Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC delivers Veronica Fynn Bruey her PhD in July as she holds son. Photo by Lannon Harley.
Journey of resilience
Dr Veronica Fynn Bruey, PhD’19, has harnessed astonishing adversity to pursue a vocation of academic advocacy.
First, a huge thank you to Lannon Harley for capturing the amazing image of me receiving my PhD on 19 July 2019 from Chancellor Gareth Evans as I cradled my son. The expression on my face says it all. It has been a long time coming.
It all started in this tiny West African country of Liberia. Liberia is reputed for being the oldest republic in Africa, founded by former slaves from the United States in the early 1800s, that was not colonised. In 2006, Liberia elected the first female president in Africa. The first African Head of State, former President Charles Ghankay Taylor, to be convicted of war crimes pursuant to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) is also from Liberia. It is Liberia’s history of war and violence that accentuates my humble beginnings. Born into poverty and raised by a single mother of eight was not challenging enough. The civil war in Liberia struck in 1989, plugging my family into forced displacement both internally and internationally.
After surviving three years of Liberia’s civil war, I was one of a million displaced Liberians who was very lucky to get a spot on the deck of the Ghanaian Peacekeeping vessel as an evacuee. For nine years, I did not only survive refugeehood with all the vulnerabilities of physical and sexual abuse that go with it, but it would take 13 years before I laid eyes on my mother and siblings again. In a nutshell, these experiences drive my desire to be an academic-advocate and my unwavering passion for gender justice, especially for girls and women survivors of war and violence.
The trajectory to completing my doctorate in pursuit of becoming a full professor has been unsympathetic, fierce, and dehumanising, albeit dotted with life-changing opportunities. First it was the Ghanaian Peacekeepers in Liberia. Then, it was the government of Ghana that afforded me the possibility to earn my ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels and my first university degree. Enter the World University Service of Canada, which opened the doors, windows, and several crevices to education. Because then I was able to obtain four more academic degrees before coming to Australia: A Bachelor of Arts, University of British Columbia (2004); a Master of Science in Public Health, University of Nottingham (2006); a Master of Laws, Osgoode Hall Law School (2009); and a Bachelors in Law, University of London (2016) which I concurrently completed alongside the PhD at ANU.
Before coming to ANU in February 2013, I emptied my entire savings account to pay, arriving in Canberra with two suitcases, three months' rent, and $600, which my friend, Michael Flowers, had generously given me.
I doubted whether I would be able to continue my studies after one year.
The first bad luck happened when I lost my purse and passport in transit in Hawaii. Thank you to an honest person who found them and handed them in at the information desk.
Barely six weeks in Canberra, I became homeless and started sleeping in my office. Eternal gratitude to Melanie and Michael Blair for providing food and a warm place to lay my head at night. And thanks also to my supervisor, Professor Michael Dodson, for helping with the administrative issues during my fieldwork in Liberia in 2014.
These examples illustrate a few of the challenges I faced during my time at ANU. Throughout my life, many have contributed to my success. My mother, Josephine S. Harmon Fynn, my husband Doug, and our gorgeous little Prince Charming are reasons for my existence.