A peace worker and Development Manager with the Uniting Church in Australia’s Uniting International Mission (UIM) has been nominated for Australian of the Year.
Joy Balazo is a former nun who has spent the past 25 years working in the Asia Pacific region, providing peace building and reconciliation programs to some of the world’s most conflicted countries.
Her tireless energy has had a significant impact on and provided benefit to the peoples of countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, North East India, Burma, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands.
Joy’s many outstanding achievements have included a role as the Human Rights Violation Spokesperson for the Philippine Resource Centre in Australia; the establishment of the Philippine Christian Forum on the issue of human rights; and campaigning for legislation to punish Australian paedophiles involved in child abuse overseas.
Added to that, she organised a letter-writing campaign to Australian companies doing business in Burma; a fact-finding mission in the Philippines to see first-hand the countless lives affected by Australian mining operations; and a peace gathering for 700 women in Bougainville, PNG.
In 2001, Joy launched the Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) program, which has since engaged thousands in grass-roots peace making in the Asia Pacific.
Joy’s efforts and the YAP network are achieving results in the region where many traditional and legislative approaches have failed, including in the troubled PNG highlands; government departments, businesses and community groups have recognised and responded to the efforts of YAP, with improved understandings and relationships.
Joy said her vision was to change the attitudes of young people susceptible to conflict and war instead of a culture of peace, by establishing genuine understanding of and respect for people’s differences in culture, religions, gender, education and politics.
“People always ask, what makes you do it?” said Joy. “Not because I want to go into these dangerous places, that’s far from my mind.
“I want to plant the seed of peace. You have to plant it somewhere where it is needed and of course there is always a risk when you do that,” Joy said.
Born in the Philippines, Joy Balazo became a nun but was eventually unable to reconcile her comfortable convent life with her work in the poorest slums of Manila.
It was after she became a teacher that Joy experienced first-hand the human rights violations, suffering and shattered villages under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law. Thus began her work towards bringing peace and justice to the world.
Joy has been an Australian citizen since 1994.
Photo : Peace worker and Development Manager with Uniting International Mission Joy Balazo