Celebrating our African Australians

Victoria University staff have been awarded for the positive impact of their academic and social work in the African Australian community.

Last month's Celebration of African Australians awards at Parliament House in Canberra showcased the contributions of African Australians including Victoria University's own Elleni Bereded-Samuel, Dr Charles Mphande and Dr Mimmie Claudine Ngum Chi Watts.

Victoria University Community Development Manager Elleni Bereded-Samuel was inducted into the highly regarded 'Hall of Fame' for her outstanding contribution to education, training and employment in the areas of media, health and multicultural affairs. Ms Bereded-Samuel said she felt honored to receive the award.

"I sincerely thank my mentors for guiding me to reach a stage where I can proudly hold up this award as a mark of my achievement," she said.

Ms Bereded-Samuel, who once worked as a journalist and teacher in Ethiopia, studied counselling and a Masters in education at Victoria University, where she is currently doing more post graduate study in management.

Her dynamic leadership abilities have led to new solutions for her local community, as well as several different migrant and refugee groups, to better participate in society. She has also been involved in hands-on training and mentor roles and has personally helped dozens of people get permanent employment. Ms Bereded-Samuel's induction into the organisation's Hall of Fame follows her Living Legend Award in 2012.

Meanwhile, Lecturer in International Community Development Dr Charles Mphande was recognized for his exceptional achievements in education, research, leadership and community engagement. Dr Mphande has been instrumental in developing several support networks and training programs for young African Australians, including the African Academic and Leadership Skills Network (AALSN).

"An important focus of mine at this university has been helping students ease into the higher education system, linking them with all the support services and opportunities available to them so that they can make the most of their time here," Dr Mphande said.

He also brings his life experience and academic expertise to several advisory and mentor roles in African community and media organisations.

Dr Mphande came to Victoria University as a doctoral student from Malawi in 2001 and accepted an ongoing teaching position here in 2007. His academic work focuses on the barriers and solutions to student access and retention in higher education. He also has strong expertise in community development and issues in communication between migrant groups and government organisations.

Lecturer in Community Health, Dr Mimmie Claudine Ngum Chi Watts, received a Living Legend Award.

"I'm so happy to receive this award and hope my research can have an impact in the communities that have been so generous in sharing their stories with me," Dr Ngum Chi Watts said.

Dr Ngum Chi Watts, originally from Cameroon, recently completed her PhD on the cultural, social and structural barriers that young African Australian women face in dealing with teenage pregnancy.

"The findings revealed that sexual health education and information was lacking, or when present was full of myths and misconceptions," she said.

Other issues behind teenage pregnancy included gender inequalities, intercultural misunderstandings, financial hardship and intergenerational challenges.

But Dr Ngum Chi Watts' community engagement work goes well beyond academic research and includes various roles as a mentor and support worker for women from refugee backgrounds.

"One of my most satisfying volunteer roles in the community has been working with a group of refugee women who, with the right support and advice, learnt to read and write English, got their drivers licenses and accessed study and employment," she said. "It's seeing the difference in these people's lives that makes it all worthwhile."

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