Working for change
Chantelle Ogilve-Ellis doesn’t count on change – she creates it. The theology graduate has worked tirelessly to make a difference for asylum seekers in Sydney.
Completing a masters degree in theology proved to be a complicated juggling act for this busy mum.
“I have two children, including one I had towards the end of my masters,” Chantelle said.
“When I came back from maternity leave, my son was one, my husband had just taken a scholarship in Taiwan, and I was back at work and trying to study as well. It was crazy!”
During her postgraduate studies, Chantelle was working as a justice and peace promoter for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
“I really enjoyed stepping back from work to reflect on what I was learning at uni – I purposely chose units that allowed me to do this,” she said. “I liked taking the time to write an essay about spirituality and democracy, for example, and I was able to connect the texts I was reading to what I was doing at work in a much more meaningful way.”
Chantelle is now working as a community organiser for the Sydney Alliance – a coalition of civil society organisations.
“We partner with a diverse group of organisations, from the Catholic Diocese of Paramatta to the Muslim Women’s Association. But we also work with trade unions like the National Tertiary Education Union and community organisations that provide settlement services,” she said. “We come together to work for the common good of Sydney on campaigns about issues like housing affordability or renewable energy.”
Fighting for asylum seekers
Campaigning for people seeking asylum is the focus of Chantelle’s role at the Sydney Alliance, and she has worked relentlessly to enact change with compassion.
“One of my latest campaigns was about persuading the state government to give transport concessions to people seeking asylum,” she said.
“We were hearing stories from asylum seekers who were not receiving enough support to live in an expensive city like Sydney, and people were having to choose between eating or going to the doctor because of a $10 train trip.
“We built a campaign across our organisation, working in parallel with the Asylum Seeker Interagency. Together, we all asked the Transport Minister and Premier to give asylum seekers the dignity of being able to get around Sydney – and they said yes! It was such a big win for us and for the refugee sector as a whole.”
Pushing through barriers
In spite of this success, Chantelle has had to face many challenges in her role.
“The biggest obstacle is hopelessness. There are people who have cared about asylum seekers for a long time and they feel like there’s nothing they can do about it and things are getting worse,” she said.
“Then there are the asylum seekers themselves who are on the brink of giving up when they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
"Giving people a sense that something can be done and we can persist and build power together to change things is the real task.
“When I was studying my masters, theology to me was about understanding the meaning of what we do in worship, learning when to take action and how to treat people. My studies allowed me to think more deeply about asylum seekers and what it means to be part of a church that follows Jesus, who said ‘however you treat them is how you treat me.’”
Faith in her career
Chantelle’s deep connection to her faith has been reflected in all of her career choices.
“It calls me to do two things. One is to be in community with people.
"I really value relationships because that’s how we experience God most of the time.
"The second is to stand with people who are on the margins of society as that’s what Jesus did.
“I feel very privileged that I’ve been able to find ways to get paid to do that, but it’s something that I think I’d be called to do regardless. Being able to find work in this area has given me the freedom to really give my time to it. This is how I give back. It’s my way of expressing what I believe.”
Interested in learning more about theology? Explore postgraduate programs at ACU.