A protesting nun, a volunteering dentist and the CEO of a domestic violence service among Canberra recipients of King’s Birthday Honours

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webnexttech | A protesting nun, a volunteering dentist and the CEO of a domestic violence service among Canberra recipients of King's Birthday Honours
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It might be unusual for a nun who has just been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), but one of Jane Irene Keogh’s fondest memories is of being arrested. That’s happened to her twice, most notably when she was participating in a sit-in protest at then-ACT senator Zed Seselja’s office a decade ago. She was among a group of refugee advocates who had planned a peaceful protest which entailed sitting on the floor with a candle and praying until he agreed to “do something” and set a date for the release of children in immigration detention. No charges were laid, although the Brigidine sister would have liked them to have been. “I thought [it] may have made a good headline,” she laughed. A life dedicated to advocating for the vulnerable Sister Keogh said she had always had strong values, something she thinks she inherited from her father, who was awarded an MBE for services to the Commonwealth. But her advocacy work really began when the Tampa affair hit the headlines in 2001. “I got involved because I was angry,” she said. That anger spurred the former school principal on. She joined a Christian group called Love Makes A Way and began getting involved with vigils and protests. First, she worked with the asylum seekers who were detained in the South Australian Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre which was open from 2002 to 2007. She began travelling regularly to the centre, armed with SIM cards that she would smuggle in to the detainees. Outside of the centre, she worked with lawyers on appeals, learning skills she would go on to need time and time again. In many cases, they were successful in getting detainees released from the centre. So when the Australian government reopened offshore immigration detention centres in 2012, it was a blow to Sister Keogh and other advocates. But she soon turned her attention to those detained in Manus Island and Nauru, helping some settle in Canada, fundraising for food and supplies and protesting in Canberra to keep the pressure on politicians. Sister Keogh is still in contact with those who remain in detention, trying desperately to keep their hope for the future alive. Compassion and hope keeps Brigidine sister going Now aged almost 80, Sister Keogh keeps going with her advocacy because of compassion and hope, rather than the anger which once inspired her. That compassion has seen her turn her attention to other causes, from caring for injured and abandoned dogs to the conflict in Gaza. It’s the latter which she is most concerned about at the moment. But she’s been heartened by witnessing the protests, and particularly the involvement of the country’s young people. And while being appointed an AM was initially something Sister Keogh wasn’t sure she’d accept, she’s decided it will add additional weight to whichever letter she pens to a politician next. Refugee turned volunteering dentist also receives award It’s fitting perhaps, that Sister Keogh is joined in the honour list this year by Dr Loc Lam, who has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her services to dentistry. Dr Lam came to Australia from Vietnam as a 16-year-old refugee who didn’t speak a word of English. Ever since, she’s been driven to give back. Dr Lam’s desire to support vulnerable communities has resulted in her regularly travelling to remote areas of Vietnam and Nepal, providing services in areas which wouldn’t otherwise have it. “I try to provide some oral health education … to the staff there,” she said. “Over the years, when I go, I see an improvement, so that was really, really good to see.” Focused on vulnerable at home as well It’s not just overseas where Dr Lam looks for opportunities to help out, but in Canberra as well. She regularly travels to nursing homes to provide services to patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it to an appointment. Previously, she worked with vulnerable children in remote communities. And her practice holds regular charity days where she donates the proceeds of the day to a local charity, too. Despite all of her giving, Dr Lam describes herself as a “simple person”. Domestic violence service CEO honoured For his work in the community sector, the CEO of violence prevention organisation EveryMan Greg Aldridge has also been awarded an OAM. Mr Aldridge said the honour was not really about him at all, but about his work and the work of his organisation. As a registered psychologist, Mr Aldridge has been working in the community sector since 1977. “I had a lot of issues in my family when I was young. My mum died when I was 12, and so I was a latchkey child, and having somebody help me get my life back in a direction really stayed with me.” While violence wasn’t present in his own household, Mr Aldridge saw the impact of it all around him. He was drawn to the domestic violence space, setting up his first refuge in Adelaide at the age of 21. DV service works with perpetrators It was for that reason that Mr Aldridge set up EveryMan. Mr Aldridge said the primary reason for his work with men was “the safety of women, or partners, and children”. He said many men who use violence wanted to be able to live without it and were capable of being reclaimed back into the community. Others, he said, had grown up in a world with violence all around them and had been taught it was okay. He acknowledged not everyone understood the need for behaviour change programs for perpetrators of violence. “Now people who care about men who use violence will often understand that they need help to deal with it.” But, with a national conversation ongoing about domestic violence, he encouraged governments to look at funding the full spectrum of support services.

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