A caring heart
When Babra Mutanda came to Australia in 2009 as a refugee from Zimbabwe, she’d had so few opportunities to learn that she had never even used a computer. Now she has two university degrees and is a compassionate aged care nurse and the founder of an organisation dedicated to helping others.
“We didn’t have any choice about Australia,” said Babra. “The situation at home was very tense and coming to a new country was not easy. I had never even used a laptop before I got here and barely knew what they were. All I knew was that Australia was my chance.”
Night and day
Babra began her education at a local Sydney TAFE while working full-time in aged care. Knowing she wanted more for herself, she applied for a Bachelor of Nursing at ACU, which is when her determination went into full force.
“For my entire nursing degree, I was working in an aged care centre at night. I’d come home from my shift, shower, and head straight to the North Sydney Campus for a lecture or a prac before resting in the afternoon.”
In spite of the punishing schedule, her aged care work quickly became a valuable asset to her studies.
“I loved my placements at Westmead and Liverpool hospitals, it was the best part of the degree. And unlike a lot of the younger students, because of my aged care background, I already had considerable experience working in a hospital environment and my job became a great advantage to my studies.”
Twice as hard
It was during the second year of her nursing studies that Babra decided to begin simultaneously studying for a Bachelor of Social Work – a fully online course.
“Considering I had never even used a computer until quite recently, you can imagine how hard it was to suddenly be studying a new degree 100 per cent online. I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I just kept going.
“When I was studying the two degrees at once, I was often asked, ‘How are you doing this?’ I’d say, when I was growing up in my family of eight, my father wasn’t rich but he managed to send us to school. If you’re a girl in Africa, boys get to go first in everything, but I always thought if I can manage to go to school, I want to be a nurse. So, when I got to Australia, I told myself ‘I can do this’, and studying became my priority – I just did it.”
Babra knew right from the start of her nursing degree that she was leaning towards aged care.
“There are no nursing homes in Africa, elderly people die with us at home,” she explained. “So, when I saw old people being taken care of till the end of their life with compassion and care, it really touched me and gave me the passion to continue working in this field.”
To mark her graduation, Babra returned home to Zimbabwe to celebrate with family and friends.
“My mother killed a cow for me, and we had a huge party. I invited my old teachers from both primary and high school who’d taught me as a kid. They said that back when they were teaching me, ‘We saw a brightness in you’. And I remember them telling me, ‘If you get the chance, you have to do something’. It made celebrating my nursing degree with them so much more special.”
A new challenge
As Babra continued to thrive in Australia and her expertise as an aged care nurse grew, a new challenge unexpectedly came her way.
“I went to a nursing friend’s wedding in Sierra Leone and it changed everything for me,” Babra said. “The country has been through so much and I saw the brutality of the rebels for myself. They would ask men questions like, ‘Do you want short sleeves?’ This meant they’d cut a man’s arms off at the elbow. ‘Long sleeves’ meant their hands were cut off at the wrist. Pregnant women were being brutalised and babies were cut from their stomachs. It was so terrible, just the worst of the worst.
“I had seen the effects of Sierra Leone’s war in the news but being there in real life was totally different.
"So many people there were living with disabilities as a result of the rebel war. Not to mention, polio still exists in Sierra Leone, and then the ebola virus started there after the war too. I was crying every day I was there. I said to my friend I don’t have any money but I need to do something.”
Building a foundation of caring
When Babra returned home to Australia, unable to get Sierra Leone out of her mind, she got busy.
“I started collecting clothes and shoes to donate, and I went back in 2019 to start the Caring Hearts Foundation. With everything they’ve been through, I knew I had to help.
“I want to help young kids whose parents have disabilities and were victims of the war, or been effected by polio or the ebola virus. I just want to help them live like normal kids anywhere in the world.
“From then on, I just kept sending donations, food, sanitary hygiene products for the girls, whatever I can. The thank yous make you feel like you are someone and it inspires me to work even harder. These people have nothing, so if they thank you it means so much. And I know that I don’t have much myself, but I try to share as much as I can.”
Babra is the winner of the Community Engagement Alumni Award.