When Betty Macharia was announced as the 2023 ACT Woman of the Year, she was caught completely off-guard.
Not because she doesn’t think the work she does coordinating support for vulnerable women is insignificant, but because of the high quality of nominees in the category who are all doing equally amazing work.
Betty, a UC alumna, is a proud African Australian woman who has spent many years volunteering in Canberra and the surrounding regions.
She found herself in Canberra following a love interest – but, unfortunately, her romance did not end in a fairy-tale.
“My relationship went south, and I became very passionate about supporting vulnerable people in the domestic and family violence space, and the mental health space,” she says.
“I work and volunteer in community services. I think that’s what makes me so good at my job – I not only have the qualifications and work experience behind me, but I also have the lived experience and I can always put myself in the shoes of the people I support.”
Although the work she does can be tough, Betty knows her contributions are important not only to those she is helping directly, but to provide a good example to her young daughter, whom she speaks of fondly.
“I don’t think anyone inspires me more than my daughter does,” Betty says.
“My daughter is the one thing that drives me to do what I do today.”
Memories of her time at UC are another thing Betty looks back on fondly, when she studied a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Counselling.
“I studied on campus and my experience was one that I can say was quite unique. I was a local student at UC and juggled being a single mum while fighting for the safety of myself and my child,” Betty says.
“So, it was quite the task! I was determined to leave the shift work roles that I’d become accustomed to and go into a more flexible, nine-to-five working arrangement.”
Since beginning work in the sector, Betty’s job has become so much more than an average working day – she knows she is genuinely making a difference in the lives of the people who need it most.
Her biggest message to anyone considering seeking help is to just reach out.
“I want to give back to someone else, and normalise that it’s okay to go through challenging times, seek help, and that it’s possible to get appropriate support and overcome it,” Betty says.
“It’s definitely a journey, I can’t say it’s easy, but it takes one step at a time.”
It was for her dedication to this line of work that Betty was recently named the 2023 ACT Woman of the Year – something that she is incredibly humbled by.
“I was shocked. Not because I felt I wasn’t deserving, it’s because there were so many other deserving women, and because behind everything I do is community – we normally don’t think we’re going to be awarded for the effort,” she said.
“To be appreciated in that manner is such a compliment – it was an absolute honour to receive the award and title.”
Outside of work, Betty has found a community of her own within the African Australian Council – an organisation that aims to be a unified voice to advocate on behalf of the African community.
Betty is the current Secretary of the Council, and says the group is determined to create a community feel through fun.
“It’s a lot of fun – I don’t think there is any African Australian event that isn’t filled with fun through music, dancing, drums, and – of course – food!” she says.
“Fun is always front of mind – but we also come together to educate and empower ourselves, and become a stronger community through socialising.”
She says it’s important for both her and her daughter to participate in those community events to break up the often serious themes and topics that Betty works with each day.
“It’s very important to self-care. As much as I give back, I also give to myself. That is the foundation of everything that I do,” she says.
“If I’m not well at home, I can’t be well for the community. I can’t draw from an empty bucket.”
Words by Elly Mackay, photos supplied.