Matilda Branson (Frew, 2005 alumna)

Occupation: Gender and Organisational Development Officer, Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AusAid)

1-Matilda Branson

Past School Captain, 2005 alumna Matilda Branson.

 

Qualifications: BA of Arts (Anthropology), University of Melbourne.

Masters, Gender and Development, University of Melbourne.


What was it that appealed to you most about undertaking aid work?

I’ve always thought it is important to do what you love.  This is why I work in women’s rights, in the field of international development helping women and men to build their own capacities to help themselves and their communities. I strongly hold to oft-used words of wisdom, “To educate a girl is to educate a whole village,” that by creating young women leaders and strong feminist movements driven by their own context, that gender equality is most likely to succeed. A girl or boy, regardless of culture, has the choice and knowledge that they can be anyone and do anything they choose.  Aid work for me is a way to work in small ways to help this happen.

How did you progress in your career?

After a GAP year travelling and working, completing a Bachelor of Arts (Anthropology) at the University of Melbourne and volunteering in Australia and overseas, I started to realise aid work might be the field for me.   I completed a Masters in Gender and Development at the University of Melbourne, did some internships with Amnesty International and the United Nations and volunteered with women-focused NGOs in Mozambique and Brazil during university. I then began work in Nepal with a minority women’s NGO in a gender and organisational development role as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development. At this stage my next stop will be a similar role in Myanmar and continued study in counselling in trauma and gender-based violence to help me in my work.

Best bits of the job

It is crazy, and there is never a dull moment. I am lucky to meet interesting people doing inspiring things every day. One day will be spent swanking around shaking hands with Presidents and Ambassadors discussing how to amend a piece of legislation on domestic violence, the next day I might be unable to get to my office due to a mob of cows (which are sacred in Nepal) impossibly blocking the entrance to work.  Field trips can involve a two hour flight, an eight hour jeep ride on a “road” (read, goat track), then five hour hike, to talk to a community women’s group, to hear their needs, opinions and to get their feedback on how a project is going.  The best thing though, is to see individuals and the organisation I work with, strengthen, grow and reach their full potential.

1-Getting to work

What do you find most challenging in your role?

The most challenging aspect of my role is seeing poverty first-hand all the time, as well as cross-cultural communication and the million embarrassing cultural faux pas I commit on a daily basis. 

What happens on a normal day or week at work for you?

Every week is different.  This week I am working on a new strategic plan for my organisation, helping run a workshop on leadership development for community health volunteers in rural Nepal, and with March 8th recently held as International Women’s Day, I have been coordinating some great programs.  The things that do stay the same include the unsexy day-to-day admin stuff; reports, meetings and the like.

Any advice for others wanting to break into the industry…

Before deciding you want to work in aid work forever, decide exactly what area you would like to work in, do some volunteer work to decide if it really is for you and talk to any one you know about it.  Make sure you reflect on how you go being a long way from home, away from family, friends and partners, and what you need day-to-day to cope (my crucial coping mechanism is to always have access to a horse when living overseas).

What life skills did Girton provide you with which you still use today?

Girton definitely taught me to treat others as you would wish to be treated. Always have good table manners (a legacy of Boarding House dinner lessons from Ms Kurrle and Mr Jones). Keep your shoes shined.  Don’t be the one to let the small tragedies or injustices in life pass you by without saying anything; say something. Be yourself, try your best and always strive.

What are some of your strongest memories of Girton?

The canteen cookies, playing soccer out the back of A block, the Langans, supervised Prep sessions in the old Pub as a Boarder, being a part of Girton Singers singing in full force, falling down Morey building stairs, the lights at assemblies gleaming off Mr Jones’ head, despairing at using Trangia stoves on Year 9 camp, Mrs Higgs giving the piano what-for at Religious Assemblies playing Lord of the Dance, and Mrs MacCulloch’s history classes.