Activists honoured at 2017 AGM

Dec 21, 2017

Many people have supported Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA throughout its more than 30 year history and at this year’s AGM two activists were honoured for their contributions.

Peter Jennings, former Executive Officer, and Ruth Ellis, WA APHEDA Activist Group Coordinator, received awards for their commitment and dedication spanning decades.

Peter Jennings – Cliff Dolan Memorial Award

Kate Lee and Angelo Gavrielatos with Peter Jennings (right).

Peter Jennings began his long-term commitment to Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA in January 1988 when he was employed by Helen McCue as the  Education Officer. He came to APHEDA as a committed activist for global justice most notably in the Philippines having lived in Mindanao for 10 years closely experiencing the struggles for justice and equality in that country and where he met his wife Tess.  He joined a small team of staff including Helen, Phillip Hazelton and Dorothy Ingram. His brief was to educate Australian unionists on understanding development issues and the rights of refugees and APHEDA’s work in supporting liberation movements. It was the middle of the Hawke government and APHEDA received strong support from Foreign Ministers Bill Haydon and later Gareth Evans. It was also a period of increasing financial support from unions.

Peter was a crucial part of the small APHEDA team during the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s, when he moved into the role of Fundraising Officer.

At this time, APHEDA’s funding  was in some years more than 90% sourced  from government aid program grants. Peter’s job was to start turning that around. Build the funding base from within the trade union movement through credit card and payroll deductions from supporters, and to build connections between trade unions and individual projects though the Skillslink program.

In 2002 Peter took on the role of Executive Officer. As the Executive Officer, Peter oversaw coordination of the Australian trade union movement’s response to the Aceh after it was devastated by the Christmas Day tsunami in 2004. As Peter says in our book, “The sheer extent of the devastation, the sheer extent of the suffering, was just unbelievable.” APHEDA started rebuilding projects, water sanitation and cleaning water wells, health skills training, as well as holding financial appeals where hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to support the reconstruction effort.

Peter also oversaw the expansion of APHEDA’s efforts in Timor Leste which had begun in 1998. Under his watch the focus in Timor was on collaborating with Australian trade unions particularly the CFMEU in helping to build a training centre, to raise the dangers of asbestos in Timor and also train on OHS. A range of development programs were consolidated, Unions began to form and Australian union links were strengthened. Australian unions helped local unions negotiate the first Labour Code.

The savage funding cuts experienced by APHEDA under the Howard government were a significant challenge for the organisation and led to alternative fundraising responses led first by Phillip Hazelton and continued by Peter Jennings from 2002. These efforts to build an individual activist membership of APHEDA and scale-up union support continue today.

Peter retired in 2013 from the Executive officer position but has continued to volunteer. His leadership, loyalty and tireless commitment is recognised by us all.

Ruth Ellis – Solidarity Award

Ruth Ellis (2nd from right) with APHEDA WA activists

Ruth’s connection to Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA stretches back decades. First as a member, then as a volunteer and now as an activist.

Ruth has a special connection with Vietnam after an initial visit she made to Hanoi in 2009.

She knew she had to return, but it would take five years before she had an opportunity to do so.

In 2014 she made the journey back to Vietnam as part of the Australian Volunteer International program.

She would go on to spend 2014 and 2015 as an English Teacher trainer and was joined by her partner Peter Stokes who volunteered with APHEDA’s Hanoi office during the same period.

Ruth also supported APHEDA’s work while in Vietnam when in a personal visit to Korea in 2015, helped Laos and Vietnam link with the International Women’s Development Agency.

The friendships developed and partnerships APHEDA has with projects in Vietnam inspired her to establish a greater sense of solidarity through the Western Australian activist group upon her return.

Ruth was instrumental in advocating and assisting with the first WA APHEDA annual dinner in 2016.

This year she was selected as Coordinator of the WA APHEDA activist group and was the driver in establishing and enacting the 2017 action plan.

One of the actions involved a second annual dinner in October which attracted more than 100 people, raised more than $8400 and recruited 17 new members.

She is currently a member of the Teachers’ Union international committee and in her role as APHEDA Coordinator has worked with Unions WA and the Unions WA international committee.

Those who have worked with Ruth describe her as honest, hard-working, selfless, committed and a truly remarkable activist.

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