With an English school in the works for refugees and asylum seekers in a life in limbo in Indonesia, Laura O’Neill tells an inspiring professional story that will tingle your toes.
You’re doing some pretty inspirational stuff with your career right now, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Over the last decade I’ve been living, working and volunteering in remote Australia, the Pacific and South East/South Asia. I’ve been a part of co-establishing a child rights NGO in Nepal, teaching English to culturally diverse students around the world, training local communities in capacity building tools, negotiating assistance with heads of government, supporting micro finance initiatives, developing health campaigns and creative charitable fundraising events to list a few! I’ve met countless inspiring and incredible families and individuals who constantly show me the spirit of grace, humility, compassion, patience and resilience.
Did you always have this passion?
My parents are amazing people who educated me from a young age about human rights and justice. Since I was a teenager I have always been involved in promoting social justice. I try to thread consciousness of humanity in all the actions I take and see my purpose in life as leaving this planet in a better state than I found it in.
You’ve dabbled in blogs/ journalism too?
I wouldn’t say I’m heavily involved in this sphere however, I’ve written a few articles as a means to communicate big messages to large audiences. I learnt about film editing recently which has served as a collaborative storytelling tool which I’ve used in Indigenous Australia, South East Asia and with refugee communities.
Did you go to university, what did you study? Best part?
Sure. I completed an undergraduate in Music and Anthropology simply because I was passionate and interested in these topics -completing this degree was a breeze because I loved it. I then completed a Cambridge Certificate in English Language which has been really useful in my travels. This was followed by a Masters in Development Studies (majoring in refugee research) and I’m currently enrolled in a Grad Dip in Education. Best part other than my massive HELP debt? The people, knowledge and spirit of learning.
What has the journey been like?
I’ve experienced a roller-coaster of ups and downs in my professional and personal humanitarian journey. It is not easy to stitch together experience, education and resources into meaningful projects and actions with beneficial outcomes. At times when I’ve been broke and unemployed from the development sector I’ve questioned why I’m not like other friends with ‘straight forward’ careers. But as my perseverance slowly pays off, I am sure this is the right path for me.
Any hints or tips?
I don’t know why I was so naive, but I honestly thought after I finished my Masters degree I could stroll into a job with the UN! As many people are interested to build a career through helping other people, be aware this is a competitive ‘field’ just as other ‘career industries’ are. If you want to be a humanitarian, find a skill that you are really good at and use this as a platform to help. Being a humanitarian is not all about emergency response teams, what the world really needs is intelligent and dedicated facilitators in really diverse fields. So whether it is engineering, midwifery, speech pathology, curriculum design, law or any other domain; technical skills teamed with a sensitive knowledge of aid and development can reach out to support vulnerable communities to better themselves.
Plans for the future?
I’ve spent many years feeling overwhelmed by the worldwide plight of refugees and asylum seekers and often feel limited in avenues of assistance. With the support of my best friend who is also a Development professional, we are currently working to support refugee and asylum seeker children in legal limbo to access education in Indonesia. We are so excited to facilitate a grassroots project that assists children from within communities and dream that we could expand this project throughout Indonesia and in other root and transit countries of asylum seekers.
To support the project, please check out the campaign running until 20th October @www.startsomegood.com/tomorrowtoday
photos credit Laura O’Neill: 1. Peace in Freedom, Sydney, Australia; 2. Making a health doco-drama with a local children’s group in Rasuwa, Nepal; 3. Teach and learning about disaster risk reduction in Sumatra, Indonesia.