The inspiring story of Minara* shows just what education can help unlock.
Minara is now studying a Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin University, but only a few short years ago she was struggling to learn English and complete her homework at school. Minara attributes the amazing outcome to the help she received at one of Vinnies’ after-school homework clubs, which she joined when she was in Year 10.
“The Vinnies reading club changed my life,” says Minara. “I had to restart my education when I came to Australia because I didn’t have a chance to finish my studies in my home country.
“Before the joining the after-school club, I struggled a lot with my studies, because no-one at home could help me. I thought I would never be able to accomplish my goal. I wanted to break the uneducated generation that runs through my family by being the first person to graduate from university in my family.
“I also want to be a role model for my nieces and nephews.”
Minara, 23, is a former asylum seeker who escaped the violence inflicted on her Rohingya ethnic group in Burma. She says that she and her family were subjected to terrible discrimination, and had to keep moving house in the town where they lived. Men in her community were regularly arrested, and her brother and father were tortured. They made the drastic decision to flee to Australia in 2012 after her father died.
Dealing with such trauma obviously impacted Minara’s education and she spent the first year or two here integrating in her new life and studying English at a language school. When she first arrived, Minara says she knew no English. “If someone asked me how I was, I didn’t know how to answer!” she laughs now.
Minara attended the Vinnies education programs in Springvale and Dandenong three times a week, the latter of which specialises in helping students with homework. The one-on-one time with tutors and the opportunity to discuss her homework with them and the other students turned things around for her so much that she began winning awards at school for improvement in her homework.
“I have improved so much with the help of the club, especially my English and grammar. I found it much easier to do my homework and assessments. Vinnies has also helped me improve mentally, because schoolwork can be stressful and the tutors gave me strategies to reduce that,” she says.
“I had no confidence before and I was a bit lost, but then I joined the club and started sharing and discussing schoolwork with the other students. If we had a problem with our homework, the tutors would give us ideas about how to overcome them,” says Minara.
Since leaving school, Minara has studied a diploma in accounting and early childhood education (which she is still completing), but she had a dream to attend university. The Vinnies tutors helped her with this, too. The only way to secure a place at university was through a scholarship because otherwise she would have to pay full overseas student fees due to the restrictions of her temporary visa, which she couldn’t afford.
“My experience at the Vinnies’ homework club gave me confidence to apply. I would not have known what to do about further studies, but the tutors found out what I needed, encouraged me and helped with my application.”
Minara applied for three scholarships – one from Deakin, Swinburne and RMIT – and was actually awarded all three of them! She chose Deakin after having already made a move to Geelong.
“I don’t think I would have been accepted without the help that I received from Vinnies,” says Minara. “I want to thank Vinnies for providing me with a calm, safe and supportive environment that made my studying easier. It was vital support.
“When I got the calls that I had been awarded the scholarships, I couldn’t believe it. I was thrilled. I never thought it would happen.
“The Vinnies tutors told me to never give up, and with their help I completed my dream of going to university. I am very grateful that I Vinnies gave me this opportunity.
“The tutors were very kind and supportive – and always patient! With the help I received from the homework club, I was also able to help my friends at school who were also struggling.”
One of Minara’s former tutors, Wendy, says: “Minara has been one of the most determined and dedicated students in the face of adversity that I have ever known.”
Indeed! Vinnies Victoria wishes Minara all the success in the world and is delighted to hear that she also plans to return to our reading club one day as a volunteer too – where it’s clear she will make an enormous contribution.
*Minara wishes to use her first name only.