Long-serving UNICEF child protection and human rights campaigner, Amanda Bissex (A’87), will become the fifth recipient of the Geelong Grammar School Medal for Service to Society. Amanda will receive the award at the Geelong Grammar School & Geelong Grammar Foundation Black Tie Dinner, which will be held at the State Library of Victoria on Friday 17 May and incorporate the 11th James R. Darling Oration, to be presented by Professor Rufus Black (Glamorgan ’81), Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Tasmania.

Amanda has dedicated her career to child protection and providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. She is currently UNICEF Deputy Representative in China, having previously served as UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection in Laos, Thailand, Zambia, the Pacific and Indonesia, and as Regional Advisor on Child Protection at UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia in Nepal. Amanda began her career with CARE Australia and then worked with Australian Volunteers Abroad on landmine clearance programs in Cambodia and Laos before joining UNICEF, with an initial focus on child trafficking and the use of child soldiers in Myanmar.

“It just started from an initial curiosity and interest working for CARE Australia in Canberra, where I was inspired by the work of colleagues who were deployed to different countries overseas, and it just took on a life of its own,” Amanda said. “You know, I didn’t plan any of it. It just kind of happened. When you get to know and work with the communities and the governments and you get to see the impact of the work, then that’s really inspiring, that you can have that influence and can have an impact on individual children who otherwise don’t have a voice.”

Amanda is continually inspired by the potential of children and motivated to expand access to opportunities for children everywhere. “Last year I spent eight weeks in Afghanistan. I met a girl there who was about 8 years old. I asked her, ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ And she said, ‘I want to be a maths teacher because I love studying maths’. Under the Taliban, she only has probably another two years of education left, and then she’s not going to have access to education after that. So, to me it’s like, ‘well, what can we do to try and make a change so that in the future she can become a maths teacher if she wants to’, because it’s not fair that she should be left out. When you hear those stories or you talk to the kids and you know that kids are the same everywhere; they have the same dreams and ambitions and the same potential, right? Whether it is a girl in Afghanistan or a kid living in Papua in Indonesia, you see the potential in them. That’s what motivates me. These kids have so much potential, and they should have the same opportunities that the kids in Australia have. I came from a very fortunate background in terms of my access to education and opportunity, and if I can play a small part through my role at UNICEF in opening up opportunities for those kids to fulfill their potential, that’s what gives me joy.”

Amanda said that it was “very humbling” to be awarded the Geelong Grammar School Medal for Service to Society for her work. “I was really shocked,” she admitted. “It was a very big surprise and not something I could ever imagine or expect, to be honest, because I always think I’m just lucky to do the job I do, right? I mean, I’m just fortunate that I get to do this job, which is so fulfilling. It’s a recognition of me, but I think it’s also a recognition of my colleagues and the work that they do as well. Individually, I couldn’t make the same impact as I can being within an organisation like UNICEF, which has always kept its focus on protecting and promoting child rights and is very brave, I think in many situations, in taking this focus forward. At the moment, UNICEF is in Gaza and on the front lines, trying to provide food and medicine to children. We’re in Ukraine. We’re in Myanmar. We’re in all these difficult countries, working with the most disadvantaged children, and I just have huge admiration and respect for my colleagues. Any recognition of the work that I do is a reflection of the work that they do as well.”

The Medal for Service to Society is the highest honour the School can bestow upon a member of our community. The award was introduced in 2014 to recognise people who, by way of the excellence of their achievements in their chosen profession or career, have enhanced society within Australia or elsewhere. Amanda joins an eminent group of GGS Medal of Service to Society recipients, comprising Thai health and education activist Mechai Viravaidya (P’59), human rights lawyer and refugee advocate Dr Eve Lester (Fr’81), legendary Papua New Guinea obstetrician and maternal health advocate Professor Glen Liddell-Mola (P’64), and leading Australian philanthropist Tim Fairfax AC (M’64). Amanda, who holds a master’s degree in international relations from Deakin University, with a focus on human rights and humanitarian law, will be presented with her medal at the Geelong Grammar School & Geelong Grammar Foundation Black Tie Dinner at the State Library Victoria on Friday 17 May.

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