Profile: Sue Bazzana's beautiful World Vision
The charity Christmas card stands can be somewhat overwhelming: whom should I support? Make a Wish? Amnesty? Unicef? The Breast Cancer Foundation? One woman with a singular dedication this season is Sue Bazzana of World Vision Australia (WVA).
For as long as she can remember, Sue has had a passion for people in the developing world and their situations, taking up roles with the Church Missionary Society, which helps young adults explore mission opportunities overseas, and Mission Travel Services before joining World Vision.
"My current role actually brings together a lot of what I have enjoyed doing through my career," she says. "It mixes media, marketing and strategic thinking with people management and connection with churches and the community. I work with great people and we get to partner with some fantastic churches and Christian organisations which are living out what it means to be followers of Jesus in both a local and global context."
Sue studied Arts at Griffith University and has since gone on to receive a Graduate Diploma in Communication Practicse (QUT), a Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies (Ridley College) and a Masters of Management in Community Management (UTS). She also graduated from the Arrow Leadership Development Program.
As World Vision's Head of Church Partnerships, Sue acts as a bridge between WVA, churches and the community in bringing to light the work of the international aid and development organisation. A part of this is orchestrating events such as Girl's Night Out, which utilises the talents of Christian women such as young singer/songwriter Vita Adam while gently encouraging women to think about the benefits of child sponsorship for them and their families.
"Girls Night Out helps churches connect with women in the community who might go to a nearby school or playgroup but who aren't comfortable attending a church service," says Sue. "Lots of women are struggling with identity issues, feeling like they’re juggling too many things – Girls Night Out presents them with women who have the same pressures but have a faith anchor that gives them some solidity in their life. We do talk about child sponsorship, but we want women to go away feeling like they’ve had a great time and should have brought a friend. It’s part of a journey… a step along that path rather than the destination."
Like many of the women who visit the children they sponsor at their homes, on a trip to India 18 months ago, Sue saw first-hand what the organisation is achieving through its supporters. She was humbled to find a community leader in Kanpur celebrating the building of a footpath, which it meant slum residents could commute between friends and family without fear of mud-born disease and to work while looking presentable. "It seemed so clear after she had explained it to me," confides Sue, "but I hadn't understood until then just how important a footpath could be."
Another heart-warming tale was to be found in Jaipur where Sue met with a group of women who were developing small businesses through Community Interest Groups. They had obtained a loan from World Vision to procure two sewing machines and raw materials, then organised their labour force according to each woman's strength in sewing or selling.
Once their loan was paid back, they started work on a plan to grow their business with the profit, employing other women and moving into new markets. The success of their enterprise – making baby and children's clothing and selling it door-to-door – meant that the women could take their families on the first holidays of their lives.
"Two or three years previously these women were not in a position to pay for their children's education or to buy medicine if someone in the family got sick but a small loan and some assistance in starting a business had led to a complete change in their lives and the lives of their children," says Sue.
"They were saving money, their kids were going to school, they were employing people and they could have a holiday just like all the other people who came to visit the Taj Mahal. They knew that many Western tourists came to Jaipur on the way to visit the Taj Mahal, a beautiful and historic building for all Indians. The Taj was only a couple of hours drive away but they had never seen it so they saved their money, hired a bus and took their children for a weekend to see it. I cried when they told me that!"
World Vision's support structure is based around community development. Essentially, all the funds from Child Sponsorships taken out by Australians are pooled and put into community projects with the view to lifting the overall standard of living and infrastructure (hence, footpaths!), which in turn allows children better access to water, food, health care and, importantly, immunisation and education.
"When we go into a community, we work for 12 to 18 months with local community leaders on a plan for what they need in their community and their dream for where they want their community to be in five years' time," explains Sue.
"That might be access to clean water or education for their children, a whole range of things. We try to have as much local ownership as possible. The closer to the community they are, the more influence there is. We work with them on mapping what needs to take place in the community over a period of time – water projects or education projects. World Vision uses child sponsorship as the vehicle for that."
Community programs generally last for 15 years, during which time child sponsors receive feedback on their child as a representative of that community's progress. "We're able to see massive transformation," says Sue. "In communities where basic needs are met, they're able to move onto issues such as gender empowerment, violence prevention programs and savings cooperatives where funds for businesses are pooled. We start with the life-saving needs, such as immunisation to prevent childhood death, which is an issue that impacts the wider society, and then start to work on the other stuff."
One of the many frustrations in Sue's work, and that of World Vision, is a misunderstanding of not only how the organisation operates but also of the plight of the people it assists. While aid to developing countries can often get caught up in a tangle of political issues, and World Vision is not unfamiliar with these, in World Vision's eyes, every life is worth the same price.
"Part of our work is trying to help people understand that people are people and to recognise people's value as human beings," says Sue. "Our neighbour includes the person we've never met on the other side of the world. People will say, I want to sponsor the most needy child. The fact the child is on the board means they’re in a community where everyone is needy and will benefit form the project. For example, Vita's little girl is one of eight children, the only girl in family of seven brothers – we know the boys more likely to be educated and fed than the girl. But going in and helping that one child means the whole family will benefit. We try to not have that so it’s fair and equitable and the whole community benefits."
This sponsorship program, which currently supports 400,000 children in communities from Cambodia to Columbia, appeals to blokes who don't necessarily desire the 'relationship' aspect of child sponsorship, but can feel they're helping by committing their money to World Vision's projects.
"They're happy feeling that the money will get there and that they're doing good," says Sue. "You're joining something that's really big, that's having a global impact. What we would like to see is that the Millennium Development Goals are achieved – more access to clean water, maternal and child death rates reduced, kids growing up to fulfill their potential – and, in turn, whole suite of benefits across the world."
That's a world vision worth supporting, whichever way you look at it.
Girl With a Satchel