Women in Philanthropy Part 1

Penny Jones has been consulting in post-earthquake Haiti with Plan International, Jessica Brown started a not-for-profit organisation to help disadvantaged teenage girls and Antonia Ruhl uses Amazonian medicine to treat fertility problems. Three women doing what they can, and more, to change the way the world works.

Penny Jones

Plan International

I was born in Canberra and I went to uni here, but I’ve spent the past four years living in Timor-Leste, and the past two months living in Haiti. I’ve been working with Plan International, a community development organisation that works with children, youth and their communities in the developing world to help them overcome poverty.

I’ve just moved back to Canberra, where I’m doing my Masters at the Australian National University, and also going overseas for short-term community development and emergency consultancy jobs such as the one with Plan International in Haiti.

Since returning to Canberra, I’ve discovered roller derby, and I now spend most of my free time on roller skates. (One of my ambitions is to learn to jump over my cousin. She isn’t so keen.) I also love reading – especially Dorothy Porter and Jeanette Winterson.

My Cause

Penny Jones

Most of us in Australia have access to such a high standard of living. We can drink the water straight from the tap, go to the doctor when we get sick, and find a job thanks to a good education. We can walk down the street pretty confident that we won’t get attacked, and (for the most part) speak openly and without fear about our religious and political beliefs and our sexual orientation.

Life is different for many people. In countries such as Timor-Leste or Haiti, lots of people don’t have access to clean drinking water or a household toilet. Many haven’t been to school, and even for those who have, finding a job isn’t easy. In other countries, people lack the fundamental freedoms that we almost take for granted. For example, in Malawi, a couple of men have just been imprisoned for holding a homosexual engagement ceremony. (As we published this piece, news came in the couple had been sentenced to 14 years jail. –Ed)

It isn’t fair for some people to enjoy human rights that people in poorer countries, or from marginalised social groups, can only dream of. That’s why I’ve chosen to work with Plan International, so that I can work alongside some of the world’s most disadvantaged people to help them make their lives better.

How I Got Involved

I moved to Timor-Leste in 2005 to work as a diplomat at the Australian Embassy. I quickly found myself meeting all sort of inspiring people, and learning more and more about this country’s fascinating history. Then in 2006 Timor exploded in a social and political crisis. More than 100,000 people fled their homes, and tent camps of displaced people mushroomed up all over Dili, where I lived. Some of the people living in these camps were people I knew. And I decided that I wanted to get directly involved in making things better.

Plan International was doing great work, supporting people in the camps by providing water, toilets, children’s educational and protection activities, and projects to help young people and women earn a living. So I took a job with Plan International, where we spent the next two years helping displaced people gradually return to their homes, and scaling up our programs in support of poor people in remote villages. Moving to Plan International was one of the best decisions of my life.

Most Unforgettable Moment

When I got to Haiti six weeks after the January 13 earthquake, children were not in school. Lots of school buildings had been damaged, many teachers and students killed, and many children were too afraid to go back to school. But in the two months I was in Haiti, Plan International staff built temporary tent classrooms and trained teachers on how to help children move beyond the terrible events they’d experienced.

By the time I left Haiti two months later, these tent schools were full of little kids in their uniforms, all obviously so excited to be back with their friends and their teachers, starting to live a normal life again. It was wonderful to know that Plan International had been able to work with the schools and the communities to achieve such a positive outcome for these children.

Further Information

  • Plan International is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organisations in the world that works to empower communities to overcome poverty. By actively involving children, and working at the grassroots with no religious or political agenda, Plan unites and inspires people around the globe to transform the world for children. Plan works in more than 49 countries. For more information about Plan go here.
  • Plan’s Haiti Earthquake appeal is still taking donations.
  • Plan has also just launched an education appeal with the slogan: Chalk is cheap, education is priceless. For more information go here.
  • Plan is running an ongoing campaign to draw attention to the plight of girls around the world and the powerful impact that investing more in their development will have on ending poverty. For more information go here.


Jessica Brown

Life Changing Experiences

I started out as a school teacher and realised I had a passion for making a difference in the lives of teenagers needing a helping hand. In 2003 I started up a not-for-profit organisation called The Life Changing Experiences Foundation.

Jessica Brown

Life Changing Experiences Foundation is a not for profit organization that raises money to aid at risk teenage girls to overcome their obstacles, many of whom have been impacted by poverty, sexual abuse, drugs, parental loss, and other horrific and unimaginable circumstances. Its main initiative was a 12 month mentoring support program called SISTER2sister. It matches disadvantaged teenage girls with successful women from the community who are there to support, nurture and guide them back on track.

I’m so passionate about this program because it works. Everyone deserves someone to turn to in times of need and sometimes it only takes one person to help turn another life around.

How I Got Involved

I started out as a school teacher and realised I had a passion for helping students who were challenged with circumstances out of their control. I started a mentoring program within the school I was teaching and had great success, so I started a business with a purpose and recruited all of the amazing women I knew of to be mentors. Sourcing funding was hard (and is an ongoing challenge). The amount of money we raise determines how many girls we can aid. Recent uncertain economic times have slowed us down with our plans for national expansion.

Most Unforgettable Moment

I’m lucky to have lots of these despite the many challenges in my work.

One occasion was when I had a phone call out of the blue from a teenage girl I had mentored a few years earlier and she called to tell me that she was planning on studying and was a great mum to her three babies who she had before her 16th birthday, to three different fathers. From a life of drug taking and multiple suicide attempts, she turned her life around. She thanked me for starting the program. “If it wasn’t for you I’m not sure where I would have ended up and my boys would have turned out like me”.

Further information

Visit Life Changing Experience’s official website.


Antonia Ruhl

Amazonian Medicine Woman

Referred to as ‘Australia’s only Amazonian Medicine Woman’, I was born in Brazil and since the age of eight, I showed great knowledge of the healing properties of plants and the ability to select, mix and grind the right herbs for a range of symptoms.

Whenever anyone in my small, Brazilian village became ill, I intuitively knew the right herbs to take to them that would help them to get better. Around the same time, I also started making tea concoctions and their effectiveness gave me something of a reputation – soon people caught wind that I might be able to help with their illness, and before I knew it, I didn’t have a childhood any more!  My life revolved around preparing herbal teas and applying herbal medicines!

Today, I work as a healer, author, and herbal medicine practitioner.

Antonia Ruhl

In 1990, my dream was realised when I opened my health clinic, Natural Stress Therapy, in Melbourne where I treat people with a range of illnesses and fertility issues.  I’m fortunate enough to have attracted worldwide attention for my unique fertility treatment.

The Amazon Fertility Program treats thousands of hopeful parents each year both in Australia and overseas. The treatment includes the special preparation and use of Brazilian herbal tea tonics to warm the kidneys and tonify the blood and reproductive organs. These “super” herbs undergo a unique energization process to increase the potency of the specially selected herbs.

How I Got Involved

I felt very early in my life that I was born to serve humanity, and fortunately, my grandfather, a chemist, recognised this, and took me to the Kayapo tribe, deep in the Amazon, where my great-grandmother had lived many years before.

Here, I studied with the paje – the tribal medicine man – who knew straight away that I had a gift for healing.  He trained me further over several years, particularly in natural fertility, and I learnt about the pressure points to stimulate fertility, which had been used for thousands of years by tribal societies to prepare the body for a healthy pregnancy.  I also learnt about the amazing healing properties of many Amazonian plants.

My journey hasn’t always been easy however!  Even as a young girl, I could see spirits, spirit guides and angels.  I can see the spirit of a baby before a mother becomes pregnant and the spirit of loved ones whether alive or disincarnate. I’ve had this ability since childhood, and remember being astonished and horrified to learn that not everyone could see what I could!

Most Unforgettable Moment

Training and living in the Amazonian Rainforest with the Kayapo tribe for three years.  When I arrived, the paje’s first words when he saw me were “You have come home”.  That’s exactly how I felt too.  I felt instantly at home in the jungle and found that I had a lot in common with the tribal people.

Further Information

To find out more about Antonia’s programs, and upcoming events, go here.

2 thoughts on “Women in Philanthropy Part 1

  1. I really liked this article, thanks for shedding some light on some great females who I otherwise wouldn’t have known of!

  2. Yes, I agree as well. This world could use more people like you ladies. Keep up the great service. And Penny stick with the Derby Skating – its a hoot!

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