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Compassion and Leadership: 2015 Lifeline Women of Spirit Awards

Beatrice Smith

It’s not often enough that women who are compassionate, inspiring leaders are celebrated for their triumphs.

The 2015 Lifeline Women of Spirit Awards, however, will do just this by immortalising nominees for their achievements in the face of adversity. Matt Heffernan, Director of Commercial Operations for Lifeline, says that “the beautiful thing about the Women of Spirit Awards is that it’s not seen as a fundraising event, it’s an awareness and a promotion of, I guess, the human spirit and the incredible things that we, as humans, can achieve.”

Two of the former winners are Niki Van Buuren, who was burnt on 66% of her body during the 2003 Canberra bushfires, and Penny Leemhuis who, bedridden with back injuries after an accident on Mt. Ainslie, has now conquered both Mt. Kosciusko and Mt. Crackenback. Matt says the awards are all about the recognition of inspiring Canberra women.

“In particular, recognising women who themselves has overcome adversity and through overcoming adversity have decided they would try to do their best to impact other people’s lives and are out there helping other people in the community, whether that be through fundraising or community service or education or mentoring,” says Matt.

“It’s an inspiring event that demonstrates the power of the human spirit.”

When asked what traits a Lifeline Woman of Spirit might embody, Matt is warm and empathetic; “leadership is certainly one [trait]; being able to talk about doing good in the community is one thing but being able to go out there and implement your vision and goals is another,” he says.

“We certainly have had nominations [of] some incredible women over the last few years who are survivors of domestic violence or health issues whether it be cancer is a significant accident – survivors of some pretty traumatic circumstances. Women who, through overcoming adversity, are using what they’ve learnt through those experiences to mentor other women; whether it be younger women or women their own age,” says Matt. The list goes on: “Leadership, inspiration, they’re compassionate women,” Matt pauses, “in a very non-corny way they’re the unsung heroes of our community.”

When I suggest that Lifeline’s choice of guest speaker – Deborah Swain, a former Police Officer who strived to support her husband who suffered from PTSD and depression – certainly must be a choice that embodied these traits, Matt agrees wholeheartedly.

“We had [Deborah’s husband, Alan] speak at our recent Gala dinner. Alan was a high ranking Police Officer and had some pretty traumatic experiences himself and Deb – rather than letting him go into police custody in a mental health facility – she took him on and worked through all his issues with him. They ended up sailing around the world together just to prove that they could do whatever they set their minds to.”

2015 Lifeline Women of Spirit Award Winners

The ninth annual Lifeline Canberra Women of Spirit Awards luncheon awarded Gay Evans the major award and recognised Sarah Mamalai the Rising Women of Spirit.

Nominated by their peers, the two incredible women were assessed on the details of their outstanding community work while showing incredible resilience in the face of significant adversity in their lives.

Speaking at the event, Lifeline Canberra CEO Ms Carrie-Ann Leeson said it was humbling to be in the company of such incredible and inspirational women who give hope to their communities.

“All our nominees are incredibly resilient people who have faced significant challenges in their lives and are now on an amazing journey, making a positive difference in the lives of those around them,” said Ms Leeson.

“We thank each of our nominees for their selfless commitment to improving the lives of others and are very proud to provide an opportunity for these women to be recognised in this way.”

2015 Women of Spirit Award Recipient: Gay Evans

Gay Evans has persevered through countless challenges in her life. Overcoming disability, sickness, grief and marriage difficulties, Gay has used her personal struggles and experiences to help others, and has reached countless people in her lifetime.

Surprised by her achievement, Mrs Evans said that while she was delighted to receive the award, there were seven other very worthy nominees who also deserve high-praise for their efforts.

“I am just one of many women in the ACT and region who go about their business, trying to make a difference in society.”

Mrs Evans thanked her life-long partner John for his unwavering support of her, and the amazing journey they have been on together.

2015 Rising Women of Spirit Award Recipient: Sarah Mamalai

Battling brain cancer for eight years, Sarah Mamalai has made it into the tiny 5% bracket of long-term survivors. Sarah has gone on to raise over $300,000 for brain cancer research.

Ms Mamalai was lost for words but managed to compose herself to talk about the driving force behind her passion for brain cancer research.

“I was frightened of public speaking before, but once you have faced death it pales in comparison.”

“I have lost a number of very close friends to brain cancer so this award is for those inspirational women also, they are with me in everything I do,” said Ms Mamalai.

Pictured: Guests at the 2015 WoSA launch party at Bond Hair Religion, courtesy of www.lifeline.org.au


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author