Belenda Ryan calls her career so far her “rambling life.”
She is Irish. She amends that to “very Irish.” She grew up in east Cork, “a limestone region that is well known among potholers for its many underground caves.” Her family home was near Cobh, famous for being the last port of call of the Titanic.
After high school and before she began nursing training in Dublin, she worked in a hospice in Cork. Her rambling life and her nursing life picked up and proceeded together.
“I developed a love of wandering, and often hitchhiked around Ireland on weekends and time off duty,” Belenda said. “Hill walking and rock climbing became passions. I also tried parachuting, gliding and ballooning. Once Ireland, south and north, was explored, wandering took me further afield to Europe.”
After four years of training, Belenda qualified in general nursing with a specialty in caring for children. After graduation she stayed on for a year as staff nurse in the Dublin hospital where she had done part of her training. She moved to Munich.
She said: “Munich was a great city with wonderful, friendly people. After my contract expired, I was accepted for work in a children’s hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, and returned to Dublin to wait for the paperwork. Working in Dublin as an agency nurse opened my eyes to many other fields of nursing, and strengthened my ability to adapt quickly to situations.”
That ability to adapt stood her in good stead when, instead of Gaborone, she went to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. “I met my husband there,” she said.
Her hospital work brought her in daily close contact with children and their mothers. “They always had questions, and wanted to know about the lives of women outside their country,” Belenda said. “Despite the sometimes outrageous conversations, customs were strictly adhered to when any male entered, and at prayer times.”
After three years in Riyadh, Belenda and her husband moved to Beijing.
“China at that time had a population of 73 Irish, and the community was well attended to by the embassy there. My husband, who is Danish, was adopted as an Irishman. He is very proud that he attended the opening of the first Irish pub in China, in Shanghai,” Belenda said.
She worked as a substitute nurse practitioner in two of the foreign embassies, and helped with medical evacuations to Hong Kong for a private clinic. She was enlisted as a nursing consultant, and as part of a specialized team helped set up the first private clinic in China for the delivery of babies. It has a small special care unit, and provision for pediatrics, gynecology and general medicine. “It is called the Beijing United Family Hospital,” Belenda said. “One of my colleagues was a fellow compatriot. Since then, many Chinese nurses there use many colloquial Irish phrases.”
Once the clinic opened, Belenda assumed the role of nurse manager. “The clinic was aimed at the foreign population, but the contacts I made with my fellow Chinese nurses left lasting, positive impressions, and a love of China and its people,” she said.
Belenda and her husband came to Tokyo three years ago. As foreign nursing licenses are not recognized in Japan, Belenda looked for other useful occupations. “I worked as an English teacher, and as part-time school nurse at both the International School of the Sacred Heart and the American School in Japan. To keep myself updated in nursing, I became a member of the Foreign Nurses of Japan.” She has aims: to study hospital administration, to learn to swim properly, and to get her private pilot’s license.
The vibrant Irish community in Tokyo helped Belenda adjust to the unique life of this capital city. She allied herself with the Ireland Fund of Japan, one of a dozen enterprises making up the worldwide Ireland Funds, which raise money for the promotion of peace, culture and charity in Ireland and in the host countries.
Last year, Belenda helped with the decor for the Emerald Ball, which donates all the money it generates to the Ireland Fund of Japan. This year she is chairwoman for the ball on March 9 at the Westin Hotel, Tokyo. She is hoping that the Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, will be able to attend the ball during his proposed visit to Japan.
With a dozen organizations already having benefited from the Ireland Fund of Japan, further applications for grants are invited. “Projects involving community activities, children, culture and the environment are welcomed,” Belenda said.