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Community Connections

"I didn’t go into this expecting anything in return, I just did it because it felt right”

Community has always been a guiding value in Mijica Lus’s life, she’s sought to build, nurture and strengthen wherever she goes. This year she was recognised with a 2022 Young Canberra Citizen of the Year Award for Individual Community Service, for her contributions in volunteering for more than six different Canberra organisations.

Mij was born in Canberra and spent significant periods of her childhood living in Papua New Guinea. It’s her roots, and big, supportive family, that she credits with instilling her strong community values.

“I’m from a really big family and, like a typical island family, we're all about community,” Mij says.

In 2018, she completed her Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management) at UC and after wrapping up work in her casual position at Student Services, started fulltime in the People and Diversity team. She just recently took a new opportunity, moving back to a student support role in Careers UC.

“I really love what I do. The people at UC really care about each other and it's a strong community,” Mij says.

“Every time my team goes for coffee, we repeat the values. Like okay, we're going to go get coffee, we're going to walk together, and everyone's invited. The values have meaning and they’re very easy to live out.

“It reminds me that when I'm walking, I'm not just walking by myself, it's together with everyone around me and I have to make sure that every person feels included and valued.”

Starting in 2020, Mij began reaching out to organisations to find opportunities for volunteering.

“I didn’t know what to do after work. I don't have any family obligations, because all my family are overseas — I wondered ‘how do I make the most of my time?’”

“There were different events on campus that I started helping out with. Then I started reaching out to other organisations, like the Canberra Hospital, the Red Cross, Tedx Canberra, Adecco Australia and AIM Australia, which mostly works in inclusive education — an area I'm very passionate about — to ask if they needed help.”

In 2020 and 2021, Mij organised the delivery of up to 250 hampers, which were distributed mainly between Ronald McDonald House (based at the Canberra Hospital) and Companion House.

As she handed out hampers, she was building connections with the families based there and discovered there were more ways she could make a difference in their lives.

“The families are going through a very stressful time. The children are often staying in hospital with serious medical conditions,” Mij says.

“I started holding photography sessions with the families. They would they bring all the family members in, and I could take authentic shots, of them cooking or spending time together in the playroom, or of the mum breastfeeding her baby — if they’re comfortable.

“Then I would print these out at Officeworks and write a nice note for them. So, when the family leaves the hospital, they have photos to remind them that their experience wasn't all bad, and they ended up pulling through it because they’re a family unit and they had all these amazing people supporting them.”

This year, in recognition of the kindness and time that Mij invests in the community, staff at the Canberra Hospital nominated her for the Young Canberra Citizen of the Year award. This came as a surprise to Mij, who had never expected praise or reward for volunteering.

“They reached out to all these organisations that I mentioned working with, then next thing you know, I had different people contacting me to say “hey, I put in a good word for you!” Mij says.

“I’m very grateful for them nominating me. I didn’t go into this expecting anything in return, I just did it because it felt right.”

A passionate advocate for inclusive education, Mij strives to incorporate this both in her capacity at UC, and in the wider community

“I’m super passionate about book drives. Books that might not be of use in one space but may be of use somewhere else in the world, I think that’s very, very impactful,” Mij says.

“I've been working closely with the libraries at UC, ANU and UNSW and so far, we've sent six shipments of books to Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

“I'm currently working on a project to fill the children’s library at Canberra Hospital. They’ve provided a room — now we just need to fill it with books!”

In the book drives that Mij leads, there's a job for everyone, and all are welcome. Although all roles are for volunteers, she makes sure that everyone gets a little something extra for helping out.

“It’s a great opportunity for networking and getting to know people. I make sure to write a nice letter for the students for their CV,” Mij says.

In her professional capacity at UC, Mij has recently transitioned back to a role supporting students. Through a secondment at Careers UC, Mij works to prep students for what the workplace is like and advocates for UC students to get a chance at the very best opportunities as they transition into the workforce.

“I do a lot of advocating for our students, approaching organisations to discuss the potential for offering a placement or an internship to a UC student,” Mij says.

“Everyone has the right to access education; I always have that in mind because I work for a university that is considered number one in the world for reducing inequalities. By offering internships and placements, these organisations are affirming students’ right to education.”

Words by Kelly White, photos by Tyler Cherry

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