Alice Spigelman AM reveals how her childhood experiences fuelled her passion for helping refugees

When I was aged six or seven, and living with my family in communist Hungary, we received a present from our relatives in Australia. It was a teddy bear with several pairs of nylon stockings concealed inside. Although my relatives thought they’d been very clever, this contraband had been discovered, and two secret policemen came to the door to interview my mother.

I still remember so clearly the fear I felt. I thought they were going to take her away.

Through my advocacy work for refugees - and now as Patron of the Leading Women Fund - I’ve often been reminded of the fear, anxiety and darkness that filled my early childhood in Budapest. I remember hearing the shooting as the revolution took hold in 1956, and hearing about our neighbour, a secret policeman, killed in retribution. And I understand that extraordinary feeling of loving your homeland, yet wanting to leave because the situation has become so terrible.

These early experiences played a large part in my desire to work with Australia for UNHCR (that, and the persuasive powers of our founding director, Naomi. I don’t know how anyone can refuse her anything…).

Of course, many millions of refugees endure far more difficult circumstances than mine, but I feel an affinity and compassion for what they have been through.

Alice was just 10 years old when she arrived in Australia and remembers the upheaval at the time. ©Supplied

Alice Spigelman

Alice has had a varied career in Australia, as a clinical psychologist and in various board and leadership roles with some of Australia’s most well-loved organisations. ©Supplied

I’m lucky to have enjoyed a varied career here in Australia, as a clinical psychologist and in various board and leadership roles with some of Australia’s most well-loved organisations. I’ve met so many incredible people, and I’ve learnt so much about what women can achieve when they take up the challenge of leadership and use their professional skills and knowledge to effect change.

Donations to the Leading Women Fund will change the lives of refugee women, providing them with the financial support they need to start rebuilding their lives.

But what I also love about the Fund is its other important purpose: to bring together donors and refugee women as equals, with a curiosity and openness to learn from each other’s experience.

When I arrived in Australia with my family, aged 10, I remember thinking: ‘oh, this sort of feels like the moon’. The quiet streets of my Sydney suburb were so different to the city I’d left behind. I didn’t share much of my experiences with anyone. I went to school and I had friends, but I felt I had to fit into their world; I couldn’t share mine.

The Connecting Worlds app, which enables Australian donors to text directly with Syrian women in Jordan, represents a unique opportunity for women to enter each other’s worlds. Our first ‘Founding 50’ donors will have the chance to trial the app and play a role in its creation.

In a way, though, the whole Fund is an opportunity for co-creation.

Through networking events, webinars and more, our community of dynamic professional women can share their skills and knowledge with each other to help shape our philanthropic approach.

There are now 80 million displaced people globally - that’s one per cent of the world’s population. Those of us in a position of privilege need to do all we can to help.

True leadership comes from believing in something passionately. I believe the Leading Women Fund is ground-breaking and that other organisations overseas will want to replicate what we achieve. Together, we have the chance to create a better future for women.

Please join us.

Join the Leading Women Fund Today

 

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