Community Engagement makes a difference

Published: Wednesday 29th June 2016

Message from Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven: This month ACU staff and students have been supporting national and international communities realise their potential.

In Timor-Leste, in Thailand, and in Cambodia ACU’s community engagement programs are adding social value in the areas of health and education.

Closer to home, Conversations Clubs are assisting new immigrants settle into their new Australian homes and university-community Homework Support Groups help youngsters from disadvantaged areas.

An ACU student has the choice from more than 140 community engagement activities, which provide students with the opportunity to broaden their horizons, gain new skills and experiences, improve their resume, and make a difference in the wider community.

This year, as a Catholic university, community engagement plays an especially leading role in who we are as a university community and what we do.

2016 is a year in which the Catholic Church has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In this Year of Mercy, ACU has joined with Pope Francis and Catholics around the world. The Year is an invitation to love, an invitation to kindness, and provides a focus to support communities experiencing disadvantage help themselves.

ACU makes a difference, and attracts students who want to make a difference too, and that is exactly what community engagement does.

At ACU community engagement sees staff and students ‘walking with’ and listening to communities to forge long-term solutions and relationships.

In 2015, the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Community Engagement was awarded to Barefoot Nurses: Train the Trainer Health program in Timor-Leste.

This is achieved through the lens of health, nutrition and wellbeing for the families of marginalised and disadvantaged communities of Timor-Leste.

As a result of our programs, in partnership with other Catholic health organisations, East Timorese health workers are taking on greater leadership roles.

Staff from ACU’s Institute of Advancing Community Engagement have told me there has been a major shift among the health workers in Timor-Leste, who are now taking the lead on local projects.

Community engagement is about capacity building, and enabling communities to take charge and this is what is happening in Timor-Leste.

Further, there are enormous benefits to our students.

I’d like to share the experience of one student, a student who was hesitant,  at first, to take part in his community engagement project of coaching cricket at his old school.

In his own words: “I felt that it was a big waste of time with no rewardat the end and should not be compulsoryto undertake as it had no relevanceto what I was studying.”

But something happened as he helped these school boys gain new confidence. The parents noticed a difference and were quick to praise him for coaching their children in his week days and weekends.

Damien soon discovered an extra element to his studies, an ‘X’ factor that could stick with him for the rest of his life.

“I feel that this course undertaken at Australian Catholic University (ACU) has shown another side of me that I have never seen before.

“I have learnt, now, not to judge a book by its cover and to have an open mind towards new things.

“By volunteering in not-for-profit organizations it has both broadened my perspective and developed me personally, ethically, spiritually and professionally.

“I sincerely thank ACU for this community engagement opportunity as now I have become more aware of others and have seen how I have helped out the community and made a difference. “