Dr Annie Sparrow

1985 Collegian


After specialising in paediatrics, I did stints inside the Woomera detention centre in South Australia in 2001, where asylum seekers were held.

It was a heart-wrenching experience seeing the infants fail to develop and 13-year-old boys sewing their lips together out of despair.

I looked up the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a fellow doctor, Paul Carroll, and I stood up to John Howard's government and went public.

Speaking truth to power and standing up for the underdog became imperative for us.

I'm still happy that we acted, even though we were personae non gratae with the government for quite some time.

But the best thing I have done, I think, was giving the world 'The Drawings'.

In 2005, on my way to refugee camps in war-torn Chad and Darfur, I brought along crayons and paper.

Kids love to draw and the images of the war crimes they had witnessed spilled out on the pages.

When an eight-year-old child gave me a colourful scribbling, I asked her why the figure had a red face and what the bright flower-like object was.

The explosion of colour was her home being blown up and the lady in her drawing had been shot in the face. Too sad for words and this is just one of more than 600 drawings collected.

The International Criminal Court asked me to introduce them as evidence of the crimes of war that the government of Sudan was committing.

Today I am living in New York. I work with Human Rights Watch and married the chief of the organisation, Ken Roth, in Paris last year.

My advice to others is to be persistent. If you can't find a paid position doing what you want, volunteer and get good at it anyhow.

Have the courage of your own convictions. Stand up for the underdog, in our great Australian tradition.

On MLC: Working with refugees and encountering hostility, xenophobia and distrust, I was struck by how much MLC instilled a kind of take-for-granted acceptance of other cultures and races.