For the good of the community
It was on a family holiday in Nepal that something twigged for Tessa Amatya. The landlocked Asian country is the homeland of her parents, and Tessa had been on many visits there from a very young age. But this trip was different.
“For the first time, I was able to see the effects of poverty, and how important education is,” says Tessa, 21. “It stirred this passion in me to work to help those who are most vulnerable.”
On her return home to Australia, Tessa started volunteering anywhere she could, from op shops to the local church.
The satisfaction and purpose she gained from it led her to pursue more volunteering opportunities, and before she knew it, Tessa was back in Nepal as a 17-year-old, offering her time to a shelter for victims of human trafficking.
“It was very, very sad,” she says. “Meeting women who had experienced these injustices further ignited the fire in me to push for change in the world that I saw, because there is such a huge need for it.”
It was then that Tessa decided she would work towards becoming a human rights lawyer. She enrolled in a law and global studies degree at ACU, and was awarded a community engagement scholarship.
In the third year of her degree, in early 2021, Tessa was one of the select few students chosen to analyse modern slavery statements created by companies and organisations, as part of a research project for the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network.
The ongoing project involves 32 Catholic entities, including ACU, with a goal to “take bold and decisive action on the eradication of modern slavery”.
“We learned that over 40 million people in the world experience modern slavery today, which is just shocking,” says Tessa, who is also a legal intern with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and volunteers for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Victoria Law Foundation, and Action for Afghanistan.
“At the same time, it was really a wonderful experience to put into practice our legal research skills while evaluating and analysing these modern slavery statements, working together towards the goal of eradicating modern slavery.”
The bigger picture
Another ACU law student and scholarship recipient who has received plaudits for her community engagement record is Lauren Kavanagh.
Working as pro bono intern with Anti-Slavery Network was “eye-opening”, Lauren says, because it is such a hidden problem. Even here in Australia, it is estimated that up to 15,000 people are enslaved right now.
“There is some awareness of the issue, especially with things like fast-fashion and the role the industry plays in modern slavery, but in general, it’s overlooked by many people – even lawyers,” says Lauren, 21, who also volunteers for the Animal Law Institute and the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), and serves as the human rights and family law committee member with the NSW Young Lawyers.
“Working on the project opened my eyes to the many areas of law that desperately require more pro bono work, simply because there aren’t enough people doing paid work in those areas. I think it’s really important that lawyers put their legal skills and knowledge to use in pro bono work for causes with a global need.”
Currently in the penultimate year of her Bachelor of Laws (Honours) at ACU, Lauren plans to pursue a career in either family, employment or administrative law – areas she is drawn to because of the impact this work has on people’s wellbeing and rights. Beyond this, she would like to work for the United Nations, to assist the global community more broadly.
In the meantime, Lauren plans to continue assisting with parliamentary submissions on fundamental issues to both Victoria and NSW, through her work with the LIV and NSW Young Lawyers.
"I endeavour for the work that I do both in my paid role, and the variety of volunteer roles I undertake, to assist vulnerable
people so that hopefully, they are able to proceed with their lives in the best way they can.”
She says that ethical lawyers should first concern themselves with faithfully serving their clients, who are seeking assistance in a challenging period of their lives. At the same time, she believes lawyers should engage with issues that are of interest to the wider community, and assist in serving the common good.
“I think it’s important for lawyers to see the bigger picture, and contribute their time to the bigger issues that affect the wider community,” says Lauren, who currently works as a paralegal for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
“Issues like climate change and decreasing domestic violence could really benefit from the contribution of lawyers, and we really have a duty to raise our voices on these matters and to use our legal skills to continually give back to the community.”
Helping those in need
As for Tessa Amatya, she plans to head back to Nepal to do an internship with Human Rights Monitors, an organisation that defends the rights of women and children, including victims of human trafficking.
Her long-term goal is to work as a human rights lawyer or a diplomat in developing nations, “to help those who are most vulnerable and in need”.
“Whatever area of law we choose to work in, I think it’s so important that lawyers give back as much as we can, and use our tools not to just help one group of people, but all,” Tessa says.
“When you help those most in need, it goes towards the common good, and in turn, that benefits your own wellbeing. It’s such a beautiful cycle, and I think it’s crucial that as lawyers, we understand that, so that we use our power and our platform to benefit society as much as we can.”
Keen to study law at ACU’s Thomas More Law School? Explore the options.
Find out about ACU’s involvement in the Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network.
Check out ACU’s range of scholarships, which aim to empower passion and ambition.