When I grow up
Nine-year-old Hayma* has big ambitions for when she grows up. "I want to become a fashion designer, an artist, a babysitter and I love gardening."
 

Her determination to succeed is born of more than personal dreams. “My dad is the only one with a job and when I’m older, I want to help him. I wish to have three jobs to support them,” says Hayma who was born in Myanmar-Burma and now lives with her parents, auntie and siblings in Melbourne’s west. 
 
She is a confident and animated girl who says, almost unbelievably, that she didn’t speak at all when she was just a few years younger. But Hayma attributes attending the after-school educational programs of St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies Victoria) for three years, with really helping her to develop confidence and find her feet in Australia. Now she even helps interpret for her parents when required.  
 
“When I first went to the reading club, I felt a little bit shy but after a few weeks, I got used to it. You get to play and borrow books and learn and have fun there. I like to read books that are interesting to me, like The Baby-Sitter's Club series”. 
 
“My reading has improved since being at the club. I learned that you can always be learning things and not be scared,” says Hayma. “I’ve got confidence from the reading group. In Grade 2 I started making friends.” 
 
Hayma heard about the Vinnies’ education program, which runs as a reading club, at school and first attended in Grade 1. When the programs went online at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, she attended three online sessions each week! The programs are framed around a growth mindset and student-led learning with volunteers meeting each child ‘where they are at’.  
 
Volunteers provide support on a crucial one-to-one basis that makes such an impact to a child’s progress but is something that teachers at school just don’t get time to provide. In certain programs volunteers read with students or work through issues that they might be having with homework. The programs are fun and are designed to develop the all-important social and emotional skills and confidence that research has shown underpins all other learning. 
 
Dr Linette Etheredge, who leads Vinnies Victoria’s Education programs, says: “Hayma has been a really dedicated attendee at our programs and she has made great progress. Over the past three years her reading has improved enormously but more importantly, her confidence, willingness to contribute, and desire to try new things has become stronger. These things underpin all her learning and have really help her engagement at school. It’s so rewarding to see the benefits of the tailored, one-to-one work our volunteers do with the young people in our education programs and reading clubs.” 
 
For students who don’t quite fit the learning model at school, one-to-one support can get them ‘switched on’ to a particular subject they might have been struggling to develop skills and confidence in. So often we see students who initially think they aren’t good at a subject, but with support, encouragement and patience from our volunteers, they end up loving it and then excelling at it!  
 
“Our dedicated volunteers are passionate about learning and they are often subject experts. At the eight Vinnies' education programs now running across Victoria, we welcome all students into the program. Our client survey results indicate that we are making a real difference to their academic capacity and life in general, by building skills and confidence,” says Dr Etheredge.

In addition, Vinnies' education programs supported many young people to participate in schooling during the pandemic by gifting them a laptop. 
 
When home schooling commenced in 2020 due to COVID restrictions, Hayma didn’t have access to a computer so Vinnies gifted her and two of her siblings with reconditioned laptops. 50 laptops were provided by one of our valued corporate contributors, energy company Jemena – so Hayma and her siblings along with many other families, were gifted a laptop so they could all continue their schooling at home. Now that Hayma is back at school, Vinnies’ programs will focus on helping students like her make up for the precious time and social and emotional development that has been lost due to the lockdowns and school closures.  
 
Hayma said she was keen to get back to the classroom: “I missed school and my classmates!” Going forward if she does find anything at school difficult, she knows where to turn for support.

“It’s helpful to have the Vinnies volunteers to talk to about my school work because I worry so much about it,” she says. “There isn’t really anyone at school I can talk to like that, maybe one teacher.” 

Vinnies wishes Hayma and her family the best for the future and are confident that our education team will be there to help her realise her dreams and fulfil the enormous potential she has shown in the most difficult of circumstances. 

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.