Lucia Cipullo

BA '08, MIntLaw '10

In her own words, Lucia Cipullo shares her journey from her time at ANU to where she is now:

When I enrolled at the ANU I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I just finished a GAP year in London, working as a teaching assistant at a private boy's school.  I spent my high school years thriving in musical theatre, drama and singing classes. I thought I would go to a performing arts school, and pursue a career on stage.  But the sensible side in me (and my parents!) suggested I should go to university first, 'just in case'.  Turns out, my 'just in case' decision to go to ANU literally changed my life.

It's been almost five years to the day since I graduated from ANU and it's amazing to think how much I have packed into my life since that time.  I first enrolled in a Bachelor of Security Analysis specializing in South East Asia and learning Bahasa Indonesia.  I thought it would be great to do something different, but very quickly I realized it was too specific for me, so I changed to a Bachelor of Arts majoring in International Relations. Something more generic, I thought, while I figured out what I wanted to do.  I laugh to myself when I think of this decision, as I sit in my office in Bangkok, where I now work as the Regional Disaster Law Delegate for South East Asia, at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). In fact, Indonesia is one of the countries I cover, and I travel there regularly. If only I'd persisted with those Bahasa classes!

I've known since I was a child that I wanted to travel and work across the world.  I was born in Hong Kong to Dutch and Italian parents. I have dual Australian-Italian citizenship. I am sixth generation Chinese.  My mother and grandmother were born and grew up in Indonesia.  It's in my blood, so to speak, and studying at ANU gave me an incredible springboard on which to launch into what has so far been an incredible career.

Once I finished my Arts Degree, I took a 6 month travel break through Europe, the Middle East, the US and Canada. I was still recovering from major surgery I had to have on my legs, which had left me bed-ridden and unable to walk for 6 months. I had a lot time to think, and to figure out what I really wanted to do.  After my travels, I decided to come back to ANU and do a Masters in Public International Law.  By this stage, I still had my sights set on a career abroad, working for an international organization, and actually being able to use my degree.  I had grown very passionate about humanitarian affairs, was interested in human rights, refugee issues and humanitarian law - and knew I had to put in some hard yards to get to where I wanted to be. 

Undertaking my law degree at the ANU was probably one of the toughest and most stressful periods of my life, but it was also amazing because of the people I met, the things that I learned, and the opportunities it gave me.  I did several internships, was working part-time at the Academy of Social Sciences, and volunteering for Australian Red Cross.  However, it was one opportunity in particular, to study in Geneva, Switzerland, that changed my life.

Geneva is a hub for the United Nations and humanitarian organizations in Europe.  I went there in 2010 as part of a selective programme run by the ANU College of Law, where we had meetings and classes at some of the biggest international humanitarian organizations in the world, including the United Nations and the Red Cross.  I worked hard during that time, to make the most of the different people I was meeting, the stories I was hearing, the lessons I was learning. 6 months later, with my law degree in hand, I was doing an internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, after which I moved to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It was here that I started working on something called 'International Disaster Response Law' or 'IDRL'.  I remember looking at the website before my interview and thinking that I didn't know too much about this area of law, but I knew the Red Cross, and the amazing work they have been doing for so many years around the world.

Four and a half years later, I am now managing the IFRC's work in what is now known as 'disaster law' for South East Asia, one of the most disaster prone regions in the world.  This job has taken me to Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Fiji, the Maldives and Nepal.  Very quickly, I became an expert in an emerging area of law that is so important and so necessary in many parts of this world.  Bearing witness to recent large-scale disasters, such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and the recent earthquake in Nepal, there is no doubt that the intensity and frequency of natural disasters is on the rise.  What many people don't realise is the necessity of laws and regulations to help reduce the risk of disasters, minimize their impact, and ensure that disaster affected people get the right aid, at the right time.

I am part of team of lawyers across the world, known as the IFRC's 'Disaster Law Programme', and together we work with governments, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and partners such as the United Nations to make sure that states have strong 'disaster laws' and regulations in place to prevent, manage and respond to natural disasters.  I am not usually the person you will find on the frontlines of an emergency, handing out food parcels or providing medical assistance - but what I do in the background helps form the foundation of disaster management work across this region.  

When I look back at my time at ANU, I am so grateful that I had an education that inspired me, that I am actually using in my everyday work, and that also allows me to give back and contribute to a cause bigger than myself.

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