Bushfire Education Scholarship realises a dream

Meet Ellie

In August 2020, the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria (Vinnies Victoria) launched a $250,000 Bushfire Education Scholarship fund with great thanks to the generosity of our funding partners, the Jewish community of Victoria.

Students who had been impacted by the devastating 2019–2020 bushfires that tore through East Gippsland and Victoria’s high country were invited to apply for the tertiary studies scheme. The $8,000 grants were aimed at helping alleviate some of the financial stress of higher education for students whose recovery from the fires has been made all the worse by the impact of COVID-19.

In the end, due to the volume of applications, Vinnies expanded the scheme, and 38 grants to the value of $304,000 were awarded. We extend our best wishes to those who were successful and continue to offer our assistance to others who applied so that these students will face less financial stress and have more capacity to focus on their studies after dealing with such adversity.

Ellie Curven, from Corryong, shares her story

‘I have wanted to be a teacher since I could talk’

Since applying for the scheme, Ellie has been accepted by Charles Sturt University to study a Bachelor of Education. She shares her reflections about receiving the grant and, in the italicised extract below taken from her application with her permission, her experience of the fires.

“I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I had received the grant. It will make a huge difference to my time at university. I am very appreciative to Vinnies and the funders,” she says. “The bushfires have continued to have a profound effect on myself, and my family’s lives, but we are gradually recovering, and being awarded the scholarship helps me to keep focused on moving forward.

“This photograph was taken in December, and I’m smiling because I felt a bit lighter and brighter the closer we got to the end of the horrible year of 2020. While, the scholarship helps me to feel more hopeful about the future, it’s also been reassuring and appreciated to know that people care and haven’t forgotten about what happened to us.”

How were you impacted by the Black Summer fires?

“The bushfires were traumatic for me, when I reflect on them. My mum and sister had to flee the town while my dad and I stayed in case we had to potentially save the house. The days spent preparing our home in case the fires reached us were quite frightening. I eventually became ill afterwards from smoke inhalation and stress. 

“However, I was undoubtedly most affected by the death of one of my closest friends, who died following the devastation of the bushfire. This will be with me and my community for the rest of our lives, and made my experience of the fires even more complex and difficult to reflect on. I now have so much hatred for that summer.

“I still see the impact of the fires every day all around us – in my colleagues and friends who lost property, infrastructure and even their homes, in the environment and in my family and others who are still dealing with what happened to our friend. His death made the months of rebuilding all the more gruelling.

“My education and work have been delayed, and I had two months less to complete the TAFE course I was studying, which has caused me considerable stress getting my assessments completed on time.”

What are your plans for tertiary education?

“I will specialise in English since I have been a big reader and writer since I was very young. Indonesian language has always interested me, so I also considered continuing with my seven years’ study in this area. I have travelled to Indonesia twice with my school and I am incredibly interested in the customs and traditions. I have wanted to be a teacher since I could talk and I plan to follow through with that lifelong aspiration. Being privileged enough to educate others who want to learn is my ultimate goal in life.”

How will this scholarship benefit your tertiary studies?

“This scholarship would not only allow me to comfortably relocate to university, which is 1.5 hours away, but also help alleviate the costs associated with studying, such as equipment, stationary, books and placement costs. It would also allow me to reduce my work shifts, all of which means I can completely concentrate on my studies to become the best teacher I can be. I aspire to make a difference in my community and this grant will help me with the education I need to achieve that.” 

Vinnies Victoria is sure you will too Ellie! We wish you the very best for your studies and future.