From her earliest years, Alissia Carroll has felt a compelling need to be with her fellow human beings who are suffering rather than turn a blind eye, writes Debra Vermeer.
This compassionate outlook has led her to think outside the square in tackling injustice and the systems that perpetuate it for some of the most afflicted people on earth.
Alissia, who has recently begun her official journey towards becoming a Good Samaritan oblate, is a human rights advocate, specialising in genocide, and her search to find new, more effective ways of tackling injustice has led her to undertake high-level study and research in a range of disciplines, including law, psychology and neuroscience.
“I’m a bit of a mixed bag,” she laughs. “I try to take a macro view of everything and to take a really holistic approach to why humans do what they do to one another, rather than continue to work in disciplinary silos.
“It’s based on our common humanity. We’re all bound to this earth and to each other, so I’m trying to bring together a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing some of the pressing issues we’re facing.”
Alissia says that having been raised in a family of faith and with a concern for social justice, her desire to be with those who are suffering started at a young age.
“Advocacy has never been separate from my everyday being,” she says. “I was one of those kids who would bring home people who were unfortunate enough to find themselves homeless.
“Naturally, I thought that the law would provide me with the tools to tackle justice. However, I realised very quickly that systems which authorities have created actually entrench and perpetuate injustice. Giving the appearance of justice is very different to manifesting justice. So, I moved to teaching and engaging in creative forms of advocacy.”
She says the area that frustrates and troubles her most is the human need for retribution and punishment.
“Human beings can be an extraordinarily cruel species,” she says. “We still engage in torture and kill those we deem to be different.
“I’ve spent many years researching why, asking what are the social conditions that give rise to atrocities, and looking at the phenomenon of ‘othering’.”
Alissia says there is still much to do because the systems in place are insufficient to address atrocities such as torture and genocide.
“We need to create a society where violence is no longer normalised and is viewed as it should be, archaic and a vestige of history.
“There is a way forward, but it requires us to humbly accept we are but custodians of the planet and each other.”
Alissia’s research, teaching, learning and advocacy has taken her to some of the most conflict-torn and dangerous places on earth.
She says that despite ample resources, there are 5.7 million children on the brink of starvation in 2021.
“Millions of children are dying in places such Syria, Yemen and Tigray and millions more do not have access to basic medical care. The pandemic has led to an increase in human suffering and human rights abuses across the globe,” she says.
“Torture and the death penalty are still utilised in many countries.”
The current situation in the Horn of Africa has all the hallmarks of an atrocity in the making, Alissia says.
“Babies are dying of acute malnutrition and there is widespread conflict and corruption. Things are really bad and human rights abuses are rife. Atrocities occur at times like these of social crisis because people are wrapped up in their own fight for survival and human rights organisations can drop the ball.”
Alissia says that being present with people who are facing horrific suffering can take a toll at a personal level, but she does see signs of hope.
“You do have some days where the weight of suffering is truly crushing,” she says.
“But I also know that we have the capacity to love and there is always hope, always a way forward – it’s just what we choose to do and how we choose to be in the world. Every one of us has a chance to bring more love into the world and more compassion.
“The way forward requires us to think in more creative ways. There are some brilliant minds working on these issues and open hearts that wish to see humanity find a different way of being in the world that is less exploitative and will promote flourishing of human and non-human animals alike.”
The path forward for Alissia also includes her journey to become a Good Samaritan oblate.
She says she was introduced to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan by the Benedictine Sisters at Jamberoo, where her family has had long links.
“My faith is my anchor and I was always drawn to Benedictine spirituality, mainly because of the peace and silence. It is a natural fit for me,” she says.
“The Good Sam Sisters are just marvellous human beings and I love them and I’m so grateful for their presence in the world. It’s such an honour to be a part of that community.
“Silence and solitude is so important to me, to really be able to have a place of peace in the world, so no matter what’s going on, that prayer anchors me and that spirit refills me amongst the suffering.
“I pray for grace every morning and to be an instrument of peace. I’m honoured and humbled to serve.”