November 30, 2018
Vivianne Dewalibi’s heart of gold
It’s not everyday you meet a the now Sunshine Coast local like Vivianne Dawalibi. Awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the United Nations, the Sudanese refugee now calls the Sunshine Coast home where she continues to spread her magic through her award-winning business.
The eldest daughter of Syrian parents, Vivianne Dawalibi was born and raised in northern Sudan. An extremely bright student, she graduated at the top of her school. However, her desire to attend university in the capital of Sudan was not accepted by her father and Vivianne took a position at the local school as a teacher’s aid for children with special needs.
“Growing up, my family was very much in the minority,” says Vivianne. “We were one of only two Syrian Christian families living in a small town. I went to a private Catholic school, we were very conservative and I was very protected.”
It wasn’t until Vivianne met the love of her life, Nubar, who she later married, that many opportunities opened up for her.
“I married a very good Armenian man, a very noble man. I moved from that small town to the capital and that gave me the opportunity to work with the United Nations,” says Vivianne.
“I lived a very happy life with him for 20 years, we have a wonderful son together. Unfortunately I lost Nubar in 2002 to a heart condition. All that I have achieved is because of him; his love, his support, his trust in me.”
It was a bookkeeping course Vivianne completed by correspondence while doing her HSC, that gave her the start she needed with the United Nations. But it wasn’t long before her natural ability with numbers was recognised and she was promoted to the finance department.
“To be honest, I always felt a bit little because everyone I was working with had degrees and masters, but my work has proved my ability and I have been given such incredible opportunities,” she says.
Vivianne’s first opportunity to realise her dream of moving from behind a desk and into the field presented itself with a huge influx of refugees into Sudan, and she grabbed it with both hands.
“It was a huge operation, Sudan is a big country. The government was keen to get the money from the United Nations, but didn’t care much about the people. I had to coordinate the entire operation. I had to identify their needs, tender the work, and work with lots of other agencies. I didn’t know it at the time but they were assessing my work and I was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize,” says Vivianne.
After this operation, Vivianne was promoted to administration and from there went into the field as an operations assistant.
“It created a desire for me to grow and become an expatriate. At that time Sudan was going through a change of government, it was a tough time, I wanted a way to take my family outside to start a new life in different countries.”
Vivianne went on to manage various emergency operations in Kenya, Somalia, Armenia, Belarus, Bangladesh and finally in Bosnia Herzegovina during the Kosovo conflict.
Upon returning to Sudan from an overseas mission, Vivianne’s husband was arrested due to government reform. Thankfully, he was released some time later, and a serendipitous meeting with an Australian councillor with the UN, who was visiting Sudan at the time, led her and her family to seek refugee status in Australia.
Vivianne and her family arrived in Sydney in February 1994. However, they had not long arrived when Vivianne received a call from the UN headquarters in Geneva offering her a field officer position in Armenia.
“I was thrilled and even though my husband had just arrived in the country of his dreams, he said, ‘Vivianne this was your dream, you have worked hard all your life to become an expatriate, you must go’. It was an amazing kindness that opened many opportunities for us. I was there for four years, it was the most incredible experience.”
Not surprisingly, Vivianne received yet another prestigious award for her outstanding work in Armenia.
“I looked after the orphans there. It was so hard, these are beautiful babies thrown into horrible conditions in harsh winter and I really couldn’t leave them. Many were there because of poverty so they could get access to food and clothing. I received a Unesco Peace Prize for the work I did there,” she says.
Unfortunately, Vivianne’s beloved husband had been experiencing ill health for some time and after a three-year struggle with a heart condition, passed away in October 2002. Vivianne resigned from the UN and the next few months proved to be extremely difficult.
“I was so devastated,” she says. “Until that time I thought everything would be okay. I resigned from the UN and that was the hardest decision I ever made. That is when the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) happened. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know I was depressed but I really tried to find ways to overcome it, I had lost all joy in life. I joined a program on self development and it helped me to build inner strength.”
Some years later, Vivianne and her son, Homer, decided to relocate to Queensland and life started to look a lot brighter. An opportunity came up on the Sunshine Coast and in July 2004 Vivianne purchased the Caloundra Bulk Billing Surgery, a newly established business at the back of the former Caloundra Beach Pharmacy.
“It was only small back then, two consult rooms, there was nothing else,” she says. “Now we have eight rooms. The demand is high because we bulk bill 100 per cent. It really is a mini hospital offering lots of different services.”
Vivianne has won a string of awards for her work over the past 14 years, but despite her success, her passion to help others has never waivered.
“My mission has always been to serve and to help other people,” she says. “I believe people can make such a difference.
“I am now becoming a developer with a goal to provide affordable housing for single mums, the elderly, anyone who needs it.”
Despite her incredibly diverse career and vast experience, Vivianne’s advice to others for continued growth and success
“When I realise something is not good for me, I cut the cord and free myself. I say, thank you for the experience but it doesn’t serve me now and I cut the cord. I do it all the time. It helps me to stay alert and always check in with myself.”
Wise words to live by.
Vivianne’s highest achievements
• Nobel Peace Prize Certificate (1981)
• UNESCO Peace Prize (1995)
• 2011 Professional Business of the Year – Caloundra Chamber of Commerce
• 2011 Telstra People Choice Award (finalist)
• 2013 Multicultural Excellence Awards
• 2013 Sunshine Coast Business Awards (finalist)
• 2013 Sunshine Coast Multicultural Award