opportunity to present my case and hope to be in touch again.