Flicking through the most recent editions of our alumni magazine, I was struck not only with the usual admiration for the feats of ACU graduates – but also by the ways in which their efforts were directed at the most vulnerable in society.
It seems that thousands of people experiencing disadvantage in Australia and overseas have benefitted either directly or indirectly from the work, projects, and ingenious ideas of our graduates.
Take for example arts graduate Benny Callaghan, who runs the School for Social Entrepreneurs. Based in Sydney and Melbourne, the school runs nine-month programs for would-be entrepreneurs, using an action learning approach.
Providing fresh food hampers to struggling families, helping girls in Sierra Leone attend school, and giving young people access to driving lessons are just some of the ideas put into action by its graduates.
Since it opened two years ago, the school has graduated 64 students, who through their initiatives have created 67 jobs, 296 volunteer positions, and attracted more than $2.7 million in funding.
You may also be familiar with Street Swag inventor Jean Madden. Realising the negative effects that lack of sleep and lying on concrete had on the physical and mental health of homeless people, Jean came up with the Street Swag in 2005.
Made from lightweight, waterproof canvas and a foam mattress, the swag has room for extra belongings and can be folded into a bag to preserve dignity and deter theft.
An education and theology graduate, Jean has helped distribute more than 15,000 Street Swags to those sleeping rough around the country so far.
In 2009 she beat actor Brad Pitt to win the prestigious INDEX design awards “people’s choice” category for her invention, and in 2010 she was named Queensland Young Australian of the Year.
Looking a little further, to the shattered education system of Cambodia, is Kate Shuttleworth.
Another ACU graduate, Kate and her husband established SeeBeyondBorders – an initiative that aims to improve access to quality education for children in Cambodia. They are tackling three areas – training local teachers; developing school infrastructure; and providing support to families with school-aged children in the form of rice, academic scholarships, bicycles and uniforms.
Back in Australia, looking into the world of children in care, ACU graduate Bronwyn Sheehan was shocked to discover that 92 per cent are below the average reading level by the age of seven, and 75 per cent will not complete schooling.
She realised that many foster carers – often juggling several children and dealing with complicated issues – may not have time to read to the children every night. And thus The Pyjama Foundation was born.
The program provides volunteers known as Pyjama Angels to read to children living in foster care. Pyjama Angels are matched with a child in care who has been referred – and they visit them for an hour each week to read books aloud and play educational games. The program has attracted more than 1,700 volunteers and support from the likes of authors Bryce Courtenay and Mem Fox.
I would need a far greater space than this column if I were to go on. ACU graduates are psychologists, Red Cross workers and high profile football coaches. They are writers, renowned artists, innovative health care professionals and education and business leaders.
They are people like arts and teaching graduate Symone Anstis, who last year took the tax office to court, and won – paving the way for Australian students to claim millions of dollars in educational deductions.
ACU has more than 70,000 graduates who symbolise what the University stands for, and what the University can achieve – by developing students who are educated, skilled, ethical, motivated and sensitive to injustices.