“Empathy was in my blood from a very young age.”

For Jo Cochran, the empathy and the anger she felt being witness to the unjust treatment of Indigenous people, and the inequality girls faced, made her feel like an outsider as a young girl.

“I came from a very conservative space. There was a lot of racism and discrimination. Everyone thought I was oversensitive,” Jo said.
As a teenager, Jo found belonging in volunteering at a riding school for children with disabilities. While she found joy in volunteering, it took her a while to see where her passion could lead her.

She was always curious about human behaviour and why people treat others the way they do. She initially pursued psychology studies, but her passion for social justice eventually led her to study social work.

This was a crucial turning point in Jo’s life. After completing her studies, she moved to London and worked with a team supporting people seeking asylum.

“This was 20 years ago, when asylum seekers were arriving in London after 10 days of travelling to safety across Europe,” she said.
“A young man from Iraq had just stumbled out of the lorry – tired, hungry and frightened. And I said to him, ‘how can I help?’
“All he wanted was to ring his dad to let him know that he was safe.”

“That moment of listening to him talk to his father, not understanding a word he’s saying, but the emotion in his body as he told his father that he had made it – they’re the moments.”

Now as Senior Manager of Multicultural Australia’s (MA) Humanitarian Settlement Program, she still vividly remembers her early years at MA when she was witness to a heart-warming display of human behaviour.

“I was attending the airport with a young [refugee] girl whose sister was arriving that day. They had not seen each other for 10 years. Then another young girl came out. The joy of seeing them hug, cry, jump up and down for who knows how long, and staring at each other [as if to say] ‘I can’t believe you’re here!’ was intense!”

“We get to reunite families. Not many of us get to do the work we really love and find purpose in it. I have been one of the lucky ones.”

Growing Up With Empathy And Curiosity
Pictured (L-R): Multicultural Australia Executive Assistant, Samantha Ryalls, Her Excellency the Honourable Dr Jeannette Young AC PSM, Governor of Queensland, and Jo-Ann Cochran at a Multicultural Month event at Government House