An invaluable source of support for new migrants, and cultural education for the wider community, it is no wonder Ebenezer Banful has been recognised for his contributions to the community.
The 66-year-old has been named ACT's Senior Australian of the Year for his ongoing efforts to promote multiculturalism, while helping Australians understand more about Ghanaian culture and values.
Ebenezer first came to Australia to study classics in 1983, before successfully applying to stay on as a migrant.
He started his career in Australia working for ACT Health, before being appointed to a senior position with the Department of Social Services, and was then appointed the Chief Minister's Senior Policy Advisor on Multicultural Affairs in 1992.
An accredited lawyer who has also spent a significant amount of time working in immigration law, Ebenezer has held numerous board roles with various ACT multicultural organizations.
The first of these appointments came when he was approached to serve on the board of the Migrant Resource Centre of Canberra/Queanbeyan (now known as Migrant and Refugee Centre Settlement Services) while still working at ACT Health.
He takes a lot of pleasure from helping migrants acclimatise to their new home country.
"(It's just about) assisting people to settle and be integrated into their community and have a good life in the community, to be part of it, build good networks and navigate the system," he said.
In 1989 he was approached to investigate the need for the establishment of a support service to assist survivors of torture and trauma.
After chairing a meeting and determining there was a need, he helped to establish Companion House and set about trying to secure funding.
He was able to secure a $20,000 grant, found the organisation office space and served as chair for its first four years.
He described some of the stories shared at the centre as "very bad", although he is not one of the centre's counsellors and did not learn the full details until he read about them later.
Ebenezer said it feels good to know the organisation is making a real difference in the lives of those who need help.
"The service is there and it's helping a lot. It's grown to the point that there is an almost daily request for assistance," he said.
"When we started, we only had counsellors, now we've got a medical system, doctors and a whole lot of support services that weren't there, so it's making a difference."
Ebenezer's community work hasn't just revolved around helping people from newly arrived communities, he has also gone to great lengths to educate the wider community about Ghanaian culture.
He established Radio Ghana Hour - a program on community station 2xxfm which is focused on Ghanaian life and culture, and still serves as program coordinator and one of the program's three presenters.
The program serves as an information service for the Ghanaian community, providing useful tips on various services, while also inviting representatives from various groups to speak on a range of topics such as health problems and social issues.
It also aims to educate the wider public about various aspects of Ghanaian culture which Australians of non-African backgrounds might not understand.
By way of example, Ebenezer said one program was dedicated to Ghanaian naming systems, which can be confusing to people who are not familiar with the culture.
Surnames are determined through a matrilineal system, which means Ghanaians do not always share the surnames of their biological fathers.
First names can also be confusing to those unfamiliar with the culture. Ghanaians are given a name based on the day of the week they were born. While some Ghanaians also have Christian names, many do not, meaning in some cases, children from the same family may share the same first name.
Ebenezer said the program also provides travel information to encourage tourism to Ghana and includes music. Ebenezer tends to play all Ghanaian music to give listeners an additional taste of the culture.
While Ebenezer doesn't do what he does for the accolades, he described receiving the award as "a great honour."
The other ACT Australian of the Year award winners were:
- Australian of the Year: Build Like A Girl founder Joanne Farrell
- Young Australian of the Year: Australian Youth Affairs Coalition co-chair Caitlin Figueiredo
- Local Hero: ACT Reconciliation Council co-chair Selina Walker
For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards click here.
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