A former carpenter turned remote medico and founder of not-for-profit organisation ‘The Hands of Rescue’ (THOR) has been recognised with this year’s Outstanding Alumnus Award at an event on the Gold Coast.
Overall winner – Outstanding Alumnus Award
Dr Barry Kirby AO was a middle-aged chippie working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) when he witnessed a traumatic incident that resulted in the death of a woman in labour.
It changed the course of his career. In that moment he decided PNG needed doctors more than carpenters.
“At 52 I became a doctor,” he said, pausing to reflect on the challenges he’s overcome.
“When I started, I was too old, I came from the wrong background, I was a carpenter, I failed high school, I had all these negative things thrown at me, Griffith was the only university to give me a break and that’s what I needed.”
After completing a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours) he returned to PNG determined to make a difference.
“Every time a woman has a delivery, she is risking her life for the sake of giving life,” he said.
“The Hands of Rescue focuses on reducing maternal deaths by increasing supervised deliveries and by upskilling staff to deal with obstetrics emergencies.
“We put (maternal deaths) on the radar, saying mothers are precious, they carry this country and we have to make it good for them.”
Dr Kirby’s foundation, THOR, was established in 2011 with a focus on achieving safe motherhood for women in the Milne Bay Province and throughout PNG.
“He is a champion of maternal health and an unlikely hero in a remote landscape of overburdened and unsupported healthcare workers,” said Vice Chancellor Professor Carolyn Evans.
“Dr Kirby is achieving remarkable outcomes in what is his second career, one that is solely motivated by his compassion for and commitment to women giving birth to new generations of PNG citizens.”
While grateful for the recognition, Dr Kirby believes he’s, “just a normal bloke”.
“The mother that gave birth to you and gave birth to me… that’s what a hero is.
“Helping women in this country have a better life is what I have to do.
“Every other guy is the same, you would feel the same way as I did if you had the same experiences I had.”
Griffith’s Outstanding Alumni Awards recognise and celebrate the diverse achievements of alumni, across their fields of endeavour and in their communities.
Dr Kirby’s award was one of four announced at an event on the Gold Coast on Friday September 6, 2019.
Outstanding Young Alumnus Award
Dr Elizabeth Hamilton has won the Outstanding Young Alumni Award for her inspiring journey on the road to global health advancements.
Since completing a Doctor of Medicine program at Griffith University, Dr Hamilton has interned at Townsville Hospital, written award winning essays and presented at international conferences; while maintaining a role as Director of Ubuntu Through Health, a position she held until the end of 2018, when she was awarded the prestigious 2018 Queensland Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. Armed with a goal to contribute to Global Health, she will complete a Master of Science in Global Health Science and Epidemiology.
Outstanding First People’s Alumnus Award
Dr Kerry Bodle has received the Outstanding First people’s Alumni Award for her achievements as a prominent and highly respected First people’s advocate who is regularly called upon to speak on Indigenous issues within the accounting and financial services industries.
The self-confessed ‘accidental’ academic was 38 years-old when she completed her Bachelor of Business degree at Griffith. A descendant of Karendali (Thargomindah), Kalali (Conbar Outstation) and Waka Waka (Cherbourg) First Nation Peoples, she went on to complete her Honours in 2003, later enrolling in a doctorate degree.
Most recently, Dr Bodle was appointed Griffith Business School Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Academic Director.
“The legacy I want to leave is that I want to be a disruptor to the traditional way of teaching, especially in accounting and in business,” she said.
“One of my roles here (is) looking at indigenising our curriculum. Unless we’re brave enough and put ourselves out there, we won’t see change.”
Outstanding International Alumnus Award
A man on an environmental mission, conservationist Dr Hum Gurung has been named the winner of this year’s Outstanding International Alumnus Award.
He has dedicated his professional life to promoting environmental conservation and has become a respected ambassador for conservation between Nepal and Australia, and for Griffith.
A selection of Dr Gurung’s notable professional achievements include working with the Government of Nepal on the formulation of Nepal’s Sustainable Development Agenda and a think-tank chaired by the Prime Minister of Nepal, led by the National Planning Commission. Dr Gurung has also provided consultancy services to global environmental organisations, including the United Nations Development Program and the World Wildlife Fund.
He fundamentally believes in the power of education. He considers it to be the only long-term investment for building the capacities of underprivileged people and inspiring the new generation.
As well as prioritising the interests of the local people through formal and informal education, he has made conservation and sustainable living a part of people’s lives.