They work on the highlands of Tibet, in the wilderness of Zambia and among the poor in Bangladesh. What unites this diverse trio is their passion and commitment to using their talents for the greater good of communities beyond their own backyard - and the University of Adelaide. Lana Guineay reports.
Giving Tibet a Voice
Bachelor of Arts 2002
Lara Damiani put it all on the line to make Tibet's Cry for Freedom, a documentary on the plight of the Tibetan people and their struggle under Chinese occupation.
The 40-year-old Arts graduate had no background in film and no funding - but she did have a passion for social justice, a sense of urgency as the world's attention turned towards the Beijing Olympics, and a responsibility to give a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.
"Having the luxury of living in a free country, I believe it's our duty to use our voices to make a difference to those who don't have the freedom to speak openly and freely," Lara says.
Lara quit her job, sold her clothes and furniture, maxed out three credit cards and borrowed thousands from banks in order to fund the film. As producer, director, writer, researcher and camera operator, she worked seven days a week, often up to 16 hours a day, to complete the project.
For Lara, Tibet's struggles represent issues of wider importance. "In Australia and in the west we lead very comfortable lives, so issues that affect communities that are far away from us tend to be overlooked. This is something I'm really passionate about - making people aware that we are all interconnected."
"The Tibetan freedom struggle represents universal principles - the struggle for non-violence, for human rights, for political and religious freedom; the struggle against oppression and environmental destruction."
Lara spent 12 months filming in India, China, Australia, and secretly in Tibet, interviewing the Dalai Lama and former political prisoners. She says she couldn't have finished the film without the generosity of others - including a gift of $100,000 from a Sydney couple and narration provided by actress Kerry Armstrong.
Tibet's Cry for Freedom is currently screening at international film festivals, and is set to air on New Zealand television. Lara continues working hard to promote the documentary, selling copies on her website www.thetibetproject.com, but says her efforts have been worth it.
"Long-time Tibet supporters have told me that even they learned something new. That's what I wanted to achieve - to really raise awareness."
Fighting Poverty in Bangladesh
Bachelor of Arts 2003,
Bachelor of Media 2003,
Diploma of Language (Spanish) 2003,
Bachelor of Arts (Hons International Studies) 2006
Beyond news headlines of natural disasters and political unrest, Bangladesh is a lush, tropical country with a rich and unique culture - and the next stop for seasoned traveller Amelia McFarlane. In late October 2008 the four-time University of Adelaide graduate was due to leave for a city, seven hours' drive from Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, with the aim of helping some of the world's poorest people and gaining an insight into the country's diverse society.
Amelia jumped at the chance to get involved with development in Bangladesh, gaining a competitive position with the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program, an Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) initiative. Working as a Communications Officer with CARE Bangladesh, Amelia will use her skills and passion for development to make a difference in a country where more than 50% of the population live below the poverty line.
"I'm looking forward to finding out how development really works on the ground, and if it really can make a difference to people's lives," Amelia says. "I'm also excited to learn much more about Islam and Bengali, which is an amazing language with a very rich literary tradition."
Amelia's passion for development and other cultures began when she visited Brazil as an exchange student in 1996. Inspired to live and work overseas, Amelia taught English in various locales -- including a memorable 'baby class' in Japan, with pupils aged between six months and two years.
But it was living and working in Brazil, after marrying her Brazilian husband Gustavo in 2004, which cemented her interest in development. "Having to actually earn a local wage taught me a great deal about how hard it is to make ends meet in a developing country," she says.
Amelia explored her interest in her honours thesis, and by providing services to newly arrived refugees with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. She says she is excited about being more 'hands on' in Bangladesh, working on a project to improve food security, livelihoods, health and nutrition, natural disaster preparation, women's empowerment, income generation and community development.
"Helping people help themselves and allowing them to have choices and freedom -- these are two of the really important things, apart from monetary wealth, which affect people living in poverty most profoundly."
From Adelaide to Zambia
Bachelor of Science 1994,
Bachelor of Science (Hons) 1995
Water is essential to life. Fourteen countries in Africa are already experiencing water stress and it is estimated that 50% of Africa's predicted population of 1.45 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025 if current rates of consumption continue.
It's an issue Marcus Wishart is passionate about - and the Science graduate has been using his head and his hands to make a difference to water resources on the African continent for more than a decade.
Marcus first called Africa home after graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1995, encouraged by his Honours supervisor Professor Keith Walker. Gaining a scholarship to study a Masters of Science in Cape Town, he has since worked on a range of water resource projects throughout Africa, and added a PhD to his credits.
"I have been lucky enough to do a whole range of crazy things, from running a wildlife monitoring program that involved helicopter surveys of crocodiles every six months, to helping design large dam projects, to participating in traditional ceremonies to appease ancestors in remote project areas," he says.
"I get to work on unbelievably beautiful and majestic rivers like the Zambezi and have some input into developing projects that can have a significant impact on improving the lives of a great many people."
Now based in Zambia, Marcus works with the World Bank, helping countries develop infrastructure and management measures to better use water resources in support of economic growth. Increasingly, this is focused on measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Marcus says the move to Africa has had some incomparable rewards. "It has given me the opportunity to meet my wife, who is from Zimbabwe and was also studying in Cape Town, and our son, Mbulelo, who is now four years old."
"On the professional level there is no substitute for realising that you can help make a real difference, irrespective of how small: the impact of providing water to a community in a remote village, strengthening the protection of a national park to protect some of the world's most majestic animals, or helping develop the tools to better manage the sustainable development of natural resources."