ACU (Australian Catholic University)

Insight

Issue 1, Winter 2011

Business with heart

Business with heart

Sponsoring religious sisters in Iraq and founding a children's charity in Africa, Associate Professor Nasir Butrous and Mary Campbell prove that ACU staff aren't restricted to the classroom.

By the end of the first Gulf War in February 1991, the situation in Iraq was grim. More than 100,000 Iraqis had been killed, Baghdad had been flattened by air strikes, and trade sanctions meant food was scarce.

It was in this climate of widespread suffering that Associate Professor Nasir Butrous and his wife made the decision to leave their homeland and start a new life in Australia, with three children in tow.

"Leaving the country where you grew up is always going to be a very hard thing, but finding a safe place for my children was more important," he said.

"When we first came to Brisbane in early 1993 we felt very alone, I think we were among the first Iraqi families here."

With a background and a PhD in commerce, Nasir applied for a position with the School of Business at ACU, and was appointed Foundation Coordinator. He was later promoted to Head of School.

"I knew nobody at first, but once I started at ACU I was able to develop a social network and in truth the University was not only a job but a second family," he said.

Nasir was Head of School for six years before stepping down to focus on research and community engagement initiatives.

A recent project, and one that strikes close to home, is the Holy Spirit-Chaldean Partnership, which will enhance educational opportunities for the Chaldean community in Iraq by sponsoring two religious sisters to complete a Master of Teaching at ACU.

"Given my cultural background, it was natural for me to be a part of this project, and it does give me extra joy to be working for a community from my homeland," Nasir said.

"I'm proud that I have managed to survive and thrive in a new culture and a new country, and build new relationships.

"ACU gave me a sense of identity, a sense of believing in myself and a sense that my trust and my faith led me to a place that I never dreamed existed."

Mary Campbell, Relations Coordinator at ACU's Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE), has never been deterred by disadvantage.

"Growing up in a large family, with a sister with intellectual disability and brothers who are profoundly deaf, I have always looked at disability from a strengths-based perspective.

"I found out at an early age that anything is possible if you have support, knowledge and hope."

The trained teacher and social worker has taught blind and deaf children, practised family counselling, and worked with children and teenagers with social and emotional disturbance. She has taught newly-arrived refugees and worked to build capacity for people who have complex needs and live on the margins of society.

She also spent an "exhausting" seven years managing the Women's House in Fitzroy, a service that caters for women who are homeless, drug dependent, have a mental illness, or may be street sex workers.

However Mary said it was her experience training teachers in East Africa that really opened her eyes to inequality, and led to her co-founding Women for Women in Africa.

The charity initially sponsored four children orphaned by AIDS, and 11 years later supports more than 300 children a year – providing not just an education, but educational supplies, uniforms, and even mattresses and toothbrushes.

"Education offers hope, and knowledge can't be taken away," Mary said. "We tried many schemes, but kept coming back to education as the key. It builds aspiration for a better tomorrow and the promise of a brighter future. At school, our sponsored children are safe from the abuse and starvation of the Kibera slum."

Mary moved into her current role at ACU's Melbourne Campus three years ago.

"I have been moved by the resilience of others and I can testify that one person really can make a difference," she said.

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